The Picturing Death Project Journal Entries from 1999-2003

The simple but effective structure for the Picturing Death Project, a cast glass table, four chairs, and journals, provide a structure for journal writing with 4 questions that help participants examine how we will choose to live with the knowledge that death is inevitable. Currently, the project table, chairs and journals reside at Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan in Kalamazoo.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Journal Entry 2 (Robin)

There was a time when I thought that I would simply be assumed into the goodness of God. That God was all of existence and so whatever was good about my life would become one w/God's goodness and the individual "me" would simply cease to be differentiated. But I am awed by peoples' experiences of having a sense that "dad" or "Walter" are somehow still themselves, still conscious and ever attending to this existence. So, what is it like for them now, and me to come?

I believe I will be in relationship with others. I am aware that I have casual interactions with it seems hundreds of people. I enjoy meeting new people but being somewhat reserved, I cling to a few close friends. In this sense, I think after death will be similar. I will connect with a few close people, but somehow be in tune with the whole celestial choir. Perhaps I feel I will have a sense of belonging and arrival that I don't experience fully here. Is it the "I shall not rest (fully) until I rest in thee" experience? I think so. If I am in a place, I imagine my sensation will be like the days I feel most ALIVE! Bright sun, combo of nature and culture, water, trees, mountains. I doubt that the place will be a place, but my sensation will be uplifting, free.

I continue to remember the very positive spirit of my grandfather, on my dad's side. I also appreciate my grandmother. It would be good to connect with them. In my work, I have been in a relationship (BRIEFLY) with people who I feel may have felt let down by me (such EGO!). Perhaps if would be hard to "see" them again, although it would also be a chance to make up for whatever we lack.

It's hard to begin here because I've been around death after it wasn't personal, or close. It is possible to imagine death without engaging it, at least to some degree. However, very often I do think of someone close while I'm sitting at the funeral of someone I don't really know well.

I am not a good predictor of death. I don't really see death in someone's eyes or hear it in their breath. I am startled when I witness someone "alive" and then a brief time later realize they are dead.

I was very sad when my mother took my dog to the pound and had him put to sleep. I felt anger of course, and I felt guilty for not taking better care of him. But I also missed my companion and felt a void in my daily routine. Most of the time, I feel that the person will be okay.

I haven't connected to too many suicides, I may feel different about that. My job keeps me focused on those left behind.

My sister-in-law just related an experience to me about her father who recently died and he seemed to "INTERVENE' in a situation in her life. She of course related in a humorous way but clearly wanted me to understand that she truly felt that he was present to the situation in an active way.

THE NUCLEAR AGE-I've wondered if growing up under the mushroom cloud has had any affect on me. Do I hold life more "loosely" than my predecessors because I could be vaporized at any time? From some far away place?

I think of my death in somewhat heroic terms. I am connected spiritually to those who struggle against injustice. The powers do not give up power freely, so the expectation is that there will be violence. I understand that God chooses instruments of Her will at certain times, and those instruments are after called to martyrdom. So, death is a companion to my spiritual reflection.

My children have pushed me in 2 directions-they are very VITAL and ALIVE, and so they take me far away from death. But, I also relate to them in terms of the cycle of life, in that the torch is passed to them from my parents and from me.Their growing means my aging and my movement towards death.

DEATH on the horizon means I can't do anything about it, so why be overly concerned.

However, I jog and exercise in order to make the most of my life.

I may be like others in that it's old age that is worrisome, as much as death. I'm not eager to lose my ability to take care of myself or my family. This is a judgment on my part, but in many cases it is borne out of the comments of those involved.

I'd like to think that I am a good person by choice, but death is a motivation...

KEEP THE LIGHT ON. Death is a sneaky fellow, lurking behind what seems like a friendly face, a familiar place. Let the beacon of the "normal" life cycle stay lit so as to fend off the intruder when he is unexpected.

LET THE SHOW BEGIN-all the usual characters should be cast for this big show. Wife, kids, grand kids, some friends-old and new. And from the other side, let the master of ceremonies be mom and dad, who were there at the beginning now bring down the curtain as well.

Can there be music? Can I sing a hymn to death, that final act?

I have to get on the dragon's back, hoist myself up, give myself freely to this ride. Soon I will be flying, gone from the familiar, through dark toward who knows what-But the dragon will turn into a white PEGASUS, carrying me to the light, on into formation with all the other HIGH flying people of God.



Cosmos, beauty, journey. What type of substance there will be I can’t fathom but that there will be beauty and love that it is a good place I feel 95% sure.At other times that 5% uncertainty arises and the images of Hell and Damnation, of paying for earthly wrongs and sins looms up and I am not at all pleased with the idea of facing a Judgment. I greatly prefer my images of warm whole love and peace. I selfishly desire to be able to peek back at earth, my loved ones and continue to flow the stories of their lives. Will I meet any Soul/Spirit/Being/Force I will recognize as my father Ralph Fothergill, my Grandparents.? Will I know or see others close to me who have gone before me into this mystery?

I have comforted others at their death by sharing my firm belief that it is love an goodness they are passing to. Am I right? Most of the time I fell strongly secure that I am.

Your paintings, Deborah, are very deep and rich. Their warm colors give me that sense of peace and security that I am right.

Lorraine Steppien the first time I was attending physician-calm, cool, confident. I had worked through 6 weeks of her hospitalization to keep her alive, to communicate clearly to her as her body fell apart one vital organ system at a time. I had paused several times to speak of death with her to inform her about hospice care. I tried to show her her was a choice; there was some say in how she would die. but she wouldn't embrace it. She kept telling me to carry on, to keep her alive. Through 2 limb amputations, through kidney failure, through painful drug reaction skin rashes. the morning finally came when she hardly roused as I walked into her room. I held Lorraine’s hand, I looked into her eyes and our struggle against death had been so long and so intense, that even at that moment I couldn’t believe it had come. I walked out of the room explaining to the resident all the things we needed to do and I believed at that moment could do to improve Lorraine’s breathing. 2 hours later the resident called me at my office and told me Lorraine had died. “I didn’t get to say good bye I didn’t get to kiss her!” Then slowly the images became clear of all the evidence that morning that this was, at last, death. I had missed it.

My father did not die peacefully. He had Brain Cancer and lost his ability to communicate with us several weeks before he died. His last few weeks he had periods of extreme agitation. Groaning, tossing and turning, striking out-in anger? At us? At God? At some hallucination? I will never know. We tried all the hospice tricks, I was on the telephone with my mother almost daily. Adequate pain relief, tranquilizers. When and how do we intervene in this experience of dying?How could we ease his suffering? Early on prayer and the presence of his friends and music helped but at the end it did not.

Some where around the time of my father’s death I began to feel so deeply the gift that is life. The births of my children also touched that deep place. We are not here on this planet because of our own decision to be here. There is a mysterious gift that is given and earth receives with each birth. I praise that mystery that giver of the gift of life more and more now. I open each day with raise from my bed before I even open my eyes. Praise to God, Sophia, Creator, Mystery

Good health. I am supposed to be an expert. A crusader in the fight against age, decay, death. I am a physician.

How can I help people broaden their definition of life? Go for quality instead of quantity. Yes, you smoke, that is your choice. You know it will shorten your life span most probably but what does that really mean to you? Did your father live to be 95 years old and hate the last 20 years of it?

I know many physicians who as they age begin to neglect risk factors for heart disease. Seeing from their experiences that a quick death in the middle of a pleasurable activity. Heart attack while golfing, eating a huge and excellent meal, making not at all a bad way to die.

Yes we are all going to die so what shall we do right now with our life? It is a gift. I begin with thanks and praise. It is a journey full of mystery. I embrace it the best I can. Trying no to get too hung up on the salvaging of material being. I like my gray hair. It feels good to become mature in my body, my mind, my spirit. It may all be remarkably transformed tomorrow. I could die at any moment!

I think I have always avoided this question. Of course it frightens me a great deal. My parents are in their mid-80’s now and I look at them, ow they are facing death. I am desperately saddened, moved and fascinated by their lives now. Very different approaches. Polar opposites. I see the values of each of their set of beliefs and actions surrounding death. I can’t begin to consider my own response, so I look at my father and my mother, seeing what they do.

My father is a scientist. Work was-and is-his life. His approach is to think up projects-books, articles-to complete. He always has a new idea, a fountain of energy and focus. He is not looking at death, he is looking at life, and what there is that he can do. I think, but am not sure, that I admire this. It is life-affirming. It is also very easy for me to get caught up in his projects.

My mother, the daughter of a minister, is very concerned about propriety. What amazes and delights me is that she is a wild gardener.That is, her garden is not at all proper. It is overflowing, overwhelming all boundaries. My mother can't stop planting. Her “garden” has grown into a two acre mass of color and texture. She has tended this ground for 40 years. Huge trees which she planted long ago, now overarch pathways and shade small ponds and a gazebo. Her garden in my mother’s erotic secret.

In the last five years, my mother has grown increasingly religious and conservative.She disapproves of more and more, and is very upset with the current societal state of things.

I haven’t experienced the death of a person close to me. I have experienced the death of many animals. Some were my pets, but not all. One of the deaths was caused by me. I was hunting with my father in Africa. I was eight, so it seems it couldn’t have been me that killed the Thompson’s Gazelle. But I did know how to shoot. My dad probably shot it, but I honestly don’t remember who held the rifle.

We were in a land rover with several other scientists-all men. I remember the gazelle going down in a cloud of dust. I remember jumping out and helping to slit open the belly. My arms were covered in blood. I was mesmerized, exhilarated. I looked at my father. He was clearly shocked at my appearance-spattered with blood, blood streaming from my fingers. I was frozen in space by that look. I had “joined the hunt” but that isn’t what I was supposed to do. I looked at the eyes of the gazelle, no longer shining and wet but opaque with death. Flies were everywhere. I had kill something very beautiful. Something very beautiful was dead in me. Or maybe I was aware of something very horrible. I couldn't think about this event again until I was 32 in a therapist’s office.

These questions about death make me squirm. I feel my answers are evasive, slippery fish. I’m not able to hold. I’m not as scared of my own death as I am of the death of those whom I love. I’d rather die myself than live without them. A cowardly response/

I’m getting married-in two weeks-very late in life. I’ve wondered why now/ I was not unhappy being single, though I have long searched for a relationship. It does have something to do with time passing, of less time in front of me than behind. Perhaps fear of dying alone. Or fear of not knowing someone in all their beauty and pain. Of not being known and perhaps even loved in spite of my dreadful limitations. Perhaps I’m also marry now-and so properly, too we haven’t even lived together first!-because my parents will die soon. and that makes me feel very lonely. I didn’t want to die not knowing someone very well. I’m looking forward to the joys and struggles of my life with X.

I’m also aware that I might not have much longer to produce work. I still don’t feel I’ve “hit my stride’. And I love what I do and I want to put everything into it.

I have been traveling in the subarctic North Atlantic-following the Mid-Atlantic fault line through Iceland and where it fractures off to Greenland and towards the Faroe Islands. I have been hiking into volcanic calderas and over pitted lava fields. Because of the high latitude, there is ice surrounding and interacting with the molten pressures from the center of the earth. I look at these primal manifestations of beginnings and endings, in the face of all this, attains a proper perspective. It is natural and not even personal in this setting.

I want to follow icebergs from the west coast of Greenland down from the Gulf Stream painting these glacial fossils as they split, crack and melt into the sea.

No comments:

Post a Comment