Traveling the Circle

“We’re all just walking each other home.”  ~ Ram Dass

Sunrise Running Men

Please, read this. 

Then, turn off the phone, shut down the anxiety-driven frenzy of media and say, “I will die.”

Begin the work now.

I will die; you will die; everyone you love will die. Every living thing will die. 

If that’s hard, I get it. A well-examined life and death are very hard and the meaning we assign them must be continually engaged.

Yes, it’s painful. It requires facing truths, sorting, asking forgiveness, making difficult decisions, changing, and surrender.

With compassion, I invite you to do it, anyway. 

Do this very important work. Now. 

I will die; you will die; everyone you love will die. Every living thing will die.

Spirit Bird

Healthcare workers are in a hell of death right now, and families are still denying death, demanding their aged, dying loved ones be put through more suffering than they can endure, accusing doctors and nursers and social workers and respiratory therapists of murder, believing a vent, if there were one, would absolutely ensure survival.

News flash: If you need a vent, you’re already closer to death than you’ve likely been.

The dying begins at birth; our bodies are miraculous machines; they also, like cars, begin to depreciate the second they roll out of the factory.

I will die; you will die; everyone you love will die. Every living thing will die.

The deep denial of this in our culture, also spoon-fed from birth, created a Western medical model that also, still, struggles with this truth. Cardio-pulmonary physicians and surgeons still aren’t adequately trained in allowing the reality of death to flow in congruence with the impetus to heal. They’re engineers; their brains and necessary gifts are focused on fixing. And we should be damn grateful for their gifts and expertise. We enter hospitals desiring to be fixed.

And we should also be educated and challenged to know how to turn from these gifted experts to cradle, accept, and even welcome our dying in peace and comfort when that sacred time has signaled its invitation.

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15 years ago, when I walked the halls of a hospital to listen, to offer comfort where I may, to ease the hard decisions, to help prepare loved ones for loss, or start them on the long road of grief, I was privileged to serve on a new Palliative Care Team struggling for funding and acceptance among all those engineers. Here is how the that team handled a death: 

When specialists noted a patient’s chances for stabilization were falling, we hoped for a consult. Often, the specialists resisted this. Death was failure. The expertise, the god-like power to save and work miracles, the inability to surrender, the lack of living with an acceptance of death was very strong in Western medicine. In some places, it still is.

I will die; you will die; everyone you love will die. Every living thing will die.

On those graced occasions when our Palliative Care Team was called to consult the families and, if possible, the patient, options were discussed and the topic of death approached, with respect, dignity, and honesty: how it could look; how it might be supported; and, conversely, what the dying could look like if “every attempt” were made to “save” this life. What was the true quality of life desired? Was it possible?

The families listened. Sometimes they heard what we said; often, they didn’t. Shock, grief, fear, and anger were common. We would start again. 

Some families cohered. They had a common orientation regarding how they would offer support to the one they loved; or their beliefs about life and death were shared and directed their decisions; or they’d already had these thoughts and conversations, and knew what path they were on. These were encounters that worked honestly with the reality of death and acknowledged the mystery ushering us all from our first through our last breath. Love and peace were easily accessed and shared by everyone in these experiences. Patients could be transferred to hospice in time to be made comfortable, with pain managed, surrounded by loved ones, and the music, voices, or joyful symbols of their lives and lasting legacies within view.

More often and, again, if we even received the referral from the engineers, we needed to start over, share everything a second or third time, or loop in a family member by phone, or wait for her arrival, usually with a lot more baggage than visible. There would be arguments. Patients would die before family members arrived. Families would break. Or they would all choose to put a dying member, already fragile and with one or more advanced diseases, through invasive surgery, transfer to a nursing home, and, frequently, death by pneumonia, after weeks of pain and suffering.

Because loved ones couldn’t let go. 

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I will die; you will die; everyone you love will die. Every living thing will die.

In the ICU, where in-hospital deaths usually occurred, the family was invited to wait outside the room as life support was removed. Rarely could they stay as long as they needed to, or derive much peace in an antiseptic hospital room, though we tried to use attractive quilts, flowers, and dimmed lights to lend some suggestion of the sacred and the dignity owed a human’s leave-taking. We shared consciously ticking time in conversation, prayer, memories, began the forever journey of adjustment, and then they would leave. Our Palliative Care Team and the chaplain staff pushed against this undercurrent of urgency, requested whatever time was necessary, but…Western healthcare. Time is money. ICU rooms need to be available. 

The family, in deep grief, would support each other down the hallways to the front elevators, embrace and weep their partings on some cold and windy gas-stained floor of the parking lot, and drive away.

The body of the departed patient, still a shaming medical failure, an embarrassment, was covered and quietly wheeled to a back elevator and sent to the morgue. The butterfly decal would be removed from the door of patient’s former room: No death here!

How much healthier the deaths at hospice were: Family were present and comforted every step of the way. Patients and family were guided through necessary forgiveness of self and each other. Family and loved ones were witnesses to the pain management and attention given to their loved one; they were helped in setting aside their anxieties and focusing on the one preparing to leave. They were invited to reassure the dying one that he was loved, that it was O.K. to leave whenever he was ready, that his family would love and care for each other and also be “O.K.”

And when he died, a procession of family and friends sang his body down hallways lined with every caregiver in the building who could be present, and out to a hearse, where blessing, prayer, poetry, and song could be offered before another farewell was shared.

Death as life-giving.

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I will die; you will die; everyone you love will die. Every living thing will die.

Palliative Care Teams and hospice workers are now better accepted and better funded, and working in greater collaboration with their gifted colleagues. 

And they are all standing in the midst of this crisis, risking their own deaths, nightmarishly under-equipped, sinfully unprotected, struggling without breaks, working against time, trying to infuse an overwhelming crisis with compassion, allocation of resources, adherence to ethics, and respect for patients and families. 

The last thing they need right now is a denial of death on the part of anyone. 

They are sacrificing everything for us.

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We are so loving towards our other animal companions when they are dying. We are so wide awake and so very present to their need to die in peace. Can we offer this strength and support and true love to ourselves and our human loved ones?

I will die; you will die; everyone you love will die. Every living thing will die.

We must make peace with our dying. In a crisis like this, there is not time to deny and demand the impossible. Surrender must be offered with immediacy, with a readiness derived from our own hard work in accepting death. Any moment may snatch our loved ones from us, and we must have that deep well of strength built upon our own philosophies and theologies, that allows us to say Yes. Goodbye. I love you. I will be O.K. Do not suffer. Let go. I accept this. 

Heron Pensive

And, then we grieve. We weep and wail; we move through time smeared with tears, and strangeness, and adaptation, naming the voids beside us and yearning for their physical, corporeal return till we can endure to breathe again and see that the void was always filled with memory and spirit and the felt presence of the one who has died. Who has changed worlds. Who bids us reconnect with our lives on this side of the mystery. 

The generosity and compassion of accepting our death and the death of everything we love then freely flows to healthcare workers who are not “rationing,” but heartbreaking their way through every moment of this crisis. 

I will die; you will die; everyone you love will die. Every living thing will die. This is the Lenten journey for Christians; other faiths honor the journey as well. 

Death always gives life, and we must realize this, too. Spring and fertility return. Creation continues. Legacies are passed on; they shape who we become, and we are always becoming. This is called Easter. Humans have always honored the circular rhythms of life. We must find our back to them.

spring lambs2

Saying hello plants the seed of saying farewell. Intimacy ends in separation. Life and death are partners. One feeds the other in a circle both devastating and miraculous.

Look for the green and growing. Nurture it. Seek opportunities to heal and be healed. Be kind. Be present. Forgive. Live with heartbreak. Share gratitude for every breath, for every opportunity to love. And love wildly.

walking dog on trail couple

© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for commercial interest. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors.

26 thoughts on “Traveling the Circle

    1. Thank you, Kate. There are so many invitations in this experience and I do, really, believe that one of the most life-changing is integrating our dying with our living: both become more precious and intentional in the conscious union..

      I am so glad you visited my blog, too; these conversations feed and enlarge my spirit, as I hope they do yours.

      Be well and safe! Joy to you.

    1. Absolutely understand that, Mindy. It’s an extremely deepening, and for me, blessed experience. Thank you for work, Mindy. I hope you are safe and well. Gentle peace, and thank you so much for visiting and taking time to share.

    1. I agree that’s hard work, Antionette, but as we practice making peace with dying it really does get easier, and it calls the joys of living into such precious relief as well. I wish you peace on this journey and I hope you are doing well, my friend. 🙂 Gentle peace.

  1. I love your work and have never seem the deep meaning of Lent and Easter explained in this way. It’s a timely post and reminder to humankind. Life is our most precious gift.

    1. Thank you so much, Donna and, wow, do I agree: Our lives are such very precious gifts. Times like this remind us to take nothing for granted, that’s for sure. Everything is illuminated, and I am so filled with gratitude for the smallest blessings. Thank you so much for visiting and sharing, Donna! I hope you are well. Gentle peace.

  2. I couldn’t agree more! We simply cannot accept that life is temporary. Powerful and beautifully written. Wise too. Just loved the photos, I’ve missed your photography.xxx

    1. With your sacred work in rescuing and caring for our many companions on earth, I am certain you know all this and more about life’s preciousness, uniqueness, and fragility. I’m so happy that I can highlight and thank you once again for loving the earth and all her expressions of life. Love you; bless you. xoxo

  3. A lot of hope here Kitty! thanks, thanks a lot for your blog! This one about death in really true! We need to include death in our own lives.

  4. Thank you. Many blessings to you for your courage in writing and sharing this wisdom from which we can all benefit. Peace and joy! Heidi

  5. Good morning Kitty. I contemplate death a lot. Not in a sad or morbid way; but in truth & reality.
    Superman, a.k.a. Dad, is slowly, painfully walking that road. And in true stubborn, Irish-Catholic fashion, fighting & cursing every single step. My beloved K9, who turned twelve yesterday, has beaten the odds for her breed. These days, she struggles to pull herself up off the floor, or walk up the stairs. Two of the most beloved figures in my life are going to die. I’ve not a clue when, I just know it’s coming. So I’m preparing. Every day is a gift, it’s an opportunity for me to tell my dad I love him, bake him banana bread or cookies, reminisce about his crazy, harried days in the business world. It’s another day to tell him a bad joke & keep him laughing just as he has done with me for 50 years.
    And my sweet-girl? Well I lay down next to her on the floor every morning and look into her eyes. I rub her ears & all her other secret spots. I give her favorite treats & take her for walks so she can sniff, ohhhhh……..sooooooo……. sloooooowly, every single bush, flower & blade of grass. It’s giving me a wonderful perspective. My faith has returned & it’s become easier for me to accept the inevitable. When the day(s) comes, I will be prepared. Many Blessings to you, your readers. ~Jen

    1. Oh, how beautiful, Jen. What a beautiful description of the way we should always honor and adore life and blessing: by seeing it and being with it, and acknowledging the gifts surrounding us in the form of everything, but especially our loved ones. We cannot control these journeys, but we can accompany them, in love.

      And even in this awareness, loss cuts deeply and can stagger us in ways we thought ourselves prepared to meet. Know that all you are dong to be present to these relationships is utterly compassionate and loving. Grief’s journey will come with its own invitations; for now, live awake, as you so beautifully are doing. Blessings and great love to you, your father, your darling K-9, and to you, Jen.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story; it enlarges us all.
      Gentle peace, Kitty

    1. Thank you so much; as you can guess, this is close to my heart. It is so kind of you to write and I appreciate it. Please be well and safe. 🙂 Gentle peace.

  6. Hi Kitty,
    Such beautiful writing! I am a choral conductor at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi and a composer of choral music. Your poem “And the people stayed home” has struck such a chord, literally, with me and others. I’m not sure how to reach you other than through your blog, but I was wondering whether I might speak with you about setting your words as a choral composition. I hope you are staying safe and healthy. Best wishes, Ross

    1. Thank you, Ross; how kind of you to take the time to share your response. I think I found your e-mail online; I’ll try it, OK? Mind you, mine loves to sneak into people’s spam, so check there, please.

      I am honored that my words has inspired your own gifts to create. Please take care and be safe.

      Gentle Peace!

  7. You have the words. They reach across countries, continents, and belief systems. I have none to show you how they move me – all I can do is thank you.
    And as I write this, I see a bird outside, going about its normal life, its rhythm unchanged…

    1. I think your words are both accurate and poetic, just beautiful! The dichotomy of what is changed and what seems unchanged is so piercing right now, Deborah, you’re right. But we are united in our fear, our loss, our love for each other and yearning for a return to the intimacy of embrace and community…I send you love and hope. Thank you for writing. Stay well. Gentle peace.

  8. Wow…Powerful My siblings and I lost our mother on February 5th after 10 days in the ICU/Hospice (we were one of the families that listened and were prepared to let go….but it was still so hard) and then the PANDEMIC hit. Yesterday a friend and community leader died unexpectedly. 2020 has been so hard. So Sad. So much death and fear. Your beautiful words have helped. I need to ponder it some more but thank you so much for your insight. Be well.

  9. Oh, Maggie, I’m so sad to hear you’ve suffered the loss of your mother and friend so recently. I carry your grief journey in my heart. My mother died on February 4th, 15 years ago, and I still travel the road beside you. I miss her and my father every day.

    Take good care of yourself during this tender time. There is such loss compounding your own, and each triggers all the losses of our lives to be felt again, and healed more deeply, if we can give them our attention.

    Take time. Be well. Do you have an art practice you can pursue at home? Sometimes, giving shape to our grief through color, words, music…or cooking, or gardening, etc., allows us to begin healing and continue the journey more centered.

    Thank you so much for writing and sharing. Look for the green and growing.

    Gentle peace, Maggie.

  10. This was very poignant. My husband was diagnosed with t-cell lymphoma on 12/12/19 after he had already suffered with health issues for three months and was previously incorrectly diagnosed. The medical professionals told us that we could beat this cancer and win. It would take some chemo and treatments, but we could beat it. He was in the hospital 12 times over the next 2 months – once for 19 days and another for 12 days. He passed on 2/25, just a few short days after they told us that we were going from “we can beat this” to “all his major organs are shutting down” it happened so fast. We were not at all prepared for that news. But when the drs said that we could prolong his life and it would be hard on him or we could opt for palliative care and they would make him as comfortable as possible… we opted for palliative care and tried to keep him as comfortable as possible for the next few days. We slept by his bed Or on the ICU waiting room floor and never left his side, thankfully the ICU allowed us open access and over 30 of us were there when he actually passed. (He has 9 kids and 17 grandkids) so it’s a huge family.
    Still- it was not easy even though we made the decision to put him on palliative care and keep him comfortable. We still think about “what if” I’m regards to miracles that I know happen and did we circumvent that pathway? But in the end, the bottom line is what you say is true. You will die, I will die and everyone we love will die- all living things die. For the 35 years of my marriage I couldn’t talk about that concept of my husband dying and leaving me. Now that he has: I wish we would have talked about it more……and I have the Christian faith assurance of the fact that he is in Heaven!! I’m thankful that I have that assurance and don’t know how people cope with this without that assurance!

  11. Oh, dear Ramona, the loss is so fresh and deep. I’m sad for your heart to be so soon on the journey of grief and now the pandemic anxiety and loss is everywhere, too. But your husband’s death is personal amidst all this noise and sorrow, and he was obviously a man who inspired great love and helped you create a large and loving family. I am so sorry. It sounds like you might have good support from your children, and that your faith is very important in your healing, too. I saw this story similarly lived so often; please try to be at peace with the choice you made to give peace in turn to your husband, and surround his dying with all that love.

    Be well and safe, Ramona. I carry your grief in my heart and prayers. Gentle peace.

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