Saturday, October 4, 2014

Taking Care

Dear Readers,

This is my final post on the Decrescendo blog. Thank you for following my blog, liking it on Facebook, leaving comments, and sending e-mails. Some of you made suggestions for topics that I used.

I would also like to acknowledge the excellent help I received from Polly Lorien who was my copy editor for two years: proofreading, checking the facts, and marking passages that lacked clarity. If you ever need a good copy editor, you can contact her at My thanks also to Robin Dreyer for his photographs, his encouragement, and technical help.

Many readers have urged me to go on writing. I have no planned projects but if the muse taps me on my shoulder I‘ll pay attention and send the result to those on the Decrescendo e-mail list. If you are not on that list you can add your name through the link at the top of the right-hand column.

As I bid you farewell I want to urge you to go take a walk and intentionally notice everything beautiful along the way. I’ll be out there too with Nigel.

Donna Jean Dreyer

The Cook siblings: Dorothy, David, and Donna Jean

“Beginnings and endings are sensitive times and deserve to be treated with care,” said Barbara Graves. It was 1967, and Bill and I had just returned after three years in Guatemala where we directed a volunteer program for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Barbara had been our field supervisor based in AFSC headquarters in Philadelphia where we were now starting our exit interview. It was the official ending of one of the most fascinating, rewarding, and difficult times of our life together. We did not yet know what we would be beginning.

That three-hour discussion of our experiences—what we had learned, how we had changed, what we were losing—remained with us both and assured that for the rest of our life together we would pay careful attention to beginnings and endings. Barbara spoke with the authority of a lifetime of difficult volunteer assignments in both war and peace as she advised us to take some time before we made a decision about which of several job opportunities Bill would accept. Then she offered one final piece of advice, which Bill followed then and many times later: “Make sure that whatever you do and wherever you go you will find support for your identity—the person you truly are.”

That conversation has been haunting me as I have approached the end of my blog writing and concurrently am living through a process of radical acceptance as we mourn the sudden death of my grandson Miles.  At the same time I rejoice at the unexpected but safe premature birth of my sixth great-grandchild. Tiny Cecilia is the child of my granddaughter Maya and her husband Wes. She is now at home and slowly gaining weight.

My life experiences say to me that taking care of these endings and a beginning requires time, allowing the sorrow to run its course, and maintaining a spacious readiness for what may in time follow these changes. Finishing a creative activity and mourning the death of one so dear to me are both endings deserving the care Barbara spoke of, however the difference in impact is huge. Cecilia’s beginning is in the care of her parents but knowing she is with us is a comfort.
Over the years I have been part of The Schleppers (a group of older folks who want to help each other age in place here in Celo). We have from time to time had a variety of discussions about death. In one series we approached the topic with the thought that becoming comfortable with the inevitability of our own death is part of the spiritual work of later life.  This summer has thrust me into a contemplation of both the often-gradual ending of lives in my generation as well as the harsh reality of the abrupt death of a young man in his prime.

In early summer my brother, David (age eighty-five), and I learned that our sister, Dorothy (age ninety-two), has a terminal diagnosis and is in the care of her daughter supported by hospice. Her journey to the end of life is moving slowly, but we live with the knowledge that it will come soon, perhaps this fall. In the same timeframe, David decided that he needed more support in the care of his courageous wife, now in her seventh year with Alzheimer’s. His new beginning starts on October 7 when they will move to an assisted living apartment in a facility close to one of his daughters. He is ending his time in Menomonie, Wisconsin where he has had a full and satisfying life for thirty-nine years. This move represents an acceptance of inevitability. 

I too feel a change as I am questioning how I want to use or spend the time that remains in my life. Perhaps that is a part of getting comfortable with my own death. Right now, however, I need to do the deep work of coming to terms with the absence of Miles whose life was so suddenly snuffed out. As for my future, however short or long it may be, I don’t know at this point, nor can I even imagine, what it might bring. This week it brought a letter from a friend of my own generation who wrote, “Perhaps you have been chosen by destiny to write about the depth of loss that will help others to carry on and to affirm in some way the great gift of life.” Perhaps I am headed toward a new beginning, which I will certainly treat with great care.