Sorrow

When my daughter Pam was 17, she had a group of incandescent friends – Julie, Catherine, Kim, Martha, Polly and others – who lit the spaces of our lives. They went on to college, jobs, marriages and adventures, lost track of each other at times and got back together at high school reunions. They encountered heartaches and obstacles, found success and contentment and joy.

A few weeks ago, Kim’s daughter Ally, who was born within several months of my own beloved first granddaughter, died in an auto wreck. She was 17. Ally was, according to all reports from her grief-stricken friends, one of those incandescent teenagers herself, a pretty, outgoing, church-going, clean-living young woman of limitless promise. It is an unfathomable sorrow. Akin to the ache that envelops the room as those photos of smiling young service men and women roll silently across the NewsHour screen every Friday, with only their names, ages and hometowns suggesting the overwhelming sadness that their loss now creates.

When Pam and Kim and the others were about 17, their friend Mark was killed in a motorcycle accident. The only son of a very dear friend of mine, I remember Mark as filled with a more macho but equally vibrant incandescence; his loss remains, especially for his family and for those contemporary friends, a giant sorrow.

Here, though, is what sorrow does. It unites. It makes humanity understandable, it makes gentleness essential. Why would anyone who knew Ally or Mark ever want to be unkind? How could any of us fail to cherish the people we see and the day we greet?

It does nothing to lessen the loss. But whether we knew them or not, this is a parting gift from Ally and Mark.

Matters of Life and Death

It’s a little cluttered and disorganized on my soapbox… but I still climb up here. During a workshop on advance directives I recently led for a San Francisco women’s group, a wistful, sloe-eyed fifty-something looked up from the documents she was finishing and said, “Could we please get my mom back from the wherever to fill this out?” She then told us a tale of angst and anguish about her mother’s death, one sibling pitted against another over whether to keep up futile treatments, doctors urging one test one day and another treatment another, her frail and elderly mother unable to communicate – it’s a tale of woe all too familiar.

As I’ve blogged before and probably will blog again, if you, whatever your age and state of health, have not done your advance directive, do it right this minute. Easy. Surf over to caringinfo, a fine site run by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, and download a state-specific form, free, takes very little time or effort, do it right this minute. If you want another free form or two to help clarify your wishes and/or aid communications with friends and family, let me know and I’ll send them in Word.

What brought this up again were two serendipitous happenstances: meeting Jessica Knapp, and attending a highly enlightening lunch meeting.

I met Jessica in the blogosphere. She is articulate, literate, and eager to broaden the conversation about death and dying that most people don’t even want to think about. I happily make room for her on my soapbox. And you will enjoy her blog!!

At the End-of-Life Network meeting were two women who spoke on making life easier and better organized so its end will be easier for friends and families – and yourself too, for that matter. Check out Maggie Watson’s getting-organized workbook, and/or Cari Ann Hays’ family consulting business. Their talks inspired me to come home, drag out the yet-incomplete life-organizer book my good friend Carol Carruba (I’ll send her e-mail on request) created as aid and incentive tool in her real estate business. It’s an amazingly simple but thorough loose-leaf book titled My Life Organized, which my life certainly is not but don’t tell Carol. I still fit better into the client list of the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization – but I think that’s another blog all to itself.

Let me see if I can get this straight. New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, back in ’03, witnessed to some events which at which he was unfortunately not a witness. More recently, Margaret Seltzer, aka Jones, penned a memoir, Love and Consequences, duly published by Riverhead Books and subsequently recalled, but you can buy it on Amazon; it was unfortunately not exactly remembered, since it hadn’t happened. Now we are confronted with a novel, Charm, written by Kendall Hart, who isn’t actually a person, although she is indeed a character in a soap opera, leading to the fascinating scene I guess we’ll all be awaiting in frantic anticipation, when the fictional Kendall shows up for a publishing party on her fictional show, attended by a real person from Hyperion, which is publishing the actual book of fiction. (An eponymous fragrance will go on sale at real Sears stores about the same time all this is taking place.) Truth may still be stranger than fiction, but the two are getting a little hard to dissect. I wonder if Truman Capote considered, before In Cold Blood was spilled upon the land, what the whole ‘creative nonfiction’ business would embolden and encounter? I remember reading In Cold Blood, believing every word, knowing I shouldn’t believe it because Capote wasn’t there to record those conversations and events, thinking it was a fascinating new art form anyway. I hasten not to blame Mr. Capote, or the subsequent devotees of creative nonfiction — good grief, you can even get an M.F.A in Creative Nonfiction from my highly esteemed and still beloved alma mater the University of San Francisco. (Not all my alma maters are still beloved; Randolph-Macon Woman’s College seems to be self-destructing into Randolph College which is neither fictional nor, in my case, lovable.)

Still, Jayson Blair and Margaret Seltzer were certainly creative about their (non)fiction and I don’t even want to think about what new category the fictional author Hart will spawn. Life is curious, and lines blur. My Dying Unafraid is, I promise, true. So is Never in Doubt, though I included in this ‘biographical memoir’ as many caveats as I possibly could about the stories therein being drawn from my father after he passed 80 and long after his lines between fiction and remembered fact were hopelessly blurred. A story is a story, a memoir is only a memoir

Conversations 101

Talk may be cheap, but it’s not always easy. Or done well. I’m watching Barack Obama with joy and enthusiasm for, among other reasons, his inclination to talk to anybody, anywhere without even rattling swords in the background. Closer to home, and to the issues I often deal with, talk among communities of different faiths more often than not serves to show us we all believe just about exactly the same thing; at the very least we have far more similarities than differences. In interfaith gatherings we wind up wondering why religions stir up so much pain and anguish. (It’s easy to see how; we wonder why.) Several of us hope soon to launch a social group on Beliefnet.com, so perhaps if you’re reading this you can keep an eye out for that good talking place. Also closer to home, and apropos other posts on this wandering blogspot: At last night’s meeting of Compassion & Choices, N.CA, on whose board I sit, we talked of the troubles arising from the fact that so often doctors don’t talk (or listen) to patients. (I hasten to say we have two fine, genuine-listener physicians on that board.) Working with hospice, AIDS or dying C&C clients it is sad to discover, too late, that one simple conversation — with friends, family, physicians — could have saved acres of anguish. Yesterday, therefore, I Googled myself — this is what you do if you’re REALLY bored, and a fine thing it is until you see your book offered for a distress sale price. And lo, I found it, a piece I wrote for the San Francisco Medical Society several years back titled Conversations 101. That, along with last night’s meeting and the current events of the day, prompted this ramble. The point of which is just to say what a better day we might all have if we just put up the swords, the iPhones and iPods, the computerized medical charts and even the predetermined opinions, imagined ourselves in Conversations 101, and talked to each other.

Welcome to my blog.

I picked the topic while walking in the gorgeous San Francisco sunshine with my gorgeous friend Mary Trigiani one day, talking about what ties together the erratic strands of my life. Celebrating, we said. Celebrating the beauty of this place (and other places), celebrating life and occasionally death, celebrating friends and families and faith. “You really need to start a blog,” said Mary, and thus it was born.

It was the celebration of living and dying that led me to become a hospice volunteer, later to work with AIDS patients, and eventually to put those stories together with similar stories of hope and courage to create the book Dying Unafraid. Researching Dying Unafraid led me to meet some remarkable people with Compassion and Choices , an organization I work with still (often 40 hours a week.)

It is the celebration of friends that leads me to joy.

It was the celebration of family that led to the little biographical memoir of my father Earl Moreland, Never in Doubt and leads to the serious joy — can joy be serious? Why not — of living with The Great Encourager (that’s Bud, my final husband) and keeping in touch with my flawless children and grandchildren. (Sandy is the only one with a Web site right now, unless I get into Facebooks of grandkids and I’d better not go there as yet.)

It was the celebration of faith that led me to my particular church home here in San Francisco and helped open my eyes and heart to the multitude of other truly remarkable faith communities that come together in the San Francisco Interfaith Council (new Web site under construction), the other nonprofit that currently occupies my days.

So today, with Easter approaching and the celebrations of other faith communities all around in the springtime, it seemed a good time to send this initial blog into cyberspace. I hope you’ll enjoy it, whoever and wherever you are, and perhaps post a note. (What do bloggers do, I wonder, if no one ever blogs back?)

There are plenty of other things to celebrate, despite the troubles of our battered world: books and art and music and sometimes even politics. I’ll welcome your thoughts, but I won’t promise many profound thoughts of my own (and surely not every day or even every few days! Where in the world can blog time be found?) We’ll see. And we’ll celebrate.

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