For forty years, my friend Pat and I have been enjoying succulent fare at St. Louis restaurants, as well as sharing fresh insights into relationships, trends, the geopolitical scene, and the Sacred. Life has worked its rigors upon us, left us wiser, more compassionate. The tone of our voices manifests this transformation.

And so this afternoon we stopped at Pan d’Olive Restaurant—a Bite of Mediterranean: my first time using portable oxygen. Tables of four buzzed with animation: two birthday celebrations of seniors, hearty laughter, and juicy aromas evoking appetites—a slice of vibrant living that warmed me as I took a seat next to the shaded window.

In no time, an aproned waiter with black hair brought us plates of grilled salmon served upon cabbage stew in a garlic lemon sauce with capers, reminiscent of my 1998 tour of the Greek islands.

Indeed, a bittersweet tone underscored our sharing that touched on families, wellness, aging issues, the D.C. and global scenes, and significant books. Absent was our usual repartee. Solicitude for my circumstances tensed her forehead. She had said to her family, “Just you watch—Liz’ll be around next Thanksgiving.” Yet the little blue pill, still maintaining my functioning, did relieve some of her concern.

I welcomed her hand steadying my arm as we walked to her car, the afternoon sun casting long shadows ahead of us: within the shadow, deeper acceptance of the unacceptable.

 

“Hi, Liz, I’m back to check on you again. Sorry about last week—more patients than I could handle.” It was Alice, my regular hospice nurse, tall, willowy, her ivory hands withdrawing her computer from her pink-embossed case as she sat down across from me. From her blue eyes emanated spirit, experience, and commitment to the dying process in my body, one day at a time—another coach to support this new venture into the Unknown.

She smiled as she looked around. “And that wreath on your front door—I had to touch it—flocked with berries, I think—lovely! And other decorations, as well.” Not all of them were given away, including my mother’s angel ornaments crisscrossing the tree in the hallway. Across from us, a white poinsettia hovered over crèche figurines, fired by a potter-friend, years ago.

“My helper Chrissy was here last week. The pine rope and bows across my porch railing—that’s more of her work.” But no seven-foot tree, still boxed in the basement, which had graced my glassed-in screen porch in past years.

Then, Alice asked her usual questions about my medication, appetite, sleep, and bowel functioning, took my vital signs—all were normal, save shortness of breath and weakness and still no pain. “Looks like you’ve no issues with self-care and dressing,” she added.

I nodded, though still dependent upon my clothing stick, my sock aid.

As she recorded her findings into her computer, I asked, “Have you worked with patients with ILD, my diagnosis? What does their end-time look like?”—Questions, until now, I’d been unable to formulate.

She paused in her work and said, “Yes—There’s no pain—only shortness of breath and weakness. And when your symptoms worsen, drugs will keep you comfortable as possible. That’s what we do.” Again, she smiled.

 

I smiled recording this dream in the pre-dawn hour:

I’m pleasantly surprised by the recently completed renovations on the lower floor of a century-old house. Crews had knocked down several walls and created a spacious open area for multi-purpose living. Only cleanup of carpenter dust, decoration, and furnishing remained before a family could move in.

In the dream the lower floor suggests a deep place in my psyche that teems with life; it precludes consciousness, bolsters willingness to receive inner guidance, receives new roots, and grows. Only therein can be found ultimate truth.

The renovations support my clearing out the non-essential in my present life and paradoxically filling me with fresh options for being and becoming. The crews bespeak the multiple helpers, in sync with my hospice path, who keep me focused. Of necessity, walls of prejudice and shortsightedness had to be demolished. Much has already been accomplished, and only sprucing up remains, or so it seems.

Such clearing is God’s work; its intent flames my psyche to what is and what is to come, both here and hereafter.

 

 

 

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