Tag Archives: death

This [Living Into] Dying Business…

Last week, my dear friend Jeanne Tessier died. Her death was not unexpected. She had cancer that had come back many times, and after several years of treating it, she finally decided to let the cancer run its course and to accept death and approach it with bravery and boldness.

Her journey toward death was inspirational, awe-inspiring, and shocking. She approached her mortality with grace, trusting that what was to come was just another part of the marvelous story of her creation.

In the months after she decided to stop her cancer treatments, Jeanne made small changes in her life. She took care of many of her post-mortem tasks so that her children didn’t have to, categorizing her possessions and settling up many of her temporal matters. She also periodically reflected on all of the steps she was taking as she walked toward the afterlife. She titled these reflections “This Dying Business” and periodically posted them on her Facebook page.

I found her reflections to be sources of sincere inspiration and beauty. As someone who just dealt with the death of a loved one (my mother died in December of 2015), I found myself revisiting the final days of my mothers life. Though it was emotional reading Jeanne’s reflections, it was also comforting, providing succor for my emotional wounds after my mother’s death.

A few months before she died, I visited her one last time. She was staying in a friend’s vacant house, though it was fully furnished and had all of the comforts she would need to live. It was an amazingly loving gesture from a dear friend of hers. When I visited her, I thanked her for her bravery and for her honesty in the reflections she had been sharing. She had touched my life by reflecting on the fragility and beauty of her own life. I told her I hoped to share these things with others, hoping that her words may bring others hope and inspiration, filling them with courage, in the face of their own death, or the coming death of a loved one.

And so, below I share her posts, which she titled “This [Living Into] Dying Business”. My prayer is that you might also find beauty and inspiration in her honest and heartfelt words.

THIS DYING BUSINESS: Packing to Move January 14, 2017

I’m packing to move. I can’t count how many times I’ve packed to move in my life, including in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Now I’m preparing to move again, but this time is different. This time there are more layers of meanings to unpacking from cupboards and closets and packing into boxes for transport. This time the interior work — feeling, imagining, deciding, detaching — is thoughtful and exhausting, and the work proceeds much more slowly, one considered object at a time.

I’m preparing to move into the home of a kind and generous and beloved friend. I’m also moving for what I expect will be the last time in this lifetime. So this time I’m preparing to move my body and belongings, but I’m also preparing to die, and doing my best to be ready for it, to approach it clear-eyed and to spare my beloved children the tasks of sorting through all the stuff that gets left behind when someone dies.

For example, I have countless art-making supplies of every imaginable kind — not just paints, pencils, pastels, printmaking tools, beads, paper and canvases, but found or scrounged objects of many kinds — slabs of wood, odd drawer handles, boxes of every size and shape, broken eyeglasses, an old belt buckle, bits of mirror and broken glass. You get the idea. I once moved an entire suitcase of broken glass, much to the amusement of the men who helped me unpack at that destination some years ago. (Eventually, much of that glass became part of “Shattered,” the best sculpture I ever made.) This time, preparing to move, I look at all these things and think, “Who am I kidding? How can I possibly make use of all this stuff in what remains of my lifetime? Yet: making art is the thing that centers and fulfills me more than any other; it is my truest creative expression and prayer. It is also my hope.

So I examine all these objects and weigh the likelihood that I will be able to put them to use. I pull out some things to give my granddaughters — a tiny tea set, some little funnels, a few Japanese fans, some chopsticks, a bag of dice. I pack some materials and tools I’m not likely to have the strength to make art with anymore into a box to give to the Habitat Re-Store. I empty and part with some wonderful old suitcases I used to carry these things around in. And I pack up a lot of it, still, to go with me in hope to my next home, where I hope to make art until I die.

As I sort and pitch and ponder, I put little bits of my history and story — prints, posters, writings, and a few photographs — into a suitcase marked “FOR MY CHILDREN.” When my mother died, I wished I had known more about her and that she had left more clues and evidence behind. I don’t know if my children will wish that or not, but I want them — if they want them– to have some glimpses of who I was and what I created while I was here. They, of course, are my proudest accomplishment. As I pack, I take certain beloved objects of mine and write their names on the bottoms or backs of different ones, wanting to share with each of them some of the beautiful objects I have cherished and loved. I will enjoy these objects awhile longer and then, maybe, they will do the same.


THIS DYING BUSINESS 2: Abundant Life – February 10, 2017

I plowed through the business of moving more exhausted than ever before and yet forging ahead with the clear goal of living each day deliberately, consciously, and with love. For me, this goal includes searching through accumulated scraps of a lifetime, seeking words and images to share, seeking ways to serve even in this dying time. I want to offer gifts of some kind and maybe some perspective to those who walk at my side. I find myself simultaneously immersed in the physicality of my life — changing patterns of sleep, energy, mobility and pain –and also swimming through a wide range and depth of emotions, including sweet nostalgia, a desperate sense of urgency, and tidal waves of grief, both for what has been and what lies ahead. I want to name and give meaning to my experience of dying, to be open to what unfolds (or unravels), watching and waiting, reading my body’s energy and sensations, seeking some clues as to what I will and won’t be able to do. Yet no one knows, exactly, because cancer affects each of us who have it differently.

Now, as I settle in to this lovely space, I am grateful for Amy who has made this home available to me, for all who helped me pack and move and unpack, for being close once again to a favorite dog-walking park, for being close here to my sister Jan and her Donald, for wonderful neighbors David, Karen and Delora, and for feeling welcomed and at home. My friend Brian, who came last weekend to help create a guest room out of chaos and hung all my pictures, is returning this weekend to make a video of making art and talking together, something I can share with loved ones down the road. Awhile back, my daughter Shelley asked if I’d make a recording of myself reading Dylan Thomas’ story “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” the reading aloud of which was a Christmas Eve tradition years ago, so Brian is going to help with that as well.

I have a long list of names and contact information of people — generous and kind — who have offered to help with everything from Soul-walking to food and other things. I am grateful to all of you for your willingness and I expect that, before too long, I will be needing assistance in a number of ways and will begin to call. In the meantime, I am grateful for your prayers and good vibes and waves of energy sent my way. I believe these things have real power to lift me up and carry me along on this journey and I am buoyed by knowing so many kind souls hold me in their hearts and minds.

Yesterday was kind of a bleak day for me — I was tired and sore and could not seem to get warm. Today the sun is shining and, after 12-plus hours of sleep, I feel rested and bathed in light. Time to take my dear beastie for a walk. Thank you all.


THIS DYING BUSINESS [3]: UNEXPECTED GIFTS/HOW GOD WORKS – March 12, 2017

Yesterday morning , I awoke in a dark frame of mind that hung around. Around lunchtime, I went out with my Soul dog for a walk and on the way back stopped at the mailbox and there found a letter. The walk hadn’t lifted my mind, heart or view.

I came inside and opened the letter. It was from a person with whom I used to share a spiritual community and a couple of small group experiences some years ago, someone I’d never known well, but whose presence and company I had enjoyed in the years our paths intersected. Her brief, kind letter was pure gift and all the richer for being utterly unexpected.

The writer had learned that my cancer is back and so took time to write and tell me about all the times she thought of me when at the community gatherings I no longer attend, about things she remembers about my life and how I tried to live, my presence and demeanor, my beloved dog Spirit… in short, her memories of me. She ended her note with words of thanks for having mentored her in some ways, unknowingly, by how I lived my life.

What an unexpected gift and remarkable treasure, especially on a day when my own light was dim. None of us ever really know whose lives we touch or in what ways, but, oh, what a gift we receive when someone tells us and affirms thereby that our lives have made a difference in their own.


THIS DYING BUSINESS 4: Getting Real Now – March 8, 2017

[Please know before reading the poem below that this is not a request for help but part of my continuing effort to share this experience with you. So many of you have offered to help and that time is coming but not here yet. When it comes nearer, I’ll be asking for help of various kinds from all who have offered. For now, though, this is just my attempt to give words to the “getting real now” of my journey.]

Tectonic Plate
noun: the two sub-layers of the earth’s crust… that move, float, and sometimes fracture and whose interaction causes continental drift, earthquakes, volcanoes, mountains, and oceanic trenches (Dictionary.com)

“And who is your caregiver?”
the hospice nurse asks. “When
the time comes, who will care
for you?” The question stuns,
and not just because I have no one
person, partner, sibling or child
who would be free to come in
my dying time to care for me.
(Anymore, who does? The lives
of nearly everyone I know are
wild with busyness.)
The question stuns, even though
I’ve heard and asked it of myself
(when it was still theoretical).
It stuns because I am, and for most
of my life have been, my own.
I am my caregiver. (Not that I’ve
been a good one, having neglected
my care in so many ways on so
many days.) Nonetheless, I’m it.
What stuns is the realization, swift
and sudden, that before too long,
I will have to let that go. I will
have to surrender my life to others’
care. I do my best (and fail) to give
my life to The Beloved every day.
But to other human beings? Having
been harmed so early by those who
first were given to care for me? To now
seek care from those I’ve tried
so hard (if badly) to care for in my life?
Ground shakes; the walls won’t hold.

Jeanne Tessier 3-18-17


THIS DYING BUSINESS 5: Living the Gift of Days – April 28, 2017

I have so many people praying for my well-being. I take good care of myself – eating well, taking vitamins, making and regularly consuming fudge full of turmeric, reputed to be effective at slowing cancer’s course (the turmeric, not the fudge, although who knows?). I regularly engage in visual meditation, envisioning
the colors of the chakras enveloping, penetrating and bringing healing to my body. I practice a little reiki on myself, and I pray to have all the time I need to accomplish what I still hope to accomplish in my life.

Which of these things are of God? All of them, prayer most certainly. Which of these things have secured for me this period of health and well-being in which I currently am delighting? All of them, perhaps, and God most certainly. I feel strong. I have no pain and only a little discomfort. I have energy. Soul and I are taking long, wonderful walks. The lump that appeared where my second tumor was removed a few months ago seems to have disappeared and as of yet there are no markers to suggest that the cancer has taken up lodgings elsewhere in my body. How long will this season of wellness last? I have no idea, but I’m going to ride this wave.

Marc Cohn, one of my favorite singer/songwriters, recorded a song a few years ago after recovering from being shot in the head; the song is called “Live Out the String.” It is a wonderful song and has been playing in my head for days. It contains these words: “Maybe life is curious to see what you would do with the gift of being left alive.” Maybe. Most certainly, in this and so many other things and ways, I am blessed beyond all reason. This is what I know for sure: I am glad to be alive and grateful beyond measure and I’m going to ride this wave until it ends.

Jeanne Tessier 4-28-17


THIS LIVING INTO DYING BUSINESS [6]: June 9, 17

I had CT scans of my head and torso on Tuesday in order to learn where the cancer might be in my body. I learned the results yesterday: there is a tumor inside my left chest wall near where a tumor was surgically removed several months ago. The area of my chest near where my left breast was removed 3 years ago has a number of lymph nodes that are enlarged with cancer. And there are some dark spots on my left lung, most likely cancer as well.

The good news:

The CTs of my head are clear and there is no evidence of cancer in any of my digestive organs.

Most of the time, I feel great. I have very little pain. I had a few days of occasional dizziness recently, but that subsided.

I continue to walk my Soul dog 4-5 times a day and would guess that we’ve logged 400-500 miles since the beginning of February,

I continue to look for beauty in the world every day (Soul looks for squirrels).

Since the beginning of February, I have completed 25 paintings, have taken a couple hundred pictures, have framed about another 20 pieces completed earlier, and have plans for many more.

I’ve had visits from and time with many family members and friends.

I get to hang out with my granddaughters who delight me on a regular basis.

Thanks to my friend Amy, I have a beautiful home in which to live.

My sister Jan lives a block away and comes over to play Scrabble and share meals often.

I have received so many kindnesses and blessings from so many people.

I am glad to be alive and, at the same time, I am not afraid of going Home when that time comes.

Living and dying are threads of the same tapestry, and I’m still busy weaving as best I can.


THIS DYING BUSINESS 7: September 19, 2017

For over a year after learning my cancer was back, I’ve had a pretty good run. Up until quite recently, despite the presence of cancer within, I’ve had good health and energy. I’ve been able to spend rich and healing time with family members and friends from far and near. I’ve had time to make art for two little exhibits here locally. Until recently, I could still comfortably walk my Soul dog 4-5 times a day. I’ve had time to sort through possessions to share with my family now or when I’m gone. I’ve gathered together writings, photos, and memorabilia for my beloved grown children, planned the basic structure of my funeral, arranged for my cremation, reconnected with a beloved friend from our undergraduate years who is on a brave and noble cancer journey of her own, done a bit of writing and a great deal of life review, reveling for some part of most days in the beauty of the world. Of course, I have also wondered, worried, grieved, and prayed.

Lately, life inside my physical body has become harder: pain, fatigue, loss of energy, weakness and so on, to the point at which it recently became important to let my beloved Soul dog go begin the next phase of his earthly life wrapped in the love, energy and care of my niece Mary and her wonderful family. His adjustment to his new life is going well and I know he is going to revel in the love he finds there. As for me, I’m sleeping a bit better since I’m not sharing sleeping space with him, I’m greatly missing his presence, and I am grateful and relieved to know that he has the loving family he needs. I pray he will give Mary and Glenn and Joey and Tessa and even Grandpa Joe, who will also be a part of his life in Illinois, much love and laughter.

Now I’m hoping to do a bit more writing about this “long, strange trip” I’m on, to learn some hard lessons about surrender, to read and maybe make a bit more art, to visit (more briefly) with family and friends, and to (hopefully) find some combination of gentle medicines that will ease pain and leave my mind more or less intact. I am praying I don’t linger too long, and I would welcome your joining me in that prayer. I’ve had a rich, full and difficult life (as most of us do) and I know Love awaits because that is who God is. I look forward to being welcomed into that Love and, I hope, as well, to being reunited with people I’ve loved here in my lifetime and with some animals, too, especially a big black Spirit dog who left this plane a year ago. For those who have doubts about the souls of animals continuing into eternity, I assure you that Spirit was my truest and most faithful spiritual teacher, even though I’ve had many wonderful human teachers as well.

I welcome your responses to my sharing, but please know it’s not required. I just hope, that if you read what I write, you will find some value there. Thank you all for being my family and friends.

Jeanne Tessier

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Holy Saturday: A Reflection

O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so we may await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This year, Holy Saturday is hitting me a little differently. This is normally a day that I forget about. I quickly move from the celebrations of Maundy Thursday (Christ’s last supper and footwashing), to Good Friday (remembering his death on the cross), and then often move my thoughts directly to the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter. However, this year I find myself contemplating the depth of Holy Saturday.

Why have I always rushed past it? Why is it an often forgotten about observation? This is the day we remember Christ being laid in the tomb. Perhaps it is because this is the most painful part. There is no more body for us to see on the cross. No more body to be prepared for burial, wrapped in linens and spices. The body is no longer in our midst. It is buried, sealed away in the tomb…for now.

We all are living in our own versions of Holy Saturday. Personally, I feel a connection with the recent loss of my mother. She died a few months ago, and this time without her is a sort of perpetual Holy Saturday. Her body is no longer with me. She has returned to the earth…for now. She is already living in light perpetual in the presence of God and all the saints, but for me, and my earthly body, I can no longer be with her. Not until I join her in the light of God’s presence.

But this is the hardest time. It is the time between the death and the rising for my eyes that I am living in. It is the hardest time. The time when faith is tried the most. When fears can easily give way to doubt. When the love I once knew so well can turn into remorse or anger. It is through Christ’s example of life, suffering, death, and resurrection that I can rest assured that my mother and I will be reunited someday. On her death bed, I told her that I believe when she awakes in heaven, we will all already be there together, resurrected in the time of eternity in the presence of God. Time has no meaning to God, and I believe that when we die of our earthly bodies, we not only enter our heavenly bodies, but we enter the realm of God’s time, where all earthly boundaries and explanations lose their meaning.

Mom is already with me. But for me, now, in this earthly body, I am living in a sort of ongoing Holy Saturday. We have Christ to thank for unlocking the gates of heaven for all of creation to receive the free gift of salvation into eternal life. Thanks be to God!

image001

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The Souls of the Righteous

The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and the pain of death shall not touch them.
To the eyes of the foolish, they seemed to perish, but they are in peace.

–Words: Widsom 3:1-3
–Music: Geraint Lewis (born 1958)

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God’s Gift of Time

Earlier today, I read a letter written by Bishop Thomas Shaw of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. In this heartfelt letter, he gives thanks to the people who are supporting him as he deals with terminal brain cancer. And in this letter, one paragraph stood out to me and blew my mind. It was about God’s gift of time.

Here’s the excerpt from his letter:

You know, time too often in our culture is perceived as a problem; all of us, at some point, feel we don’t have enough of it. Yet, because of Jesus the Messiah, all time is now God’s time. It is part of the unfolding of God’s glory. We are invited into it as an experience of the presence of God. I believe that is where our prayer, where our life together in gathered community, where our participation with God in making all things new is taking us: into the heart of God.

May each of us be opened to the possibility and the hope offered through God’s gift of time.

Time is one of those things that cannot be explained in words. Just like God. And in the way Bishop Shaw explains God’s gift of time in his letter, it really makes you think about how amazing time really is. In many places in Scripture, God is explained to live in a different realm in terms of time. It’s amazing to think that time, itself, is actually a gift from God.

Let us give thanks to God for the mysterious and wondrous gift of time, and rejoice in knowing that in the fulfillment of God’s kingdom, all of time shall be gathered together for eternity.

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Holy Saturday Reflection (Lent Day 40)

Holy Saturday, to me, is a day in the life of the church of mourning and remembrance of the life of Christ. And, most importantly, it is a day to acknowledge the end of Christ’s life, and yet the beginning of new life to come. It is in death that new, everlasting life begins. Death is not a thing to truly mourn…we mourn for those still on the earth. But we rejoice with those in heaven: the angels, the saints, and all of eternity, who rejoice at the everlasting life that was won for all in the death of Jesus on the cross. So, Holy Saturday is not a day that we mourn for ourselves…or even for Christ. We mourn for those who put Jesus to death…and who still put Jesus on the cross in their ignorance of the unconditional love that God has for all of us in Jesus Christ. We mourn for those who, each day, deny that love that is given freely to the world. Those people who live in darkness without acknowleding or embodying that love…and yet, just around the corner, just a day away, just a word away, is new and unending life. That day of Easter, of the empty tomb, of radiant light, is free for all of creation. It is for those who don’t see it that we mourn. And it is for all of us that Christ died and returns each day in our hearts.

The duteous day now closeth,
each flower and tree reposeth,
shade creeps o’er wild and wood:
let us, as night is falling,
on God our Maker calling,
give thanks to him, the Giver good.

Now all the heavenly splendor
breaks forth in starlight tender
from myriad worlds unknown;
and man, this marvel seeing,
forget his selfish being
for joy of beauty not his own.

His care he drowneth yonder,
lost in the abyss of wonder;
to heaven his soul doth steal:
this life he disesteemeth,
the day it is that dreameth,
that doth from truth his vision seal.

Awhile his mortal blindness
may miss God’s lovingkindness
and grope in faithless strife;
but when life’s day is over,
shall death’s fair night discover
the fields of everlasting life.

–Words: Paul Gerhardt, 1648; trans. Robert Seymour Bridges, 1899
–Tune: O WELT, ICH MUSS DICH LASSEN, melody att. Heinrich Isaac (1450?-1517); harm. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

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Lenten Reflection – Day 34

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, `Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord. —Ezekiel 37:11-14

This hast to be one of the most fantastical readings in the book of Ezekiel, a book of prophesy and lament written when the Jews were in exile in Babylon. This reading conjures images of resurrection, foretelling the message that is to come in Jesus Christ. These words of Ezekiel still speak to us today, much like the words of the other prophets. They turn our hearts and minds towards the One who came, the One who will rise from the dead in everlasting glory, the One in whom ultimate hope and salvation is found.

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Lenten Reflection – Day 31

The Gospel story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45) is a strange one, for many reasons. What I find most strange, but also most interesting, is that Jesus is told that “the one whom you love is ill.” Upon hearing this, Jesus doesn’t immediately go to Bethany to see his friend…he stays two days longer with his disciples. Upon his arrival in Bethany, he consoles his friends Martha and Mary. He goes to the tomb of Lazarus with Mary and Martha, and he, too, begins to weep. Several times, the Gospel says “he was greatly disturbed.”

This Gospel reading gives us a rare glimpse of Jesus…a one in which we see Jesus’s humanity expressed in several ways: his love for his friend, his being “greatly disturbed”, and in his consoling of his friends, showing compassion for his friends grief.

I think in this story, we are shown that it is OK to mourn the loss of friends and family whom we have lost in death. But, we are also called to hope and joy for the day when we will be reunited with them in eternal life. We are called with Jesus to mourn when we lose a loved one to death, but also we are called with Jesus to be joyful in anticipation of the day when we will all be raised from the grave, like Lazarus, and reunited with our loved ones for eternity.

Thanks be to God!

Lazarus

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