Wednesday, December 30, 2009


When I came home from the hospice I loaded up the dishwasher as I heated up a meal of leftovers: some paella from Christmas day, alu gobi from Sunday dinner, roasted turnips and yams from Monday, and a bit of leftover Chinese take-out.

I listened to NPR as I ate: stories about the attempted bombing on the Northwestern flight, the new health care proposal, WWII conscientious objectors, and more. I scrubbed the stovetop as I listened. “It’s your turn to clean the stove,” I told Ed days ago. After heavy use over Christmas, with the kids home, and lots of friends over, the stovetop was greasy and crusty. I’d spent half an hour scrubbing it after Ed’s department party at our house, and didn’t want to do it again. But now Ed was in New York visiting his parents, and the stove still dirty.

I gave in and cleaned the damn stove, not willing to hold out for ideology any longer. I gave the stovetop my all, wiping away not only the most recent grease, but even old stains from months past. I took out a metal spatula and scraped away at the ceramic top.

I held you in my mind, Ann-Marie, as I scrubbed. After a year battling melanoma, and a remission I cavalierly assumed was permanent, your body broke out in cancer again, no longer responsive to treatments. Slowly, you let go, and after you came home from the hospital for Christmas, it became clear you were ready for hospice.

When I visited you today, you were well along the path. Unconscious in your bed, even my cold hands coming in from the December frost didn’t startle you. Head back, mouth open, one hand rested on your chest. Several of us gathered and sang for you, songs you knew well from the song circles you’d been attending and hosting for years.

Be like a bird
who halting in her flight
on a limb too slight feels it give way beneath her
yet sings, sings, knowing she has wings

Members of your meditation group came and chanted prayers. I offered a eurythmy Halleluiah. We shared Ann-Marie stories, talking about how much you love to laugh, how good a friend you are, what a compassionate therapist. Where would I start? After 20 years of friendship, what story would I tell? I chose to stay in a deep, rich silence, standing beside your bed, imagining where your inner work was leading you.

Driving home, however, I remembered an incident you were part of. It was at another hospice, where a student of mine lay dying, and several of us from the song circle gathered to sing for her. However, when we walked into the patient’s room, I realized this was not my student, and that in fact, I didn’t know this person at all. After a few confused minutes, we decided to sing for her anyway. Some friends and family members were in the room, and they encouraged us to stay. We realized that it really didn’t matter that we didn’t know this person, and in fact, we could’ve walked into any room of the hospice and offered to sing. On the way home, we laughed heartily over my blunder, while appreciating the magic that had transpired. Her family was so appreciative, and the patient responded to us in her own way, by raising her arm and turning her head.

And now we are singing for you. After all your years mothering, dancing, singing, cooking, healing, now you are still. You are leaving this earthly plane, you are leaving your young adult children and your husband, and hundreds of people who love you. You are on a journey we can only observe from a great distance, wishing you well, singing you songs, and chanting prayers.

Back at home, I keep scrubbing the stove, a privilege and burden of the living. Your hand, Ann-Marie, that I held as I sang, will never wield a spatula or kitchen sponge again. In your hospice bed, you have completely transcended dirty stovetops, unread emails, difficult clients, floods, and earthquakes. You are finished with walking along the Milwaukee River, dancing in the kitchen, writing poems. But death, too, is a good place. For you, my friend, my soul-sister, I scrub the stove spotless.


Sarah said...

Beautiful. Thank you Peggy for your power with words. This is a good time of year to pass, I think souls feel the pull stronger, and the rest of us are left knowing what a gift we have.

Laraine Herring said...

You left me in tears, Peggy. What a beautiful piece of work. Blessings for 2010.


Susan said...

Thank-you for the lovely words Peggy. Fred and I have been in silence since the phone call last night saying that Ann-Marie had passed. Her presence has been with me often over the past two weeks knowing that time on this earth was limited. May God and Guru be with you Ann-Marie, Jim, Joshua, and Jessica. A loss indeed but it has given rise to deep soul contemplation knowing that nothing is ever really lost in one's heart. Peace to you all.

Allegra Troiano said...

Thanks for writing so clearly about the transcendence from life to death. We rarely think about how easy it is to get caught up in the mundaneness and pettiness of life, when in the end, Ann-Marie would probably have traded hundreds of days scrubbing dirty stoves in order to remain on earth with her loved ones. How easy it is for us to take life for granted! Let's hope that in spite of her unconsciousness, she could feel your kind presence and hear your soothing melodies.

Christian said...

i am sorry for your loss Peggy, i did not know ann-marie very well though she will be in my thoughts. And thank you for your words Sarah.