Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Planning for the End

"She requested only certain people to be in the room with her when she died, but a vast network of friends surround the outside of her home and sang 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken.'"

Photo credit: Cori Maiden
When my friend and colleague described her sister-in-law's passing after a long battle with cancer, I was moved to tears, but it wasn't because I knew her. It was because she passed in such a peaceful and supportive way.

"It was the way she wanted it. It was her plan for the end," my friend told me.

This statement got me thinking about plans.

A few years back, a beloved yoga student of mine told me of his cancer diagnosis and that he had only a few months left. During those few months, he experienced fatigue, nausea and pain. His wife told me: "Although he was ready and wanted to die sooner rather than later, leaving his body turned out to be very hard for him and very hard for me to watch by his side, so helpless to assist.

Mid-wifing [death] is not easy."

30 years ago, I was a part of several end of life plans. My mother worked in a convalescent home and I spent many, many hours there between the ages of 8-12. I was never in the room of anyone's passing, but I held plenty of hands, sang songs ("Indian Love Call" by Nelson Eddy and Jeanette McDonald comes to mind), brushed hair and heard fascinating stories.

20 years ago, my grandmother passed away after a long battle with cancer. Even though she had an end plan, it didn't seem to go very well... but that could have been my perspective: my rock, my anchor and my lighthouse in the storm world was leaving me, and that was all I could think about. There was no holding hands, or singing songs or brushing hair. There were only drugs and arguments and wills. My grandmother chose to leave this life when everyone left the room.

At the time, I was in my junior year of college, earning my mechanical engineering degree from Santa Clara University, just down the street from her house. We had always been close, but after her treatment we grew even closer. When she passed I was very bitter about the way her life ended; I thought, "there has to be a better way than this," and I held on to that judgement to support me during my grief.

2 decades later, I am still searching for that better way. I don't know what it will look like, but I do know that being surrounded by love, holding hands and singing sounds like a great plan.

Breathing, releasing anger, stretching into love and friendliness - as yoga has taught me - is my first step in that plan.


  • Next Kaiser Restorative Yoga for Cancer Survivorship 6-week series begins June 12 (ends July 24, no class July 3). Call 408-366-4284 to register.
  • Sunday, June 23rd: Lorien will be offering restorative yoga demonstrations as part of Kaiser's Seeds of Hope Cancer Survivor Day. See Events page for info.
  • Stay tuned: Lorien's Healing Yoga for Wellness DVD is coming soon!