My friend, Marvel, called to update me on the results of her most recent doctor’s appointment. I updated her on my trip to be evaluated for cataract surgery. She said, “We used to have very different conversations.” Just a few weeks before, we’d been planning a trip.
My Favorite Tree at Cox Arboretum 2015 and 2021 … She’s aging, too.
Sage Sister “Organ Recitals”
Four women in our 70s and 80s formed a Sage Sisters group, to the best of my recollection, sometime in 2013. We were feisty… determined to age consciously and with wisdom. We searched for ways to practice “eldering” … sharing our wisdom with younger folks. We were determined to make a difference until our dying day. At the time, that day seemed far off.
Two originals made their transition, one while experiencing Alzheimer’s. We continued, adding new members. Cindi and I are now the group’s elders.
Our conversations have evolved into what Cindi calls, “organ recitals.”
- High blood pressure
- A husband’s developing Alzheimer’s
- Cataract surgery
- Acid reflux
We spice it up with horror stories about appointments with less-than-empathetic physicians … enthusiastically grateful when we find one with good doctor-patient relationship skills … with our disenchantment with mainstream medicine and our exploration of more holistic, complementary approaches.
Death On Our Minds
Grateful to be meeting in person again for the first time in over a year, we finished Who Dies: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying by Stephen and Ondrea Levine. This book guided our conversations on zoom during the pandemic.
On the first anniversary of Cindi’s husband’s death, we dove into the final chapters, “The Moment of Death” and “The After Death Experience.” They tell the tale of our group’s most recent evolution.
…the moment of death is often a moment of great quietude and peace. …in the moments before death, an opening … an okayness that is felt. The mind and the heart gradually seem to become unified. ~Page 268
Cindi witnessed that unification of her husband’s mind and heart in his process of dying and said she could never have understood these words if not for that touching experience.
A Changing Conversation with My Dad
My dad said to me once when he was in his 80s, “I think I’m a jinx to my friends.”
“What makes you say that?” I asked.
“They’re all dying.”
I replied, “Dad, you aren’t causing them to die. You are living to a ripe old age, (he was 90 when he died) and I’m afraid friends dying will be your experience.”
Younger than he when we had that conversation (I will soon be 79), I can now relate, if not to his angst, at least to his grief. I recently lost three close friends in close succession:
- May 25: Barbara, my best friend of close to 50 years, died after almost 20 years dealing with Alzheimer’s
- June 12: Her devoted husband, Bill, of a glioblastoma
- June 18: Alice, a beloved mentor from my youth, of complications from Crohn’s disease and a stroke
Diving Deeper into Death
Perhaps because we are the elder Sage Sisters, Cindi and I are thinking more and more about our own deaths. She suggested our next book and we all agreed. At our next meeting, we will begin our exploration of conscious dying with Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande.
In recent weeks, I’ve been following Terry Patten’s Caring Bridge site. On April 1, his 70th birthday, Terry received a life-changing rare cancer diagnosis. That has certainly changed his conversations.
Before cancer, he felt an obligation to be in integrity with future generations and held a deep responsibility to make as big a difference as possible in our human predicament. He dedicated his life’s work to that endeavor. He wrote books, founded a podcast, and began developing a community of people who were in alignment with his passions.
Now, what concerns him is opening to the divine nature of the present moment.
And what is, is this moment. And this moment is luminous, empty, divine, radiant, endlessly deep, effervescent, full of grace, potentiated with unknown miracles. And so there’s been a really progressive exploration of that. ~Terry Patten’s response to a question about how his practice has evolved to deal with fear, doubt, and dread.
What an inspiration Terry is. A sage model to emulate. You can hear his full interview here.
With a bit of the wind out of our Sage Sister sails, we are still determined to live our lives until the end with conscious intention. We aspire to model this important way of being. Younger folks may look at us as strange or morbid … but one day, if they are lucky, their conversations will change, too.