What does one speak into the space of dying?
My friend Ann is dying. Weeks ago, when we could talk, I asked her what she wanted me to do when our visits would no longer be conversations. She asked me to read Psalms (“but not the enemy ones”) and poetry. I’m not sure if she said the words, but what she told me was this: “I trust you to choose the right words.”
I’m not sure I have. I’m not sure I can.
I’ve spent the last month revisiting my bookshelves and have found that most of what the living write about dying is not for the dying, it’s for the living. The words we write about death are ironic, violent, protesting and sharp. Even the Psalmist greets his death and deliverance with promises of vengeance to enemies. Vengeance and protest are menus for the living and will not sustain those passing from this place.
So far, I’ve read her Wendell Barry (whom she called “that poor man in the woods”) and “Farewell to Shadowlands,” Lewis’ final chapter of Narnia. We shared one of Christina Rossetti’s prayers and Kailyn Haught’s “God Says Yes to Me.”
What does one speak into the space of dying? This is not a rhetorical question. What do I?
Instructions for the Journey
by Pat Schneider
The self you leave behind
is only a skin you have outgrown.
Don’t grieve for it.
Look to the wet, raw, unfinished
self, the one you are becoming.
The world, too, sheds its skin:
politicians, cataclysm, ordinary days.
It’s easy to lose this tenderly
unfolding moment. Look for it
as if it were the first green blade
After a long winter. Listen for it
as if it were the first clear tone
in a place where dawn is heralded by bells.
And, if all that fails,
wash your own dishes.
Stand in your kitchen at your sink.
Let cold water run between your fingers.
What happens when you write instructions for the journey? What are the alternatives? What “if all that fails”? Even if you don’t feel it, what images would you create for yourself that end with the insistence/encouragement/command/exhortation/hope to “Feel it.”