Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Next Step

Last year at the Midwest Independent Publishers Association Book Awards ceremony, Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully won first place in the Health category. After accepting our award in front of 300 publishers, booksellers, and authors and getting gold stickers for our books, Nancy and I were given the envelope of scoring sheets and comments from the judges. Our mouths dropped open when we read, "This book deserves a mainstream publisher and a national audience."

We hadn't considered going mainstream, but the judge's comment was a catalyst. We didn't do anything for a while, but then our friend Mary Treacy O'Keefe, author of Thin Places (also published by Beaver's Pond Press), started nudging us: Find an agent! You need to get to a big publisher! Find an agent! Call Larry Dossey and ask him who his agent is!

Eventually we contacted Larry Dossey, M.D., who had already written a beautiful blurb for our back cover, and he recommended a literary agent in northern California --Barbara Deal, owner of Literary Associates. Although she wasn't taking on any new projects, once she read Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully, she agreed to take us on.

We've been waiting out the economic crisis, but now that publishers are again buying manuscripts, Barbara thinks the time is right. So we wrote a book proposal for her to present to publishing houses. By the time we finished this 30-page description of our book, the market, the competition, and our passion for sharing Diane's story, even WE were impressed!

Last week, ten packets went out to ten publishers. If one of them likes the book, there could be a revised, expanded edition published by this time next year. We're keeping our fingers crossed. We hope that Diane's inspiring story can take the next step in reaching a much wider audience!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lessons from a Hospital Chaplain

The current issue of Spirituality & Health: The Soul/Body Connection features an article entitled “What is a Good Death: A Hospital Chaplain Reflects on the Lessons from Her Patients.” One thing that attracted Karen Rushen to the spiritual care of the sick and dying was wanting “to know why some people appeared to have a ‘better death’ than others, passing from this life with less fear, pain, and resistance than other people.” She also wanted to look at her own “worst nightmares about sickness, pain, and end of life . . . .”

Rushen shares several experiences from her years with dying patients, from newborns to the elderly. My favorite story is of an elderly woman dying of cancer. Her husband sat by her hospital bed, “sobbing pitifully for days on end. Finally he fell asleep from exhaustion, and that’s when his wife passed away. Yet when he woke up, he was calm upon finding out that his wife had died, telling the staff that he had just had a very powerful dream in which his wife assured him that she loved him, and that she was in a wonderful place, waiting for him to join her someday.”

Rushen ends her reflections by observing that her job has taught her that “each day is precious, that health is not to be taken for granted, and that the most horrendous suffering can contain gifts and life lessons.” She also found that by facing her own fears squarely and by daring to ask herself and others some of “life’s most daunting questions,” she “experienced a profound clarity” around her own life’s purpose.

We don’t have to become a hospital chaplain or a hospice volunteer to learn these lessons. We can learn from any of the many wonderful books available on what to expect and how best to prepare for our own death or that of a loved one, books such as Susan Dolan’s End of Life Advisor, the recently published Jane Brody’s Guide to the Great Beyond, David Kessler’s The Needs of the Dying, and Elisabeth Kubler Ross’ classic On Death and Dying. This 1969 publication started the whole cultural shift toward dealing with death more openly. My copy (cost: $1.95) may have started me on a path that forty years later, led to becoming a home funeral activist.

We can also study contemporary spiritual teachers such as Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, Stephen Levine, and the Dali Lama, or go back to one of my all time favorite books, the 2nd century Roman classic, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.

We can watch movies that neither avoid nor romanticize death, films such as . . . oh, that’s a topic for another day. Meanwhile, carpe diem!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Nancy in a Pulpit

One of the last places I expected to find myself was behind a raised pulpit, looking out over a congregation. I had been sitting in the sanctuary during the prayers and hymns. Now I stood for my sermon. Yes, my sermon.

I left the Catholic church when I was 21 and haven’t attended any denomination’s services except for an occasional wedding or funeral. I have something like an allergic reaponsevto church services. Had I actually agreed to speak at Birmingham Unitarian Church in Michigan?

Thankfully, sitting behind me, waiting to take her turn in the pulpit, was our friend and church member Susie Symons. Susie, featured in Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully, had made the arrangements, and would deliver her half of the sermon next.

The week before, at Hospice Volunteer Services of Vermont. I felt comfortable, articulate, even inspired. Afterwards, as we gathered up the few books we didn’t sell, I told Becky, “This was so enjoyable we really ought to give more presentations.”

But in front of the Unitarians my inspiration vanished. I felt shaken in a way I don’t normally before an audience. I opened my mouth and out came a croak. I cleared my throat, coughed, and finally managed a hoarse sentence. I plunged forward, gaining confidence. But three minutes into my remarks, I remembered that this was NOT the moment for my sermon. I was supposed to have read a poem first. Only after Susie had read a second poem, was my sermon to begin.

At my chagrined glance, Susie waved for me to continue. When I finished, she stepped to the pulpit and shared both her poem and the story of Diane’s impact on her. Susie, who had confided how nerve-wracking public speaking was for her, gave the most eloquent, beautiful sermon.

In the social hall after the service, church members were warm, gracious, and generous in the personal experiences they shared with Becky and me and in the number of our books they bought. Then Susie and her husband John Glick (a world-famous potter who made ceramic containers for Diane's ashes) took us home for a fabulous Italian lunch, never once mentioning my rattled performance. John took the above photo of Becky, Susie, and me in their back yard. True friends, pictured here.