Saturday, October 31, 2009

October 31, 2009:

During his visit on Thursday, my friend Geol told me about a rigorous therapy session where his creative self, referred to as The Dancer, reappeared actively in his psyche. Years ago, Geol was a very fine dancer, but time had passed and Geol ventured into arts administration. His creative self went and sat on the bench.

As we talked, I realized that I had lived through similar patterns. In the mid- 70's I took several months to draft and re-write a short novel--Flying Carpets--that I submitted over the transom to Knopf Inc. It was not published, but I experienced completing a written effort.

In the late 80's I completed a longer novel about the AIDS epidemic. This time, an agent shopped my book to publishers. However, I'd joined a writing group and had started deep re-writes. The agent and I agreed that we could not have two versions in existence: one copy in my computer on the West Coast and another copy moving around in NYC. Within a year, I had strayed from my updates and My Writer within me was back on the bench for almost 20 years.

Now My Writer has dusted himself off and is moving around. It should be noted that I've written a lot during the interim. Every work day. At work. My daily effort isn't fiction, but it is steady, clear communication. Sitting here at Maitri tonight, I realize that My Writer moved from fiction back to corporate-based technical writing and then into the autobiographical blog. After friends started to give good feedback about the blog, My Writer went to the keyboard and crafted the script for my Memorial Service CD. Confidence has been gathering and building without me knowing it.

Now, more challenging efforts are coming my way via the psyche express. The idea for A Guide to Our Dying presented itself last Saturday, and already substantial progress has been made. I have always cherished My Writer. I have often abandoned My Writer. There is such a close rapport between My Writer and my self esteem, my love for myself, my belief in myself....Well, I could go on but I think you get my drift. Suffice it to say that I am very grateful My Writer has returned. I like him, and I love him. He has always delighted me with his wit and search for meaning. Also, I have often projected my expectations for myself onto him. And when I'm disappointed, I blame him. Not very nice behavior on my part, so it's a good thing that he's tenacious and has found ways to express his talents. Welcome back, my creative self.

Friday, October 30, 2009

October 30th, 2009:

In order to get used to the personal time that I've scheduled for two hours each day in the month of November, I started setting aside an hour during the remaining days of October. Last Saturday I lay on my bed for an hour. Some fifteen minutes into that time of rest and no thoughts I quietly heard this phrase: A Guide to Our Dying. When I asked, "What does this mean?" I heard that it was the working title for a book that was available to me, if I wanted to write it. "Tell me more," I said.

Over the next forty or so minutes, I felt a download of information about how people in various stages of end-of-life illnesses can manage their friendship communities. Many of the outreaches are things I've already done: blog, memorial CD, telephone trees, etc. Many of the ideas were not on my list of connective methods. At a certain point, the information suddenly stopped. I picked up a pad and pen and took notes. The next day, I built a file with chapter headings, generated a table of contents and started working on the Introduction as well as some chapter details. It was a LOT of fun to suddenly jump into book production.

A couple of nights ago deep into the darkness of 4:30 a.m., I suddenly realized that I might not have enough time to finish this new book. This thought of being cheated by a narcissistic tumor whose only agenda was to grow and diminish my health filled me with rage against the tumor. After over two months of co-habiting my body with this tumor and having no discernible conversation, I was suddenly FURIOUS that my effort might be taken from me. Stepping back a bit, this is basic bargaining, where I decide: "I'll create a worthwhile book, and I will be given the time to complete it." These contracts are made daily, and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross lists them as one of the five major phases in the dying process.

I realized that I might not only die sooner than I thought, but there would also be time needed to die. I won't be healthy right up to the end. I will need time to decline. As night ended and the day began, a series of visits helped to metabolize this fear and anger. Sabrina, the Maitri nurse gave me valuable pointers about the indicators toward dying. Lack of interest in the newspaper, eating, and other worldly connections. Well, I'm not there yet. My friend Geol visited and we talked about how we set up projects and move into completing them. Then I took the first yoga class of my stay at Maitri. Already, the day is swinging into widening directions. Then therapy with Susan in mid-afternoon.

By this time, I am more settled into my options. I can drop the project and not be disappointed by not completing it. I can move forward and work on chapters because the tasks give me pleasure. If I do move forward, I will remember that I have used a lifetime of doing to avoid the deeper feelings that have been churning through me for a very long time, feelings buried so deep that I did not acknowledge their existence. And probably other options as well. Point being, I have moved back to that freedom: I have options. I am not being cheated by death unless I hold that as my only alternative.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October 27th, 2009:

Tonight was the monthly Maitri board meeting, and since I am still a board member, I offered to talk about what it's like to be a resident here. It's never happened that a board member has become a resident, so this was a unique opportunity to pass along the information.

First, I talked about how Maitri contracts with other provider agencies, especially Hospice by the Bay to retrieve services that we could otherwise never afford. Since it has a much larger number of clients, Maurice the pain management guru, Tove my social worker who helps manage my support system of friends, and Steven my spiritual counselor are all available to help me. I had no idea that this arrangement existed or that it would have such an impact to my care.

Once Maurice and I have made a decision about the direction for my pain management, these decisions are presented to my primary care physician and the medical staff at Maitri. Final agreements are made and I have a new regimen of care. All of this is possible by good case management; everyone knows what's going on and there's no overlap of services. Maitri staff order the new pharmaceuticals and give them to me right on time.

There's also a lot of cultural diversity issues that come up for review and resolution. When I ask for a glass of water, I'm likely to say, "When you have a minute, could I please have a glass of water, no ice, and there's no rush?" I noticed that many of the African American residents will say, "I want water." At first, I was really annoyed at what seemed to me a very blunt, even rude way of ordering the staff around. However, I didn't like having thoughts bouncing through my head about how impolite my neighbors seemed. When I unpacked both of our requests, we were both asking for water. So I asked one of the black residents about this and he said, "No offense. They just asking for a drink." I asked a staff person who said the same thing. As an American citizen, I feel a lot of commitment to cultural diversity. Through this experience, I got to change my mind, drop some prejudice, and reconnect to my neighbors. Good work for one day.

I also appreciate that neither staff nor residents have given me any wide berth for being a board member. In fact, I doubt that any residents know about my other role here, although I might be wrong. The staff treat me as a resident, and that's what I want to be as I live here. Because I've been cleaning out my apartment and my favorite position is to lie on my bed with my right leg propped up, I haven't spent as much time as I'd like with the other folks here. Solution? Invite people into my room for a visit. Still, in the past six weeks, I have consistently felt accepted, cared for and loved.

Finally, I put in a word for the superb volunteers, some of whom I've gotten to know and set aside time for to cultivate a relationship. After the meeting, I spoke with Tim our executive director who suggested that I do a similar presentation next month to offer any new insights into why this place runs well and has such a high degree of self-correcting behavior if something is off kilter.

Friday, October 23, 2009

October 23, 2009:

With the apartment now in the hands of the property management agency, I have mucho free time. I've been filling, no, packing that time with visitors. This week I've had a few days with up to six guests and a couple of hour-plus phone calls. The connections with people are so rewarding, so full of content. Previously in my life, visits had a certain amount of verbal plastic peanuts. No longer. It's as if we get to significance very quickly and stay there through the duration.

However, as my calendar started to fill into the future, I felt a gathering dissatisfaction. I gave time to everyone as quickly as requested, but I did not give time to me. How long could I continue to see so many people with such enthusiasm? And why was I avoiding making time for myself? It became clear that one of my joys--visiting with others--might turn sour if I didn't add some balance to my life. I realized that I was yearning for alone time.

In talking with Steven Grafenstein this morning, he told me of civilizations where initiates to a new life stage--adulthood, marriage, death--would often go into the temple where they worshiped and create a sacred space. They would be alone, and they would invoke their god or goddess to reveal the intention of their next stage. What could they expect? In our culture, people go into the wilderness on a vision quest for this sort of information. Steven suggested that I was setting aside my time to create sacred space in my room at Maitri. In this sacred space there would be no time. There are no projects to do. There is just receptivity.

I've taken my November calendar and for every day, I've set aside two continuous hours when I can be in my room, unavailable to the outside. I will not be using the PC. I will not be reading. I may listen to music. I may be doing yoga stretches for some of the time. But the focus will be quiet time when I listen. Although it's true that I get a great deal of information from good conversation, the most important truth comes from within me when I am quiet. It's that still, small voice that is mentioned and honored across the centuries.

At the end of my life I expect to withdraw into myself and loose many of my communication functions: no seeing, no talk, no acute tactile awareness. Some say that smell is the last sense to ebb away. At that time, I will not return from my retreat. But prior to my final days, I hope to go within during my two hour daily sessions and then emerge intact and communicative. That's one of my most fervent hopes about moving into Maitri, that it would give me a safe space to retreat and return in a rhythm. As a way of easing into this place of contemplation, I'm going to set aside an hour in the next week to practice this in quietude. As always, I'll keep you posted about what happens. In many ways, this is the most exciting step I've taken since moving in here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

October 20th, 2009:

Saying hello and saying goodbye. Now that there is little to no attention focused on my apartment, I move into the next completions. There is finalizing the handover of my property in Glen Ellen to my land partner. There is connecting to people that I know. The latter has several layers. Over the past few years, I've lost touch with several people that I don't want to miss saying goodbye to. Each of them has been a solid, giving presence in my life and it's important to me to connect with them prior to my death.

Last weekend, in a resting moment, I asked myself, "Who do I still have negative energy with? What clean-up do I need to do before I leave this life?" To my surprise, I only came up with two people that I felt conflict with at this point. And one of those people I've worked on quite a bit. I felt like I could make a list of issues that existed between us and then would verify that I'd resolved each of those issues. I'm writing an audit of my stuff. So far, the resolutions have neutralized each of the resentments. With the final person, I need to do some work. My plan is to develop a ritual where I can identify my anger, sense of betrayal, etc., lay that down and step back.

My goal is to leave this life with no lingering bitterness to a person or an institution. What a pleasure to have done all my work and depart with total cleanliness and gratitude. I feel like I'm very close to that now. Of course, this doesn't include all the petty carpings and exchanges of attitude that I've tossed at others. I'm talking about major, unresolved hatred and stand-off with key people in my life. To me, the biggest miracle will always be the work and happy ending I have been able to achieve with my Dad. I never expected to find joy or love in our relationship. Now, we both express our love for each other with great fullness and sincerity. Amazing! This doesn't mean that I don't have a queue of tasks in my next lives. But if I can exit this life with no karmic damage to myself or others, I would be very glad.

Also, the quality of my visits with people who I talk to over the phone or see in my room here at Maitri are very fine indeed. Often when I end a call or walk a friend to the door, I am full of wonder at what we've discussed, the depth of love that we've communicated. This is such a rich time in my life. Because these visits have such power and revelation, I find myself rejuvenated and inspired. Also, I want to have time to integrate our insights. What a wonderful rhythm: connection, pause, connection, pause.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

October 18, 2009:

So much is moving forward in this time: my apartment is poised to be completely emptied and the keys handed over; my tumor grows every day; I am changing in my daily patterns. In the past week, I've been staying in my room for breakfast; it's too painful to sit at the dining room table in the morning. By noon, I'm much more comfortable getting around so I have lunch in the dining room and also dinner. With the easing off of the apartment as my primary task, a new regimen has formed: I have visitors. Lots of visitors.

Staying alert and in the flow of my friends' lives has been one of my favorite ways to spend my time for several decades. This has only increased since I've moved into Maitri. Since there's a lot of shift in my health, it's good to talk about that with people who care. Also, it opens my life and my heart to know what's going on with people I care for. As you can imagine, I don't want to talk about my cancer and my declining mobility all the time. Hardly! Giving my health report catches me up to the immediate "now," and listening to the concerns, hopes, visions, etc. of people I love lifts me out of the possible loneliness of just recycling my own stuff.

New people have come into my life with my open house availability. Each person is stimulating and different. There's Richard Hardy, one of the most enduring volunteers at Maitri, and a man deeply interested in bridging the religious and secular worlds. Even though I've been aware of Richard's presence at Maitri for over a decade, I have never had the opportunity to sit and visit with him. Now, the floodgates are open. He brings up St. Theresa of Avila. I start talking about scholar rocks. So much to share! Tova Green from Hospice by the Bay has also been a rich source of help with organizing my support community as well as teaching me how to use the financial coverage system that's available here.

Steven Grafenstein from Hospice by the Bay brings me a focus on my spiritual self. Who is my spiritual self? What are my fears about dying? Are the people with whom I still harbor resentment? Anger? Sadness? How can I clean up those relationships before I die? All of these questions have answers that lead me forward. At this point, I can happily say that I plan to die with a cleanliness of feeling that feels very light, very clear. Imagine having no lingering "stuff?" Yet, that is my goal, and it feels entirely attainable.

As my body changes daily and my work to finalize my life's relationships comes into final focus, I feel an ease and relief that I never imagined possible. The support to accomplish my final tasks is all around me and within me. What blessings!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

October 15th, 2009:

For the first time in five years, I got together with Marilyn, my past life regression hypnotist, and had a session on Wednesday. We both wondered if the amount of meds in my body would make it difficult for me to be hypnotized and to let the memories come through in my current voice. Turned out, there was one brief time when I became anxious to find my way to the place and time that I would report about, but after telling myself to chill, I realized that I was hovering over the North part of Paris near the road to St. Denis.

Briefly, I spent an hour recalling my life as a furniture maker--specialty was fine chairs--in the late Seventeenth Century. We used to say in our craft, "The rich always need more chairs." I was well-trained and became prosperous, innovative and well-regarded. My wife worked in a store that sold compotes, jams and other foods that had long been produced only in private homes. Although the concept received considerable derision--who needed to buy another person's recipes?--the truth was that most families had little or no access to the exotic fruits and produce needed to make these treats. Although people didn't brag about shopping in her store, it was quietly popular and very successful. It was a life of the senses. Friends and family would talk for hours about aromas, essences, flavors, nuances of food and wood. My hands were incredibly sensitive: I could read wood grains by running my palms over lumber. I loved the workshop's stenches of varnish, lacquer, paints, wood.

When my life was ending, I became very depressed. In spite of my enthusiasm for the church's pageantry and splendid architecture, I did not believe that I would survive death. All the people I had known and loved would be lost to me. When my time came to leave my body, my mother and father appeared and so did my best friend from childhood long past, and my three children who had not survived infancy. Additionally, one of my favorite patrons who had deeply believed in my artistry was there, and he said, "As you rise up, reach out your arm. I'll link the crook of my arm with you. Your mother will hold the other side. We'll all join together. We can move upward together." This startled me because I assumed that my arms would stay with my body which was still on the bed. I looked back and yes, there were my arms, there was my body lying on the bed. But what I felt was a wonderful jolt of living current moving from my companions through me. I understood in that second that no one is ever lost in the universe. You can have solitary time, but there is always a return to others. We are never alone for long. My deepest fears of dying and loosing others was erased by the experience of feeling connected. And then, in a long line, we flew forward into the after death experience.

Before I came out of my trance, Marilyn asked, "Why did you have this particular past life reveal itself today?" Well, I knew the answers to that question. "First, to remind me of a highly sensory, happy life full of productivity, and enthusiasm at a time when I am about to leave this life which has similar features. The other reason is that in writing my blog, I've reached the point where I want to start talking about dying and the after death experience. When I was a french furniture maker, I doubted the enduring relationships between people that connected them across lives. At my death, I had the experience of literally being joined with people I loved. I felt the human connections in my soul as I moved away from my body. By retrieving this memory, I can write about something in the blog that I've experienced rather than just present a speculation about what I imagine to be true."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

October 13, 2009:

As my apartment empties and the bare hardwood floors and walls with no art reveal themselves for the first time in 16 years, I'm understanding more about what caused me to create the apartment and where its vitality came from. When I moved in, perhaps a quarter of the art had already been gathered. The new pieces were found since I started living on Fulton St. across from the park. One immediate influence from the beginning was wanting to bring the green of the park into the front room. Green and landscape were brought indoors via objects that worked with green and one large painting which mirrored the outdoor hill and trees. The bay window's reach toward the park bridged the outdoors and the inside.

There was no conscious plan about any of the apartment's creation. I didn't buy things to support a larger piece. No single piece had clear dominance. The guideline was color: lots of well-defined color. Most of the time I lived there, I would have said that the apartment's task was to contain many types of beautiful objects: glass, rugs, paintings, textiles. Most of the finds, as I brought them home, fit beautifully from the beginning. Very few pieces were taken back or passed on quickly.

This morning in conversation with my friend Betsy, we rightly concluded that the common denominator for all the pieces was that they possessed a vivid amount of energy. These energies reached forth into the room and mixed with energies from their neighbors. Even though you couldn't see the energy, you could feel it. The large red glass plate that Nancy Becker created to more fully understand Georgia O'Keefe's Red Poppy painting came to life at night when the pole lamp underneath was turned on. The lamp shade funneled light up underneath the oval glass and Wow!, it shone. Similarly with the Leon Applebaum bowl that lived on my desk toward the back of the living room. It also slept by day, but at night a track light angled directly into the hollow of the piece so that the colors and the multiple glass bumps and shapes would come to life and be the most exciting activity in that part of the room.

I'm sure that the objects altered their energy in response to support from other pieces. There was also the shifting of the vibe in the apartment because of what happened there. It was a peaceful place. There wasn't lingering ozone from arguments and contention. If there would have been, I would have dealt with that, but from the beginning, the rooms had a serenity that endured. That safety was enhanced by reading astrological charts in the living room. It was a good place to talk, a very good place to talk. Typically, a visit from someone meant that we'd sit in the large chairs at the bay window for a while. An hour or two. Drinking tea. Usually not listening to opera or any other music. Talk was honored as the most important event and distractions were discouraged. But, when I was alone there were many hundreds of hours of listening to music. Astrology readings, the cultivation of relationship, music playing for long stretches when I listened to it and did not talk with someone else. Those were vibes that my friends and I created and gave back to the art that had been assembled to encourage warmth, curiosity, joy.

It all worked. All the parts, living and mineral contributed. Clearly, the apartment and it's dispersion strikes a deep cord with my need to explain what's also going on with my body. Of course my apartment is not dying of cancer. Still, it is being radically transformed, unwrapped and given back to the energy pool. And that's what will happen to me as well. Or, that's part of what will happen.

I find myself wanting to express some of what I think will happen during and after the dying process. In some ways, this is the part of the blog that I thought I'd most enjoy writing about. Those feelings were pretty strong during the first entries of the blog over a year ago. All of those expectations vanished quickly as I began to enjoy talking about what was happening in my current life, not speculating months in advance. However, I still have many of those ideas and I'd like to share them now and again in the time that remains.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

October 10th, 2009:

While I was at dinner this evening, my friend Mimi called and left a message on my cell phone in the form of a poem titled The Layers. The final line was, "I am not done with my changes." Well, yes, I had to agree. I'm not done with my changes.

I've felt a lot of bubbling and churning just below the surface for the past couple of days. I've ascribed this to my impatience that the apartment get cleaned out, keys handed over, and that I fully move into Maitri. I have so enjoyed spending day after day here at the residence. Yesterday, I started anticipating working in the apartment today with dread. "Can't it just be over?" I asked myself. When I woke up this morning, I felt crabby and distant from my old eagerness to pack and move. Then I burst into tears while still in bed. I didn't want to work. I didn't want to be sick. I don't want to die. Every direction felt oppressive, mean, heavy.

Then the great fugue of the day began. Feelings of sadness and drear followed by a friend reaching to connect with me. Down then up. After a darkness through getting dressed and eating breakfast, I returned to my room for a phone call with my friend Laura who lives outside of Chicago. Within minutes of hearing her voice, I was engaged in our conversation, delighted to hear the sounds of her voice, eager to know what she was doing with her interesting life, reaching to clarify my answers to her questions that centered around, "How are you?" By the end of the call, we were both excited from the quality of our communication and the joy of knowing each other.

I've been conscious of remembering to say yes when people ask if they can help out with my moving and other tasks. A couple of weeks ago, Chris Harris volunteered to help me pack the boxes that would be sent around the country to people who couldn't come and pick up their gifts at my apartment. Today was the day when her expertise was needed. And wow, did she show up in many ways. She retrieved me at Maitri, went to the box store to buy shipping containers, and then, with the help of Ken and Gaetano all the various packages were filled, insulated, sealed, labeled and prepped for their journeys to the various directions. I was so grateful to know that they could do a great job. This time I didn't need to say goodbye to the contents. Rather, I let them be handled with skill by other people. I trusted that it would all be done. And it was. Again, my discomfort at being in the apartment was eclipsed by the reassurance from friends that I would be helped, supported, taken care of by their love.

And then, the frosting. My friend Adrienne had come to the apartment from her home in Mendocino. I don't get to see Adrienne often, but today, after retrieving her tansu and two beautiful kimono, she returned me to Maitri and we had lunch followed by a lovely, reassuring visit in my room. What bliss! Another fine time with a person I love. "I am not done with my changes."

These are the touchstones in my life these days. When I visit with my friends, whether on the phone or in person here at Maitri, I am settling into my next phase of life. There hasn't been a visit that lacks a significant revelation. With each person, some gleam of wisdom, some new facet of knowledge is revealed. Of course, I never know what it will be. But it never fails to appear: the nuance or fact or opinion that gives me a new view about my life or the other person's truth. Forward. More. Rearranged significance. And the time to enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

October 6th, 2009:

Unexpectedly, I have had my first experience of loss at Maitri. Although this home primarily intends to provide end-of-life care, it also offers respite care. When a person is loosing the ability to provide for their needs at home, they can move to Maitri for a three month, six month stay to build back their stamina. When it's determined that the person is well enough to move back home, they do.

With my new friend Cicero (Chee-Chair-O), it was more extravagant because he moved to the U.S. from Brazil some thirty years ago. When Cheech moved to Maitri last April, he was carried in on a stretcher. He was not expected to live long. His pain was so severe that he openly considered suicide. And then, the Maitri magic kicked in. Cicero stabilized. Then he started to get better. He learned how to walk again. In July his condition had improved so much that he was able to fly to Brazil to visit with his family for the first time in two years. There, his sisters took care of him, and he took care of his mother. Given her advanced age and declining health, it was decided that Cicero would relocate to Brazil to spend an unspecified time with his family. It might be for two months or more. No end date determined.

Since the health care available in Brazil for his multiple conditions was not equal to the care here, Cicero planned to visit at home and then return to the U.S. if his health started to decline. Although he came to Maitri as a hospice patient, he morphed into a respite patient. Early this morning, the respite was over. Cicero loaded up his possessions, called a cab and headed for the airport and the long flight to Brazil.

Of all the losses that can be suffered at Maitri, this is surely the lightest and easiest. No death. A happy family reunion. The beginning of a finale with his family that could not have been imagined a few months ago. Many reasons to rejoice. However, as he became my friend in a dramatically short time, I was caught off guard by my feeling of loss when I realized yesterday that he would leave. And when I woke up this morning, my first thought was that he had left.

Although he was raised in the Brazilian upper class with it's systems of private schools, private clubs, homes behind walls and all manner of protection and sequestering from the larger turmoil of Brazilian society, Cicero had a deep yearning to be free in the world. He wanted to take the cross town bus. He wanted to be mingle in crowds on the street. He wanted to move to America where no one would have any idea that he was of a protected class. So he came North at the beginning of his maturity and lived her for 30 years.

In that time, he became a key member of the hospitality community; meaning, he was a lead concierge at the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square. And he cultivated many other personas as well. A notable equestrian with his own horse. A serious opera, symphony, ballet aficionado. But most important, he developed an integrity and ability to cultivate people that was memorable. I liked him immediately when I moved into Maitri, and, as good luck would have it, our room adjoined each other so we anchored the north end of the garden.

As we enjoyed each other's company more and more, time ran out. And that was the loss that I faced in the past couple of days. Cicero didn't die; far from it. In fact, his plans are to return to the States when his health compels that; hopefully to return to Maitri. We may well see each other again. Here. But for now, he's gone and my inner kid misses him a lot. He was such a companion. So much fun to simply sit next to and enjoy.

As I said, this is an easy loss. But it's a foretaste of other losses. There will be people I know now and dine with and enjoy in passing who will die while I'm here. And, of course, all these losses are paths toward the biggest loss that I am heading toward: the eventual death of my self. I know that's a major reason that I'm here. It's not the only reason because there's also some serious living that I'll experience. But the ultimate intention is that this is where I want to die. Thank you Cicero for your friendship and intimacy. Thank you for reminding me that losses are incremental, not always just sad, sometimes beautiful and able to lead us back to ourselves and our mortality.

Monday, October 5, 2009

October 5th, 2009:

As the apartment empties, my urgency to complete the effort relaxes. The lessons from this part of my illness have been rich and surprising. They include:

It was as much fun for me to give away my things as it was to collect them. Once it became clear that my final task was to find new homes for my treasures, I became unattached to living with them. Centripetal became centrifugal. I thanked all my things for the gift of their energy in my home by searching to find their next place in the world.

I am most adept at dealing with one thing at a time. I've developed my concentration skills by focusing on one event, one conversation, one thought at a time. This last Saturday was the busiest give away day to date. At one point, I had two new people coming in the door, one load going out the door, books being loaded in the living room, three phone calls in under two minutes, two people asking for more tape and bubble wrap, etc. I was totally overwhelmed and confused. In response, I became testy and abrupt. My goal was to queue all these requests into one question at a time. Didn't happen right away. Later that day, when I returned to Maitri exhausted, I knew it was from the multi-tasking, not from the loss of my objects or the dismantling of my home. That amount of churn won't happen again (at least not with moving into Maitri).

Most things I found easy to give away, but there were a few objects I didn't want to give up--yet. I've brought a couple of rugs and textiles to my new home. They're beautiful and they fit well in this room. When I die, they will move on to their next owners, but for now, I still cherish them by living with them. One of these not-ready-to-let-go objects is my stuffed animal, Best Bear. I'm going to give him to my godson Willem. When I went to Portland in early August, I planned to take Best to Willem and make the gift in person. But I wasn't ready to let go. A couple of weeks ago when Kathy Clarke drove up to Portland, I assumed that I'd put Best Bear in her car. Nope. Couldn't do it. Not ready.

Then there's another group of things--mostly my other stuffed animals--which have a different destiny. These are the oldest treasures I have. There's a Mrs. Santa Claus doll from age 3 or 4 and a wonderful stuffed monkey from the same age. I've made an agreement with them over the years that I would always take care of them. And I have. Now they are ancient and frail. Their skins are rubbed raw, seams are threadbare. Across the decades, I sometimes wondered what I'd do with them at the end of my life. Frankly, I don't want to give them away. At some very deep level, they are mine and they have aged with me. So I made the decision to take them apart carefully and release their energy back to the universe. As I opened up their seams, I told them how much I loved them and how much I felt their love and companionship across the years. Carefully, I put their stuffing in a shopping bag, then their empty clothes and fur. Having separated them I put the shopping bags into recycling and felt their love flying through the sky. It was the first time I can remember doing this with an object. For sure, I've written vows or promises onto pieces of paper and released them in flames for purification ceremonies. But the dismantling of my oldest toys was a new experience. I realized how much love had bonded us. I wanted them to be free again. I couldn't just throw them away. There had to be thanks and intention. And there was.

Friday, October 2, 2009

October 1st, 2009:

Every day, I'm settling in more at Maitri and every other day, I give away the contents of my apartment. Gaetano and I have been able to create a rhythm of scheduling people for pickups on alternate days. It's very reassuring to have "a day off" every second day. Frankly, I need the pacing. Showing up to meet people at my apartment is relatively easy. I do virtually no lifting, and I am certainly not running up and down the stairs. And yet, even though we're at the apartment for three hours on a long day, once I'm back at Maitri, an exhaustion kicks in that is fueled by seeing the apartment dissolve before my eyes. I don't have specific feelings of loss, anger, regret. But I do have emotional fatigue. Knowing that the next day I'll be able to stay at Maitri is reassuring. It helps get me through.

The full time days at Maitri are starting to acquire a color and pattern that is very exciting. And I've only just begun to explore the new dimensions of the life I want to move into. A friend wrote a lovely poem that expresses her hopes for how this time at Maitri can be spent. It echos many of my most fervent wishes and expectations. It reads:

With you

I don't want to walk fast with you.
With you I want to stroll and be slow,
To drink you in like a single malt on a fog ridden night

The lazy smokiness of peat fires,
Your smile just a warm honey glow --
A moment sipped to linger on my lips like the sparkle of your light.

I don't want to move fast with you.
With you I want to be slow.

I don't think that anyone has likened spending time with me to savoring a single malt Scotch, but I certainly agree with the sentiment of not rushing, of taking time. That's how I see myself creating closer contact with people who visit me during the next months. As the apartment empties and the once-daunting task of clearing away my contents sifts down to the last big pick up day (tomorrow, Saturday, October 2nd), I'm openly envisioning what's next. Key words are: spacious, slow, reflective, sweet, meandering.

Also, my team of end-of-life professionals are now settling into place in the course of a week. It's amazing what's available in San Francisco. There's the Maitri team of daily care and social work which supports my life here. The nurses and other staff check in regularly to see how I'm adjusting. Am I connecting with other residents? Do I have complaints or concerns? Then there's a contract agency--Hospice by the Bay--that supplies the pain management guru as well as a social worker worker who asks about my support groups and how well I am held by my community. Today a new resource jumped aboard: a guide to explore how I'm grounded in my spiritual beliefs. I brought my own team of professionals: my therapist who visits twice a week; my primary care physician and oncologist who I see on an as-needed basis. Finally, I have a twice-a-month call with a teacher who is guiding me through the meaning of the chakras, and today I set up my first appointment with my past-life regression hypnotherapist. I am quite excited about doing more past life regressions.
Amazingly, there is no overlap between all this support. I am such a lucky guy to have all this attention and help available. To people who reply, "You are the one who creates the luck," I quickly reply, "Sure, Who could resist all this quality assistance? Not me."

Ever since I was in my mid-teens, if someone asked me how I would hope to die, I would answer with absolute clarity, "I'd like to die of cancer. I'd like to have time to be reflective before I die. I don't want to die suddenly in my sleep, and I certainly don't want to die violently in a car accident or war. Cancer would give me time to talk with people about what's happening and summarize what my life's encompassed." Of course, that's just what I want, but I've wanted it for a very long time. It's still the most desired path for me. And, it looks like that's what will happen.

This afternoon, I gave a 30-day notice that I would be vacating my apartment. This is another step into full-time Maitri life. Visits from friends, visits from end-of-life professionals. Less tasks and more open time. I've claimed for months that I plan to spend more time watching TV and DVDs. The plan is to bring a good flat screen TV into my room either tomorrow or Tuesday. We'll see if the new screen inspires me to start turning on the set or if I'll continue in my known path of reading and listening to music. These are nice choices to face.