Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My next step

Dear Family and Friends,

Those of you who were at the reception at the end heard me speak spontaneously, qualifying our friend's comment that Francis and I were "always together." That's certainly true in its deepest sense, and even true in its widest sense: We did in fact do almost everything together, peacework, yoga, dances of universal peace (DUP,) permaculture, -- yes, all of it together. But, not totally.

Francis regularly protested the building of nuclear warships at Bath Ironworks whereas I went once. And although he regularly accompanied and joined me in leading the DUP when invited to do so out of town or at Conferences, he did not come to my monthly circle of DUP but only joined me in Portland on special occasions, like New Year's Eve, or at guest retreats.

Francis was very much his own person. One thing he loved to do in which I did not participate, was to go to Starbucks five days a week, drink a cup of coffee and read The Boston Globe. He loved to observe people.

At the funeral reception, toward the end, I rambled on like this with mike in hand.

But what I want to add now is what I shared before handing over the mike: I feel drawn to do what Francis told me his sitting practice was all about: "Be still and see that I am God." (Psalm 46:2) I added that I liked the play on words someone came up with: "Be still and see that I am God." "Be still and see." "Be still." "Be." That's what I need and want -- to restore my physical stamina through more rest, and to just slow down. A lot. So I can just be.

As I told a friend yesterday, "Yes, I could genuinely use your help in a few practical areas, but "Once those things are done I very much look forward to time alone, time to just do nothing. I need and want to have nothing to do, nothing scheduled." I want to enjoy doing daily chores in the silence I find very rich right now, especially since the loss of Francis' physical presence is making my heart flip more often. I need to let penetrate what happened, even while I'm going through the mail, and through our closets to give away Francis' clothing. And, taking care of the chickens too.

More than one of you asked me to "Keep writing." Perhaps I will, but right now I'm not sure how my "Be"ing will develop. As I told those who were still in the church hall, I've developed a keen awareness how easily ego slips in for self-aggrandizement's sake. It can be even more subtly insinuated when publicly doing "spiritual" things. So I'm quite wary of parading myself as a model of how to deal with grief. If I did continue writing it would have to emerge from the same kind of compelling call to do so that writing Francis' story did. It's always been that way for me. I cannot write letters to the editor at will. I have to be moved to write.
But there's something else too: I'm sensing that if I were to write about my journey of adjusting to life without Francis' physical presence, it would feel like an externalizing of something too deep for words. In fact I've experienced how the very act of trying to put experience into words can objectify and therefore diminish the depth of that experience by making it a thing separate from myself.

In other words, I sense that words, even honest words that come authentically from the heart trying to capture and remember an experience, can also somehow remove the writer from the very experience she is trying to communicate.

As I said, it was different writing Francis' story because the words as well as the details surrounding what he/we said and did were simply relating the observable facts. I intuited that later on, in pondering those cherished words of his, the memory itself could be prayer, memory itself could even become new, fresh experience in the moment of connecting with Francis. In that case the words and details would be sort of sacramental, vehicles of new exerience. I don't know if this makes any sense, but it's close to what I'm trying to say.

I want time to reread The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying which I read after my mother died, and I want to read poetry. After memorizing Shakespeare's Sonnet # 116 "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments" for Francis' 75th birthday, I found great pleasure and strength in memorizing other special sonnets of Shakespeare, -- like Sonnet # 29 "When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes..." and the most poignant one of all, which has been at the backdrop of my heart ever since, is Shakespeare's Sonnet #86" "That time of year thou mayest in me behold..." These are only three of several others that nourished me. But the most nourishing one of all is Psalm 139, in French. I'm attaching it in case you're interested.
I'm not going to isolate myself from people, however, realizing that could be unhealthy. I'll begin babysitting Rowan again on Thursday of this week, something I feel ready to do. And I'm likely to see the generous people still spoiling me with a daily meal. I also plan to call on some people as needed to help me with a lot of things that must still be done, e.g. right now I'm waiting to get through to a live person at the Social Security office!
But since my body is tired and needs a lot of rest, just on the physical level I don't feel ready to teach my Wednesday morning yoga class this month. Maybe next month.

My point is, I'll know as time unfolds what to do next. Years ago Alan Eccleston a Quaker friend from western MA shared with Francis and me a wise saying from a Quaker saint...Was it John Woolman? -- that we have only enough light to see the next step.

How good that I see what my next step is: A very large space in which to just be! Then, from there, I'll have the light to see what that other next step is.

I thank you ahead of time from deep in my heart for your prayers and good energy sent my way. I really depend on those!
Maybe I will miss writing this blogspot and return sooner rather than later. But I have to go into that very large space first. Or deep down.


Monday, January 11, 2010

The Wake and Funeral, & Memorabilia to Share

Dear Family and Friends,
and also lotsahelpinghands friends,

The Wake and Funeral
I want to thank all of you from my heart (and Francis' too) for your presence (bodily or spiritually) at his Friday evening wake and Saturday morning funeral on January 9. Lynn told me 200 people signed the guest book on Friday night, and Lori Arsenault who led the music for the funeral told me the church was more than 2/3 full. Another person said -- "not packed, but full." The church seats 500 people.

This outpouring of affection for Francis from family and friends from Maine and out of state created a spirit of community I cannot describe. Three married priests (like Francis) were ushers, Fr. Terry, Francis' nephew who's a Jesuit, was the main celebrant along with five other priests, one a priest/friend for 50 years. Our friends Joe Brannigan and Sue Ewing read respectively the Isaiah and Romans scripture passages "as something alive and active... like a double edged sword." as Heb 4:12 calls it. One of my very favorite quotes is in that Romans passage: "From the beginning until now the entire Creation is groaning with one great act of giving birth." Sue Ewing read it to perfection.

Fr. Richard's homily focusing rightly on our need to be ready and "awake," ended on a warm personal note since he's known Francis and me for 12 years. Bill Gregory's comments briefing participants on how helpful our singing "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say" was for Francis touched many. And while Mike Sweatt's eulogy was delivered with refreshing honesty and passion, John Hines' two stories in his Tribute to Francis were revealing of Francis and heartwarming.

More than one person told me the whole funeral was "very moving," and the "best funeral" they'd ever been to.

I regret however that the great numbers of people at the three events, wake, funeral and reception, made it difficult for some, especially for two friends who deal with physical handicaps.

The Thank Yous

I want to thank ALL who gave Francis and me invaluable help, big and small, and prayer is not small. You helped us in many many different ways, unique to each, e.g. Kathy's lending Francis her little red bucket for stomach upsets earlier on, and Marion's giving us candles to light. One is burning now as I write to honor Francis' presence with me. I thank you all, and Marion for teaching me this.

You supported us with errands and tasks of all kinds, including meals since early autumn. Special thanks to Meg Wolff whose December meals I am certain extended Francis' life. And the January meals she organized with volunteers are enabling me to set aside rest time even as I see through to their conclusion a host of things to get done. So thank you friends on the "Meal Brigade" as I called it three months ago.

There were "lotsahelpinghands," preparing for every angle of Francis' funeral too. Lynn oversaw the whole thing with me along with a spontaneously formed committee which did both planning, and, after consultation with Fr. Richard, the work of set up and cleanup at church along with friends of theirs and ours. Thank you all whom I didn't name!

The Memorabilia to Share

Rowan's dad & mom Lee Slater and Lynn Kuzma made a CD of Francis' and my singing "Set me as a seal upon your heart" and Francis' favorite Beatitude as well as The Lord's Prayer, -- both in Aramaic. (This "Prelude" was played on the intercom at the funeral.) Computer expert Greg Born then posted this music onto YouTube as accompaniment to photos his wife Jan Born took during the reception after the funeral.

Here's the URL for those photos and chants: (Just copy it in your browser)


Then after two other crews of friends dug out photographs of Francis, Sally Waite and Deb Paley used them to make posters and Matt Power, Editor of Liberty News TV, using different photos, organized them into a DVD slide show shown on Fri & Sat.

Here's the URL for the slide show: http://www.youtube.com/user/LibertyLover#p/u/0/a9iw5X6Zr_o


At the wake and reception the slideshow was viewed alongside a separate yoga video given us by Channel 13. In it Francis was my yoga student for a 3 minute live TV demonstration of one yoga pose a month. Matt had "looped together" many of the 3 minute segments. It's such fun watching Francis, looking so young and strong at 73 in 2000 doing yoga on TV! (This material however, belongs to Channel 13 so I don't feel free, nor is there need, to post it.)

But I am attaching to this email the beautiful liturgy program Lynn did a fantastic job designing and formatting. Jan Born who took many of the photos in the slideshow also took three of the four photos used in the liturgy program. My favorite shows Francis and me beaming as we stood in front of our garage at the end of a joyous permaculture workparty in July, 2007 during which 15 people had put in the pondliner and set up the hoop house for off season gardening. Celebrating with a potluck a job well done, -- but especially, celebrating the JOYS OF COMMUNITY, -- we had reason to beam.

Here's another thing, thanks to Nicki: the link to comments by people who read the Portland Press Herald:

At the urging of many people, I also intend after a respite, to turn my record of Francis' last journey in www.elaineandfrancis.blogspot.com into a book.

I'll end with two special emails I was given permission to share:

A An Email
Dear Elaine,

While you might be a bit too young, Francis would've recalled the Weavers folk group, featuring Pete Seegar, Ronnie Gilbert, Fred Hellerman and Lee Hayes. One of the Weavers' many great numbers was a rousing "Wasn't That a Time!"

"Wasn't That a Time!" could be an apt description of that memorable, absolutely marvelous send-off yesterday for dear Francis.

In the past, I made myself available to lector at the Cathedral for funeral liturgies for someone in her/his 80's, someone the pastor knew had few remaining contemporaries, resulting in only a handful of mourners in attendance -- and none up to doing the readings.

By magnificent contrast, look at that SRO crowd that came to pay their respects to your 82-year-old charmer! It demonstrated, didn't it, Elaine, not just how many people Francis and you have touched through the years. Moreover, it showed their wide generational (and walk-of-life) span.

Neither a blustery January day nor S.H.'s notoriously steep flight of steps was going to discourage anyone from being part of this special occasion.

To know Francis was to love him. And who knew him better or loved him more than you? You again showed that yesterday, as you have through the years -- and particularly through these recent months.

Francis is smiling that sweet smile of his eternally.


B John Hines' poem
(John gave his Tribute from the sanctuary during the funeral.)

Give it up
In Mexico in Cuernavaca
After a day of peddling his rainbow cargo of pretty globos—
Children’s balloons—
The tired old vendor lets them go
Gives the remnants up to the winds
Abandons his balloons to the dying breath of the day
Purple yellow blue smiling faces in the sky
Peddler’s failures
A day’s history
Hope and pretty memories fading
The color of this metaphor touches us

Walk everyday into the streets
Offer your balloons for sale
Risk it
Some will reject you
So what
Your balloons are not for everyone
But they are
At the end of the day
You must let them go
With smiles in the sky for everyone
You abandon the day lived

My friend has died
A beautiful death
He gave up his glorious balloons with grace
As he would with a smile with a song
He showed us the way
He gave it all up with abandon

Thank you both dear friends for allowing me to share these.

Death is the experience of a lifetime

Dear Family and Friends,
I wanted to share this email with you before the funeral, but I was too engaged interacting with others who executed so well our plans for Francis' funeral.

I'll add my post about our Washing and Oiling Francis' body -- after Halima's note here on that subject:

From: Halima Sussman
Sent: Thursday, December 24, 2009 11:57 AM
To: Elaine & Francis McGillicuddy

Subject: Death is the experience of a lifetime!

Dear Elaine and Francis

We are so touched by the reality of your love in action....................
Elaine - We send you our love and support. In so many parts of the world it is completely natural to stay with, wash, and prepare the body of someone we love who has died. It IS part of a midwivery process. And can be a part of what I call good dying. Good and healing for everyone.
When my parents died, I washed and cared for their bodies at home. We sat with each of them until it felt right and finished. hours. No reason to rush anything. It pleased me greatly that they were only touched by people who loved them, and that I could be present for the slow separation of body and spirit, cooling of body.

It felt like one more gift of life. 'Naked I come from my mothers womb, and naked I return therein.' It was enormously healing for me and my family. I still feel it all these years later. There is a real sense of passage that is integrating to experience and witness.
The veil between birth, life and death is one of the great mysteries. We ALL travel this path. As a good friend puts it, Death is the experience of a lifetime! With another friend, we sang her on her way out of her body. Quite an amazing experience of accompanying. Midwifery is an apt description.

All love and power to you both. If there is anyway we can be of support, (beyond our love and prayers) let us know. love and love and love,
Halima and Abraham

Elaine speaking now:

I was very encouraged by Halima's note even though it was written after my own clear decision to wash and anoint Francis' body with oil after he died. Francis also was encouraged knowing who the close friends were whom I had called ahead of time to be with me.

If you remember, there was a "nor'easter" that Saturday night of January 2. But the three people who arrived to join our niece, Jane McGillicuddy and me nevertheless were able to get out (Some couldn't) and brave the storm: Dr. Ann Lemire took a taxi, Bridget Franciose a certified Hospice nurse who had taken care of my mother when she died (and Bridget had never forgotten the daily scripture quotes I had sent to her mother as she approached death,) ...well, Bridget simply drove out, as did Barbara DeCoste, a friend of Francis' before I even knew him. So there was one doctor and three nurses with me. (The Hospice Social Worker Annie Blanchard had told me it's a good idea to have someone experienced.)

I was pleased to hear these medical professionals marveling at the excellent condition of Francis' skin and muscles, -- for a man who had been lying in bed almost all of the last four months.

This confirmed for me the importance of massaging and moving the limbs of a bedridden loved one. I told them about the massages Carolyn Ehringhaus had given Francis which so helped him he had surprised both of us by saying "This feels so good!" on a day when he had surfaced only a handful of times to speak. (That was on January 1, really only one day before his death, since he died at 1:25 AM on Sunday January 3.)

When I reported this amazement of our friends to Carolyn she responded: "Thank you for telling me this. I was also very pleased to see that Francis’ skin was responding, as on my first visit I feared bedsores (looked like the process had begun) but by the third I did not see this evidence. (In addition, Francis seemed to be able to use the body work for more internal purposes; that was another aspect of my third visit, feeling these deep internal shifts.)" Thank YOU dear Carolyn!

The date of death reminds me to tell you this story (by way of digression:) Francis had joked about wanting to hang on until his Social Security check arrived on January 3rd. Lynn had observed Francis and Lee bonding over this point. In fact Lynn told me when she shared the news of Francis' death with Lee, he said: "Did he make it?" Yes, indeed we think Francis had deliberately held on until I was assured of that check which would help pay for his funeral.

Of course we also heard him say earlier -- and I love to repeat his response to my question "What's holding you here?" -- "The joy is holding me," he had said. Not just the SS check, but the joy, -- the joy of good food, good music as we reminisced about special moments in our lives since we met in 1968. I believe it also gave him joy to share his journey as death approached.

We put Francis' body in a soft fuzzy thick single bed fitted sheet. This "shroud" was pale green, the color of new life. Before we put the top sheet over the bottom one, with Francis body enclosed in it, someone said his shroud looked like a crysallis, one of the life stages of some insects -- butterflies -- undergoing transformation. Chysallis is a very apt image here because it's Francis who chose Michael Dwinell's quote for his memorial bookmark. I'm attaching it as sent to the printer. Those attending the funeral got a final copy with photo, but I have extras at home for any who would like a bookmark.

While awaiting the funeral home personnel who had to shovel a path to our house, we four talked long time into the night, before and after they arrived.

I heartily agree with Halima that our ritual of reverently washing and anointing Francis' body was as healing for us who survive as it was reassuring for Francis who knew ahead of time it was loved ones who reverently handed over his body for cremation, not strangers.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wake and funeral parking

Dear Friends,

For those coming to the wake or funeral, -- you could use the PROP parking lot on the corner of Mellen St and Cumberland Avenue. The church is one street down toward the park on the corner of Sherman and Mellen St.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Feature Obituary in Portland Press Herald

Feature Obituary: Francis McGillicuddy, 82, stood up for his beliefs

By EMMA BOUTHILLETTE, Staff Writer January 5, 2010

Each day the newsroom selects one obituary and seeks to learn more
about the life of a person who has lived and worked in Maine. We look
for a person who has made a mark on the community or the person's
family and friends in lasting ways.
PORTLAND — Francis McGillicuddy lived an "intentional life" as a community leader.
"Francis was a very sweet, gentle man who just really lived his values in every way," said his longtime friend Claire Brannigan.
Whether it was discussing moral or ethical issues, cultivating his 8,000-square-foot property into a permaculture demonstration, supporting his wife's endeavors or seeking social justice, Mr. McGillicuddy stood up for his beliefs, "no matter what the consequences may be," said his friend Lynn Kuzma.
Mr. McGillicuddy died Sunday at age 82.
Originally from New Brunswick, he studied at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and pursued a degree in philosophy and theology at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Mass. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1958.
His work in social justice and seeking peace began during the Vietnam War. He sponsored a young man who won conscientious objector status from the federal court in Portland, and considered it a turning point in his life.
By 1972, Mr. McGillicuddy had left the priesthood. He married Elaine (Goulet) McGillicuddy, a former nun he had met in 1968 while she was assigned to Colby College – before she left the covenant in 1970.
She said their relationship was "underground" as they waited for permission from Rome to be married.
"I've been a lucky woman living with this man," his wife said. "He's been so open on all fronts, yet he is his own man."
After getting married, Mr. McGillicuddy began working for the Portland Housing Authority. For 23 years he was a social worker supervisor, mainly for Franklin Towers.
State Rep. Herb Adams of Portland said he worked often with Mr. McGillicuddy in that capacity.
"He had a very sweet touch with elders. He had to be ready with sympathy and ready with solutions," Adams said, as he dealt with residents' issues as well as family and community conflicts.
As an advocate for social justice and equality, Mr. McGillicuddy was one of the founding members of Greater Portland's Martin Luther King Day celebrations, Adams said. But Mr. McGillicuddy didn't need a holiday to fight for equality and peace, said Adams, who recalls his friend saying, "It's a day on, not a day off."
Brannigan said Mr. McGillicuddy was in Monument Square every Wednesday for years, holding up signs for peace.
His wife said they spent two years campaigning against torture. They would hold up signs urging the closure of Guantanamo Bay and decrying any form of torture, she said.
She said he learned right along with her as she developed a passion for yoga, Aramaic chanting of the Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes and Dances of Universal Peace.
Together, they founded the Portland Yoga Studio in 1989 and operated it until 2005. For 11 years during that time, the couple taught yoga weekly at the Cumberland County Jail. They also were featured in three-minute segments on a local news station each week, with Mr. McGillicuddy demonstrating yoga positions as his wife described them for viewers.
She said he would always learn from her interests, and as a teacher she enjoyed that.
"I teach the next generation," as a professor of political science at the University of Southern Maine, Kuzma said. "They don't have that same kind of civic sense that Elaine and Francis embody. He was an incredible role model."
Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: ebouthillette@pressherald.com
Copyright © 2010 MaineToday Media, Inc

Monday, January 4, 2010

Funeral Preparation

Dear Family and Friends,

After my two hour afternoon nap, a spontaneous "Funeral Preparation" committee was formed this afternoon when Lynn came over to discuss the menu for the funeral reception. Nicki and Sally signed up for various tasks too after which we talked with Rev. Richard Bertrand, S.J., parochial vicar on the phone. So here's the info:

The Wake will be held from 6:00 to 9:00 pm on Friday night January 8 at the Sacred Heart/St. Dominic's Chapel downstairs at 65 Mellen St in Portland. (The Church (a tall building reached by climbing stone steps) is located at the corner of Mellen and Sherman Streets.) The entry into the downstairs Chapel is between the rectory on the left and the entry to the church hall on the right.

A 5 minute wake service will take place at 7:00 pm. Francis' cremains will be there as well as photos newspaper clippings, videos and memorabilia of his life.

The Funeral will be celebrated by Francis' nephew, Fr. Terrence Curry, S.J. in concelebration with Fr. Richard Bertrand, the church's vicar in the upstairs church at 11:00 am on Saturday January 9.

ALSO, - Thank you all for your many kindnesses! I'm sorry I cannot keep up with thank-you's for each one of them because of necessary work on funeral preparations. But I deeply appreciate each one!

This obituary was sent to the Portland Press Herald:

Francis A. McGillicuddy, husband of Elaine Goulet McGillicuddy, died of cancer at his home on Saturday, January 3, 2010.

Francis was born in New Brunswick, Canada on September 6, 1927, the son of William J. and Margaret (Collins) McGillicuddy.

A 1945 graduate of Woodstock High School, New Brunswick, Canada he did undergraduate studies at Holy Cross College in Worcester, MA, and pursued Philosophy and Theology studies at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, MA. He was then ordained a Catholic priest in 1958 by Richard Cardinal Cushing in Boston.

Francis served as Associate Pastor at St. Joseph's Church in Portland, St. Mary's in Westbrook, and Sacred Heart Church in Waterville, Maine. He was also chaplain and administrator at a diocesan camp for girls, -- Camp Pesquasawasis in Danville, Maine from 1959 to 1970.

After two years as Chaplain at Maine Medical Center, he resigned from the clergy and married Elaine Goulet, a former nun, at Holy Cross Church, South Portland, in 1972. He was employed as a social worker supervisor for older tenants at Portland Housing Authority for 23 years.

Francis was known as a person of great integrity who had the courage to speak out about issues of war and peace. His peace work began during the Vietnam War. As a priest he sponsored a young man who won conscientious objector status from the Federal Court in Portland, marking the first time in Maine a Catholic could get CO status.

A member of Pax Christi/USA and founding member of Pax Christi/Maine since 1980, he was an advocate of the Peace Tax Fund and a participant in numerous peace vigils. Francis also joined other progressive Catholic organizations: Call to Action, Voice of the Faithful, a Church reform group to support victims of sexual abuse, and CORPUS, a faith community affirming an inclusive priesthood rooted in a reformed and renewed Church

A practitioner of yoga, Francis joined Elaine in 1989 founding and operating Portland Yoga Studio until 2005, and took yoga workshops in the US, Mexico, Jamaica and France. For 11 years (1996- 2007) he and Elaine taught yoga weekly at the Cumberland County Jail.

He also chanted in Aramaic the Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes which he and Elaine, a leader of the Dances of Universal Peace, presented at several national annual CORPUS Conferences.

Within the last three years, Francis with Elaine has transformed their 8,000 sq ft lot into a demonstration site for permaculture -- creating an ecological system in suburbia. He has been an active member of Portland Maine Permaculture Meetup.

Francis is survived by his wife, Elaine Goulet McGillicuddy of Portland, his brother Louis McGillicuddy of Cape Elizabeth, Cornelius and his wife Joanne McGillicuddy of Oakville, Ontario Canada, his sister Mary Dever of Saint John New Brunswick and his sister Josephine and her husband Louis Curry of Houlton, Maine and many nieces and nephews.

In lieu of flowers, donations to CORPUS or Pax Christi/Maine would be appreciated.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Francis' smile

Dear Family and Friends,

Francis had asked me over a week ago, because the sense of hearing is the last to go, -- to sing to him at the end. "I will hear you," he said. And I vowed I would.

"I will hear you" stayed with me ever since.

Earlier in the day yesterday when Francis began sleeping in reaction to the ativan (to calm the panic of shortness of breath when his lungs began to fill,) I had not seen him smile.

But by the time Lenora the weekend Hospice nurse and Jane arrived in separate cars late afternoon, Lenora observed Francis and pronounced she was pleased to see how peaceful he looked, -- how slow his breathing. In fact, except for ativan, she judged that Francis did not need to be medicated in addition to his regular pain med patch and pump. In other words, he was more alert.

So I sang to him the chant our friends had recorded and sent via email, -- "Set me as a seal upon your heart" -- as well as the whole Lord's Prayer, and a few Beatitudes in Aramaic, including of course his favorite.

Observing all this with Jane, Lenora pointed out several ways in which Francis was being very responsive, e.g. she told me that once, when my own eyes were closed as I sang, he opened his eyes and moved his mouth in an attempt to sing along with me! What heartening information!

Lenora said other interesting things: When before birth we're in the womb our lungs are filled with amniotic fluids, and then at death the filling of the lungs with fluid feels like coming home, full circle; it's soothing to the dying.

Then Jane and Lenora left. So in the interim, -- between 4:30 and about 7:30 when Jane returned, I was alone with Francis. I had to leave his bedside to heat up my supper but promptly returned to be near him.

Two nurses had told us that people near death often die while their loved ones are asleep, because it's too difficult to depart when in the presence of survivors. When I had told this to Lynn and Lee earlier, Lee said, -- "No, not for you two. That's not the way you do things."

It turns out Lee was right. Francis did in fact want me in the room, close to him. I sat on his hospital bed facing him, my legs straight alongside his buttocks and beyond, partly supporting his elbow. When I took both his hands in mine he immediately returned my hold. His hands were warm and his grasp was firm and grateful.

After Jane's return, around 7:30, Francis' movements had gotten jerky, so Jane called the Hospice nurse on duty. It was a different nurse who decided to call Dr. Inhorn. As a result Jane and I did medicate Francis every hour orally with liquid morphine, until it was obvious he didn't need more.

So no more smiles at the end, though he looked very peaceful until at 1:25 AM Jane saw the sudden change since we were changing vigil shifts: He simply stopped breathing. Dear Jane then deferred her place to me. I held his hands and sang again, just in case. But he had left.

When Lenora called this morning to inquire what happened, I told her about our having introduced the morphine as the night wore on. She said, that sometimes what looks like agitation in a dying patient is excitement about dying itself. I must ask her where she read this since it intrigues me.

But I'm glad there was that earlier period of greater lucidity when my darling Francis graced me with smiles to last me a lifetime.

That is the image with which I went to bed, and it was the image that greeted me when I awoke this morning, -- Francis' smile, engraved in my mind and on my heart forever.

Next update, -- about our washing Francis' body

Love is as strong as death

Family and Friends:

Francis died this morning at 1:25 am. My niece, Jane McGillicuddy began her
vigil with me since Saturday, 4:30 pm. She and three friends who made it
through the storm to be with me as we washed and oiled Francis' body, and
then relinquished it to the funeral home director, just left.

When it became obvious early afternoon that Francis' lungs were filling up,
which could signal the end, I received the email below with attachment from
Saadi (his Sufi name,) Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz, the Aramaic scholar who
created chants and prayer/movements for the Lord's Prayer and the

What perfect timing! As Francis began his transition, this precious chant
filled our room. It's from the Hebrew Scriptures' Song of Songs, -- "Set Me
As A Seal Upon Your Heart For love is as strong as death." Lee recorded it
through the computer as Francis and I sang it together only a few weeks ago.
It was one of our favorites.

What comes to mind for me right now is the image that Saadi has used many
times on retreats: that those who precede us (in what we call the past) are
ahead of us in the caravan of creation while the unborn (the future) come
from behind. Saadi has suggested a breathing practice I made my own from
the beginning.

A sacred word or mantra accompany a barely perceptibly rocking motion of the
body, and the head gently naturally goes along with the body, -- first
slightly leaning back on the inhalation and then very slightly leaning
forward on the exhalation, as if throwing a fish line ahead. It feels to me
like a prayerful reaching into the realm Francis has now entered to join the
ancestors. In my tradition we call it the "communion of the saints."

I hope you can play it.


Saturday, January 2, 2010

It's time for silent sitting vigiling

Dear Family and Friends,

I wrote this update early this morning thinking the subject of this email would be called "Surprises." But the story evolved even as I wrote.

Yesterday was an emotional, moving, and surprising day.

Emotional because on New Year's Day I passed on to Lynn and Lee and Rowan my ancestors' New Year's Day tradition. It's done by the elder in the home (It was my dad who did this) -- putting his/her hands on the heads of the younger family members, -- the next generation, while saying: "Bonne et heureuse annee, et le paradis a la fin de vos jours." ("Good and happy year, and the paradise at the end of your days.") Of course, mentioning "paradise" made me teary. So did the idea of passing on the tradition to our little family.

Francis' behavior yesterday made me think paradise was imminent for him. Though he silently welcomed my chanting the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic without him after he awoke, he also told me, -- "Let me be for a while. Everything takes effort."

Then when his nurse Pam called to see if we had questions, Francis asked whether he should give in: "I feel like sinking back and see where this rest takes me." Pam encouraged him, -- "As long as you have no concerns nor fears," to which Francis said: "Whatever concerns I have are very minor... My need just to sink back is greater than anything else...Elaine and I have searched our souls together. I just feel it's a good time to let it happen." So Pam told him to go ahead and allow himself to sink into God's hands.

When Jennifer the Hospice Chaplain called, she encouraged him too: "Surrender into God's space....Let yourself feel enveloped in God's Love.... Your own wisdom will arise. Whatever seeds of wisdom you've cultivated and gestated will now flower, producing the fruits of your spiritual work..."

Jennifer said she was "very very assured" about Francis, specifically because he had allowed the fears to come up. Sometimes, she explained, dying people say "I have faith, so I don't have fear," but because they push back the fear instead of looking at it, it comes up later.

"Fear is a sacred part of the process of being human," she added, and "it helps in the long run. It's good that fear comes up." Death makes for "a big change, so fear is warranted." She told Francis "Even if fear returns, if you accept it as a normal expected part of the dying process, it won't have power over you. Fear is not a reflection on you, it's just a reflection on what is happening."

Then at 11:00 AM as pre-arranged, Lesly Hoey, PT arrived with Dr. Steve Goldbas DO, friend and colleague of Dr. Kevin Zorsky DO who had given Francis a "Bio-dynamic/ CranioOsteopathic treatment the previous night. Lesley wanted to offer hers and Steve's services to thank us for having given her a start as a yoga teacher at Portland Yoga Studio which we founded in 1989.

Seeing Francis smiling blissfully and giving numerous non-verbal signs that this treatment was most welcomed to him, we wept, as, moved by what the moment called for, I sang Francis' favorite Aramaic Beatitude and the hymn that made him "glad," -- "I found in Jesus a resting place, And he has made me glad."

Though I can in no way explain as Steve did what he felt in Francis' body, I jotted down phrases to try to grasp this subtle art of which he and Kevin are masters. Steve said there are 8-12 cycles a minute in the earthly body...and in Francis there was "a long tide, 6-8 cycles every 10 minutes" and, (if I got this right,) -- "at that level, the treatment interfaces with body and soul." He told us that Francis' body response had "moved the position of his heart and ribs," that his "heart rate picked up and the involuntary rate pick up..." and that he could "feel coming and going" in his body.

When Steve told me there was no fear in Francis' body, and that he had comfort, I wept with relief. And, most beautiful of all, -- in Francis, he said, "the physical and the spirit body are saying goodbye to each other."

Lesley told me as they left that Steve teaches OMM (Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine) at the New England College of Osteopathy in Biddeford ME though he lives in Cape Elizabeth. If you do a search on OMM you'll see it's a modality that helps end of life patients.

I so appreciate this beautiful collaboration for Francis' benefit between Kevin who lives at a distance, and Steve who lives nearby. That means Steve and Lesley will be coming back.

Carolyn Ehringhaus will too. She arrived around 2:00 to give Francis another massage for hydration and circulation and comfort. Though Francis wasn't speaking New Year's day, when Carolyn started massaging his foot he said, "That feels so good!"

He surprised me again in the evening several times as I sat at the computer working on these updates. The first came when his blood sugar meter stopped functioning. I had to fetch from a bathroom drawer a less advanced meter and try it out. By then he had opened his eyes and watched me fumbling with both. When after a little finagling the new, unused simpler model worked, he declared: "You are a miracle woman and you will sweep me into paradise!"

And then he said, sort of quickly, as if he were in a hurry to get back into his deep communion within: "I feel so good! So good! I don't know which step this is along the way. But whatever step it is, I embrace it. I don't know if it's the earliest step or not, -- no, I don't know, but I embrace it. I do embrace it! Now let me rest."

Another surprising opportunity came again when my own senses told me, just as Francis himself alerted me, there was work to do on the bowel front. In the process of my getting up from the computer several times to pluck the roses, Francis told me he might eat and drink on Saturday, today! He even said he planned on it, and when I inquired about the planned McGillicuddy siblings' teleconference on Sunday which we had agreed would have to be cancelled (or with only me speaking,) he said I might not need to cancel it!

I could hardly believe it! But I remembered Pam saying that temporary changes of direction like this can happen.

I have a lot to learn about the dying process. Pam said it would all work out organically, and I can see it's happening that way. Organic means moving from within, making adjustments and readjustments as they're called for.

Francis' refusal all day yesterday of food and drink, and, -- with very few exceptions, through very brief forays into the outer world, -- even speech, led me to believe it was time to invite people to come for silent sitting vigil in his room. But after those surprising conversations when he seemed to rally last night, I waffled.

I pondered how beautifully Francis lives in the present moment, much more than I, analytical Frenchwoman that I am. He meant exactly what he said when he decided not to struggle against the pull of the inner world: "I feel like sinking back and see where this rest takes me." He didn't project as I did that it was the beginning of the end. So I won't either, though I go back and forth on this because it is at least a remote beginning of the end.

His other treasured comment also demonstrates his awareness that it's one step at a time: "I feel so good! So good! I don't know which step this is along the way. But whatever step it is, I embrace it." I'm learning from him how to do this too.

But after discovering this morning that he had difficulty breathing, I'm realizing it is indeed time. He did spit up a big mucous plug -- possibly the cause of that breathing difficulty. But though his control over lifelong asthma is unbelievably good, specifically since he started practicing yoga in the mid-80's, -- he does after all, have asthma.

I can't resist telling you a true story. Within the last year Francis' pulmonary specialist was puzzled by Francis' unusually good lung function. At the end of a visit he paused apparently uncomfortable letting him go without a prescription. Finally he said, -- "Well, here's a prescription. At least it'll make me feel better." !!! When Francis looked at the directions, -- "As needed" he felt free to do just that. So he rarely, rarely uses it, only at times like this morning, or once at the end of a hospital stay.

Right now he's zonked out from Lorazepam (aka Ativan) which the Hospice nurse I called this morning prescribed to ease the anxiety caused by difficulty breathing.

But back to the subject of timing to invite people in. A few days ago, our friends, Julien and Jane Olivier from NH called. Julien is a married priest as Francis is. (We don't say "former" priest, because once a priest, always a priest.) He and Jane (also a former nun) called ahead about doing just that, -- sitting in silent vigil with Francis.

The point I'm driving at is this: Francis didn't even know they were here, nor, I learned later, would he have wanted to be distracted by learning who had come. His attention is too deeply interior now, unless he surfaces on his own, and who knows how long he'll still be doing that. So I join him in protecting the silence of that mysterious anteroom space, even from me.

That's why when people come into our home, using the side entrance on Ardmore St. we'll have a sign on the door reading: "Expected friends, just quietly come in." Those who want to talk can go into the dining and living room to the right of the entrance. Those going to Francis' room should walk straight through the kitchen and take the door to the right which will have a sign Silence Please on it. We trust if the room gets crowded that those who've been here longer would leave space for others.

I would also ask that those who signed up for "Afternoon Help" still come as scheduled on the
http://www.lotsahelpinghands.com/c/619101/login/ calendar. I'm relying on these people to take care of things so I can rest.

Thank you for sustaining us with your prayer/vibes.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Cherished End of Life Self-Disclosures

Not knowing when Francis will lose energy to speak (Weakness to do so was evident many times today,) I cherish every self-disclosure my dying husband Francis shares with me, and, -- aware as he is that I'm not keeping them to myself, I can honestly say, -- shares with you too, dear Family and Friends.

Except for a brief breakfast and a short supper when he ate only a bit, -- though his home health aid came to bathe him, and Jane McGillicuddy his niece came to help me with the list of people to call at the end, and Dr. Kevin Zorsky, DO braved the roads to give Francis a cranio-osteopathic treatment, --one could say Francis slept through it all, all day.

During Bill Gregory's healing visit, Francis lay in silence, eyes closed, but his increasingly beatific smile showed he was listening and responding to Bill's and my singing two hymns, "Dona Nobis Pacem," and "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say." interspersed with Bill's reading the gospel on the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1) and the apt "Good Shepherd" Psalm 22, "Though I walk through a valley of deepest darkness, I fear no harm, for You are with me." (Since I don't have Bill's version I'm using the "New Translation according to the traditional Hebrew.")

So when Francis agreed to take supper, having refused lunch because he felt so tired, I was most gratified! In between bites of a healing Hot and Sour Soup Meg Wolff had prepared which I spoonfed him, I occasionally took a spoonful from my own bowl as I jotted down his words for which I was even more hungry.

Though grieved to see him, and his voice too, so weak in such a short time, I was relieved to witness, as he talked, a growing spiritual strength. Before my eyes, in the last three months, I've witnessed the truth of St. Paul's observation: "....we do not lose heart. On the contrary, though this outer man of ours may be falling into decay, the inner man is being renewed day by day." (II Cor. 4:16)

Francis' New Year's Eve supper comments:

When Francis accepted my invitation to take supper with me he said he needed something very easy on his stomach.
Me - E: I'm so glad you're eating! You wouldn't take lunch. So why did you change your mind?
Him - F: Partly because I don't want to give up. I don't want to go back to sleep right now.
E: For me?
F: For us.

E: Maybe this is our last supper? We've had many last suppers.
F: Sometimes the last supper starts off to be a little spark and when you carefully embrace the little spark it might turn into something bigger. We'll just have to wait and see. We have to be very patient....
I've never thought of myself as a poet, but I have a poetic soul. If a distinction can be made between an actual poet and having a poetic soul, I have a poetic soul. And that's one consistency I have. It's been behind a lot of my decisions. Somehow my poetic soul was there to steer me.........
E Yes, you do have a poetic soul. I remember the time when I had had a bit of car trouble returning home from some trip with a friend. When I came into the house flustered to tell you about it, I found you in tears, listening to Mahler's Resurrection Symphony.

F I remember it well... It's Bob who got me into Mahler.........I never forgot, when I was working for Portland Housing Authority, on my way to a funeral service, Gustav Mahler's Resurrection Symphony was playing on the radio. I worked it into the service I gave at the funeral home.

E I hope I'm not wearing you out.
F: It's not a question of wearing me out now. All I'm doing is using the little energy that comes my way. And tonight that energy is very very precious. It's not in abundance tonight. Let's put it this way, -- it's not in abundance. But whatever measure of it I have can help me with whatever thoughts come in my direction................

E Are you enjoying your soup?
F Yes, and getting a bit stronger from it. Today the struggle has been to get me awake long enough to eat. It was a real struggle. At least temporarily I overcame the exhaustion to get something in my stomach, finally having gotten enough rest. If I hadn't made a supreme effort of the will, I would have collapsed.

E When did that happen?
F When Kevin was leaving. I made this act and you encouraged me, -- "Want to try?" You led the way by tempting me to try some supper, and it went on from there. I'm glad I did.

E Why? Because you're feeling stronger?
F It's not to be downgraded.
E Want another bite?
F Let me just sit a bit......................You're a very good person to help to draw me out. You're excellent at that, helping to motivate me..........So, is this New Year's Eve?
E Yes.
F Wow!
E The music (again the Armenian Middle Eastern music played at Francis' 75 birthday party) -- ...The music tears your heart out, doesn't it? .....................
When you awakened this evening, were you sorry?
F No, not sorry.
E How do you feel now?
F I'm becoming reconciled to it. I don't expect to go on forever. Unless I'm mistaken, this is more of a supper tonight than a feast, minor in energy and content. It's a very small window that I'm allowed to have into the world.

E Is it joyous?
F There's less joy tonight because my energy is less. Nevertheless there's some comfort because I can relax. I'm back into the comfort zone. I'm not bereft.
E The terror is leaving?
F Yes, it's okay. I'm not totally bereft. I'm granted comfort.

And hearing this, I was granted much comfort too!