handIn the center of this total dump of a hospital, leading into the Hospice unit are these amazing doors…. made with some kind of hand blown glass and hewn wood and a big heavy pewter handle that, I’m sure, has been difficult for lots of folks to open, even though it’s physically effortless.

The doors and the entire unit couldn’t be more out of place.. an island of beauty in a 40 year outdated sea of antiquated yuk.

The last time I walked thru these doors was a few years ago, this time it feels a little different.  I know what this place is all about now… I wasn’t nearly so sure back then.

I understand now, in a big and personal way, what the fancy doors, the nice hallways, super clean rooms, fresh food for visitors and the state of the art everything is all about.

These material things are outward expressions of people’s gratitude.

Donations from the families of loved ones who have received such incredible dignity and grace as they exit this final lap.

Symbolic gratitude that doesn’t come close to how they really feel, but they try anyway.

I get it.  Totally.

I’m fascinated as I observe the very real people here…. The caretakers and hospital workers…  The folks who sit with the dying, who care for us when we can’t care for ourselves.

I’m amazed at their ability to sit, to narrowly focus their attention and energy on such an important and worthy task… for extraordinarily long periods of time—holding a hand, comforting an uncertain mind, hearing the same story 456 times, standing back as loved ones come in, then leaning back in as soon as they inevitably go away again.

This is a job.

But this isn’t for the money.

The beauty of these people, their dedication and what appears to be an almost primal desire to add more love to this final chapter… it’s extraordinary beyond anything I could put into words.

I know that’s what these donors felt, it’s why they helped build this beautiful space.

My daughter’s grandma is here, my wife’s mom, my dear friend since I was 13 years old.

They say she’s not dying quite yet—maybe next week or the next, but not yet.. we’re just getting her comfortable for the longer wait back at home—this weird vigil of measuring how much life is left from one day to the next.

We live these days in this totally awkward space between profound sadness and almost celebratory relief… the space I suspect everyone who’s ever been thru it understands intimately.

The sadness entered and moved around all of us months or even years ago— when the person we knew was starting to leave.  The woman who’s still here isn’t really the same person as before—she’s like a child, only has a few words and scattered thoughts now and again.. a very incomplete version of what once was.

The fact is that relief for everyone, first and foremost her, is on the near horizon.

Suffering in this life is inevitable and thankfully, so is relief from it.

I find this whole experience, and that understanding, seriously beautiful.

I’m proud to be here, to stand with her, to invoke huge smiles on her droopy face.  I feel so profoundly how much she loves me, us, even in the confusion.  I feel so good about it, about being present, about doing my part, even as small as it is in comparison.

I know it’s what we all do; it’s a right of passage that makes me feel upright, capable, strong… united.

I feel like we’re doing what generations have done and I love that it’s our turn and we showed up to do our part, our turn at the vigil that is universal in so many ways.   I think about all the people who will do this tomorrow, next week, next century.

I’m saying “we” like I’m doing so much… I’m not.

The person I’m really profoundly moved and blown away by honestly is her daughter, who’s courage and strength to remain totally present, connected, vigilant and united until her last breath is a perfect representation of what I know pure awe look’s like.

I’m seeing a person I’ve seen before, when her dad was here, when our daughter was born.  I don’t forget, but I’m still moved by the reminder, the simple truth of her relentless strength.

So, amidst this rather sad mess, I see the most remarkable people, doing the most heart-felt passionate and perfect work, adding more love everywhere, to everything.. I see courage and strength, I see surrender and relief, I see gratitude and heroism and diverse expressions of intense love… and it all leads to one thing, means one thing, has one definition…Life.