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Lions Roar : November 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN NoveMBer 2009 29 of emphysema and the only thing she wanted was her daughters’ forgiveness. yet, despite knowing she was dying, they refused to see or talk to her. i suggested we write a forgiveness letter and Jean agreed on the condition that they’d only get it after she died. For three weeks, she dictated and i wrote. after many starts and stops and a ream of crumpled paper, we finally had something she felt good about. all of her hard work was contained in three sentences. “i’m sorry if i hurt you. Please forgive me. i love you.” it was enough to give her some peace before she died. Unfulfilled Dreams it has always been difficult for me to provide comfort to people who feel their lives have been riddled with unfulfilled dreams. martha could only focus on the life she wouldn’t have with her lover, who was incarcerated and could only speak to her once a week by phone for fifteen minutes. when she started actively dying, her sister and i read her more than one hundred emails from people whose lives she’d enriched as a volunteer in a read- ing program. she never acknowledged any of the moving expres- sions of gratitude, but rather lamented having placed her life on hold for something that would never happen. Fortunately, not all dreams go unfulfilled. sometimes completing a simple thing can provide immense comfort, as it did for Vince. He was seventeen, a high school senior with cystic fibrosis, and had more unfulfilled dreams than memories. Vince, his family, and all his caretakers knew he wouldn’t live long enough to attend his graduation. His mother and his school principal arranged for a pre- graduation ceremony at the hospice where he was staying. Vince, who was propped up in bed, breathing through an oxygen mask and dressed in full regalia, was formally presented his diploma by the principal, as a small group of us applauded and cried. that one simple event may not seem significant in comparison with the number of dreams that wouldn’t be fulfilled. but i think his memory of it—and the photograph posted next to his bed— made his death easier two weeks later. FRom my HosPiCe FRiends, i’ve learned much about living and dying. in serving them, i’ve come to believe the baggage i’ll tote with me to my death will determine its quality. i’ve learned the importance of doing simple things—telling my family and friends i love them; expressing gratitude for even the smallest kindnesses shown to me; being accepting of the unskillful words and actions of others; and asking for forgiveness when i screw up. For me, the “good death” as they called it in the middle ages, is one involving a minimalist approach. Fifteen hundred years ago people said their goodbyes, gave away their furniture, and peacefully left. that sounds about right to me, but, instead of furniture, i plan to focus on clearing my plate of all those things that take me further away from the core of being human. ♦