Life happens, and death happens… It’s what we do with the in-between that counts.
Updated: May 3
When I was a little girl, I heard a motorcycle crash outside our house, and I ran outside to see what happened. A young man was lying on the ground bleeding and not talking. Something inside me knew what to do, not medically of course, but compassionately. I held his head in my lap and I let him know he was not alone. I had forgotten all about this until I started writing my second book, The Hospice Heart, where I went back in time and down memory lane, realizing I was meant to do the work I am doing now, which is providing comfort and support to people who are dying.
When I was about eighteen, I walked out to “The Headlands” which is a hangout point in Mendocino, and a place I went often when I needed to think, scream, or vent. I was alone out there, staring at the ocean, when I heard a voice say, “don’t do it.” It turned out that one of the local homeless men, Big Al, was sitting below me but I couldn’t see him. He thought I was going to jump off the cliff, and immediately climbed up to be with me, hoping to talk me out of it. The first thing he said to me, was “you have important things to do, your life is only just starting now, if you end your life, you will miss out on so much.” I explained why I was there, that I was struggling with life, but had no intention of ending it. I have kept those words tucked in my heart since… which comforted me over the years at my lowest moments, reminding me to keep pushing through.
When I was in my early fifties, I walked the Camino in Spain, mostly alone. At one point I came to a fork in the road and was not sure which direction to go. There was a man standing there, with a suit jacket on and a fancy hat, which seemed odd, and after giving me directions, he said to me, “you are someone who cradles the head of those who are dying.” I told him I was a hospice nurse, and he responded, “I know.” I turned my head to see who was walking up behind me, and when I turned back around, he was gone. I couldn’t help but wonder… was he ever really there? It had me thinking about the young man whose head I cradled in my lap so many years before as he was dying… were they one in the same?
So many magical and amazing things happened on that walk. One day, I came up to a fence where a large cow was standing on the other side. He kept nodding his head to the left as if urging me to look that way, and when I did, I saw a white horse in the field of trees… it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed. I asked every person I saw along the walk that day what they thought of the white horse… no one else saw it.
When I returned from walking The Camino, I felt different, perhaps with a stronger sense of purpose knowing that all my life I had been walking a path that would lead me to where I am now, truly finding my passion, cradling the heads of those who are dying, and holding the hands of those preparing to say goodbye.
This work has shown me how to slow down and savor life in a way I had not done before. Each person I am with as their life ends, reminds me that mine will too, and I am not immune to death. I know one day I too will die, I question my own mortality often, but it isn’t happening right now, thankfully. Life happens, and death happens… It’s what we do with the in-between that counts.
I feel like I am doing important things, just like Big Al predicted, and I still have so much more to do. I am not going to waste a moment of my “in-between." And one day, when it’s time for my head to be cradled, I will leave knowing that I lived my life fully, I had incredible experiences, I loved hard and fiercely, I played often, and I found my purpose and my passion. And at that point, I will look up and whisper to Big Al… “I didn’t miss out on anything.”
You can find my second book, The Hospice Heart, here: