My Marriage Didn’t End When I Became a Widow

Posted on Apr 16, 2017 in Caregiving, Facing One's Own Death, Spousal/Partner Loss

Today’s post features a 2016 New York Times article, “My Marriage Didn’t End When I Became a Widow” by Lucy Kalanithi. I know it is now 2017, but I think it is important to hear Lucy’s voice before I introduce you to her husband, Paul.

When Lucy’s husband, a young and brilliant Stanford neurosurgeon, was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, he moved within the world of medicine from physician to patient. Lucy, also a physician, became his caregiver and the mother of a daughter conceived after Paul’s diagnosis.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on his book When Breath Becomes Air. The book is beautifully written (not many physicians also have two degrees in English literature) and an inspiring memoir. It was named one of the best books of 2016 by the Washington Post, The New York Times and National Public Radio, and has 4.7 out of 5 stars from 6,265 readers on Amazon.

Janet Maslin from the NYT says: I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well. None of it is maudlin. Nothing is exaggerated. As he wrote to a friend: “It’s just tragic enough and just imaginable enough.” And I say just important enough to be unmissable.

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Inspiration from the Zen Hospice Project

Posted on Oct 24, 2015 in Caregiving, Facing One's Own Death, General Grief



One of the straight men who cared for dying gay men

Frank Ostaseski founded the San Francisco Zen Hospice Project in 1987 during the AIDS Crisis. It was a time when much of the medical community was afraid of its patients, and families disowned their sons and brothers. Thankfully Frank was one of the straight men who created space and cared for the dying gay men.

Years later I was happy to see that Ostaseski was the keynote speaker for a Santa Clara University conference I was attending. Even though his appearance was the first since suffering a serious heart attack, his presence was strong and solid. When he finished I wanted to hear more, and registered for his annual Cultivating Presence retreat in Marin County, California. The week was a mix of workshop and silent retreat. On the last day Frank, a practicing Buddhist, introduced his Five Precepts for living, caring and healing. I think you will enjoy reading them.

Ostaseski’s Five Precepts

Part of you is here and part of you might have drifted away to the middle of nowhere… where there is no time… and there is no place… in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere is such a fine place to be because nowhere else can be so free. Later you may have to be somewhere, sometime, but not now. Now nowhere is fine.

This is a place you can visit often if you like. It is a place of healing.  Healing is different than curing. Healing comes from within—out.

And as you move forward there are five things you can do to keep the cycle of healing going.

  1. Accept everything and push away nothing.
    In welcoming everything you don’t have to like what’s arising. It’s actually not your job to approve or disapprove. It’s your task to trust, to listen, and to pay attention to your changing experience. When you do this at the deepest level, you are cultivating a kind of fearlessness. Since you are always entering new territory with no idea of how your journey will turn out, why not open to the mystery. And risk and forgive—constantly.
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When Living Art Becomes a Way to Die

Posted on Apr 20, 2014 in Facing One's Own Death

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge: When Living Art Becomes a Way to Die

Close to 1,600 people have committed suicide off the GG Bridge since it opened in 1937. The year 2013 saw the highest number of suicides since the first man took his life three months after the bridge opened. In spite of the numbers, it has taken almost 70 years for the bridge and transportation agencies to agree to install a suicide barrier. The motion to approve funding came from the former bridge district director John Moylan – whose grandson, Sean, jumped to his death this past month.

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Dr. Ira Byock Talks about
How to Die Well

Posted on Nov 13, 2013 in Facing One's Own Death


NPR Radio Series On Being: Contemplating Mortality

This week Krista Tippett interviews Dr. Ira Byock, physician, early advocate for hospice and author of several books focused on end of life issues. Byock talks about his maturing view of death and his evolving belief that we need to get back to accepting death as more than a medical experience.

Other topics explored in the interview:

  • Death is not usually a medical mistake.
  • Dying isn’t simply to be suffered; rather it is a gritty difficult unwanted vulnerable and valuable human experience.
  • We need to understand the distinction between healing and curing, and that a person can be well as they die.
  • If we can be present with the dying experience of another, we are sharing a sacred experience.
  • The four most important sentences in any language are:
    • “I forgive you.”
    • “ Please forgive me.”
    • “Thank you.”
    • “ I love you.”

Listen to the full 51 minute interview.

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