The Art of Dying

Driving home from a memorial for my friend Joan Schirle, I stopped to walk slowly through a small stand of Redwoods. The air was so still it let me feel.

Now I’m getting the manuscript for Love Death Circus ready for the printer so I’m still grieving, both on the page and in real life. The other day I read on Facebook that a man I worked with for years died suddenly and two weeks ago I was stunned by a family post that started, “Symptoms worsened dramatically over the past few days. I guess 2-3 weeks? It’s been a remarkable life.” It turned out to be only one week.

The way someone dies is important – a dear friend taught me how to die with grace, my mother and best friend taught me about directing one’s own death and my mother-in-law lived right up to the moment she died four months shy of her 100th birthday. Children’s book author Charlotte Pomerantz was on a break from rehearsing her play “Jonah and the Humpbacked Whale” with her neighbors when she lapsed into unconsciousness. The cast performed the play bedside a few hours before she died, on her 92nd birthday, and then performed it again at high tea as planned.

What people say after someone dies is also important, from the well-worn and still heart-felt “She will be greatly missed” to the more specific “He is now in Podiatrist heaven.” For Joan Schirle, who was a teacher and mentor to many people, some folks remembered her advice, from, “Embrace the gnarliness of your humanity,” to “Life is your clam,” to “She once told me something, just one sentence, and it changed my life. I can’t remember what she said but my life is different.”

I’m writing this Gazette under a neighbor’s Redwood. If you have a tree or two handy, let the air around them let you feel. If you’re missing someone, ask yourself what they taught you about dying. And if you’ve lost someone recently, my heart is with you.