BY JONI TAKANIKOS
November 12, 2014
It has been raining off and on all day, a percussive steady rhythm with a few long silences, and then once again the rain builds its case to the sky, so sure of itself and of its falling. As night descends, the autumn wind has rushed in to add its message to the rain. It must be the second act in this dramatic northwest fall saga. I live on a private, tucked-away lane. There are only a few houses here amongst a forest of magnificent big leaf maples and a few firs.
This time of year the maples are shedding their leaves madly, spreading red and gold veined color on every surface. These trees have mastered the art of death and transformation while remaining stalwart and steady throughout their roots, trunk and branches.
They are ready to stand proudly naked through the winter months—revealed and unadorned. May we human creatures learn to remain as steady on our feet as the maples when we find ourselves witness to the death of those we love, or facing our own deaths, real or imagined. As we rake and gather the fallen leaves, we could also gather our own sensibilities about death and begin a conversation with ourselves, our families and friends about our own certain end.
Being a poet gives me license to muse on the subject:
When I Die
Imagine me riding a silver horse
Into the mist—somewhere very green
with moss covered trees. I will turn to
look behind me only once,
before I disappear in the soft, sweet air.
Imagine that now and then I could
still kiss the cheeks of those I love,
No matter where they are.
Know the reality
that my breath will inhabit
the air of this earth when I am gone.
Or just imagine that I have simply
Turned a beautiful shade of red
and gold—and as I let go
You saw me fly by
With the wind.
As we move closer to the light of our hearths and gather together to give thanks for the bounty on our table, perhaps our conversation could begin to include death. What do we envision for those we leave behind and how might we plan for that most certain of times? We can make decisions now so that our families may be spared from making them for us. It may be as simple as telling your family your wishes and also writing them down so that hopefully there will be no confusion. We all know that when emotions are heightened by sadness and grief, communication can be tricky. There is also the next step of creating a living will, and, finally, a last will and testament.
I do believe that contemplation of our life and death, side by side, is the first part of the process. One of my oldest and dearest friends continues to teach me the lesson of telling others when they have moved her heart in some way, both big and small; whether they are a stranger, a friend or family, she gets past her shyness to speak what is in her heart. In doing so, she lives her life fully and gives others a great example of how to not hold back from speaking from the heart. It is in this spirit of fearlessness that we can approach the subject of our dying now while we live.
There are many resources available and those of us here in Island County have a lovely library system, the Sno-Isle Libraries, sno-isle.org, that can help in our research. I am particularly fond of my hometown Langley library branch, with its views of Saratoga Passage. If they had a tea and espresso cart, I could stay all day.
“Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,” a book by practicing surgeon and gifted writer Atul Gawande, has just been published and I am sure is worth a read. And our own Whidbey writer, Theo Wells, has also written her book, “Take Care of Dying – Get on with Living: End-of-Life Planning that Works.” Wells has created a new category—“obit-lit,” with her must-read book for anyone who is going to die.
“This book is about taking your power while you’re alive and using it when you are dying,” Wells said of her book. “There’s lots of information about the fact that you need a durable power-of-attorney (or agent), but there’s little that tells you how to do it, how to select one and what to do when you find one.”
“Take Care of Dying – Get on with Living,” will be published by Abiding Nowhere Press in winter 2014. The website for the book is in the works and will be found at www.takecareofdying.com. Meanwhile, readers can order the book by email at email@example.com.
Joni Takanikos is living and dying on beautiful Whidbey Island. She teaches yoga at Half Moon Yoga Studio in Langley Village and in her spare time, at present, she is mesmerized by falling leaves.
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