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Working With The Dying by Sherri Rosen

Many years ago I went through 9 months of Hospice Training at Beth Israel Hospital in NYC to volunteer with the dying. One day when I walked onto the hospital floor, the air felt claustrophobic and I realized all had chosen to die at the instant. I was paralyzed. Could only manage to stay at the reception desk and when my hours were up I left and I never returned. Will I go back? Don’t know.

I purposely went through the training that took me 2 years to finish because of my fear of death. I’ve seen my dad dead, I’ve been around friends who are dying but the fear is still there. I know I am wonderful to be around, if the folks who are dying wants someone with them, because I don’t have an agenda. I just sit with them allow them to be in whatever state they are in.

I wasn’t okay with having this fear until I recently went to have a session with a Zen Buddhist priest in NYC. He sat and spoke with me for an hour about my fear and then the last thing he
said to me was “Sherri are you okay with having the fear of dying?” I breathed a sigh of relief and said to him “that’s what I needed to say to myself”. “Thank you! I was not accepting
myself as I am. Since the acceptance I am working directly with the fear, and sometimes not so directly because it’s so powerful, so I take a xanax to help me out. But space has opened up to allow other things to come in with the fear, like joy and fear at the same time.

I was once in the hospital to receive cataract surgery and I was waiting for an hour outside operating theatre for them to take me and this gorgeous orderly walked by me and even with my fear, I realized I was turned on by him. It made me giggle to myself and made the surgery less scary or more acceptable.

I was considering taking chaplaincy training working with the dying but said no. I’ve always been attracted to go towards things that frighten me so and work through it. This area has been the most challenging.

One day on the floor at Beth Israel I was sitting with one of the patients in hospice who came from the same hometown that I came from Lynn, Mass. She was around 85 years old, had bright red hair, which she so loved on me also, and we just hit it off. Her daughter and son in law were there also and we just had the best conversation. The next week I came in on Sunday and she was gone. I asked if she had died and they said she was moved to another hospital in the Bronx, New York because of the family’s request. No more contact! Not a clue what happened to her! Felt horrible! Could not seem to just let it go that she was gone and I would never see her again.

I’ve been with friends who are dying. That’s a whole different ball game. My friend William died one year ago this month. He and I were Interfaith Ministers working together in this ministry he created in downtown NYC called Tribeca Spiritual Center. When he got sick he and I would speak to one another from time to time about his cancer treatments. I would visit him in the hospital while he was receiving radiation. Again, I was present with him and my visit was all about him. William had done so many funerals and memorial services and now he was going through his own process. I miss him so much because each one of us who had a friendship with him receive and gave and the friendship was special. Before he got sick, I used to meet him for breakfast in City Hall Park near where I used to live 7 years ago. It was so fun! Either he would bring breakfast or I would bring it. The weather would be gorgeous and we would either laugh or cry together on what was going on in our lives. When his mother was 95 years old he brought her up to NYC from Arizona to live near him so he could watch over her. From time to time I would go an hangout with his mum, who by the way was very cool, and then when it was time to leave I would go my way. His mum lived to 96 years old, and William died at age 64. Go figure!

Seeing and watching my friends that I love suffering and dying breaks my heart. It makes we wonder, how will I go? Will it be quick or will I be given a warning to go through a dying process
with family and friends? If you think this is an easy blog to write, you are crazy, but again, whatever fears I have, somehow I manage to go directly to them and deal with them even if it takes me years.

I know I have no regrets about my life, my choices. And the people in my life know how I feel about them! I don’t hide my feelings about them! I feel what I’ve given to my life and other people’s lives is celebration, joy and authenticity!!! Right now I don’t have any unfinished business except with myself with being okay with my fear of dying.

My family once went on a photography shoot in a gorgeous cemetery in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. They have big huge monumens, crypts. Famous people are there!! Al Capone. They have lakes with lotus flowers floating in them, lots of benches and grass. It’s called Greenlawn Cemetery. People picnic here. They’ve made it a welcoming place. A place for the living and the dying. It’s been incorporated into being alive, just like I want to incorporate the acceptance of my death.

I remember when one of my uncles died in Peabody, Mass. I bought a whole bunch of lilies to place before other people in my family’s graves who are buried there. My cousin Irving showed us the area, while being so nervous to get the hell out of there. So I begin speaking to my ancestors and laying a lily in front of 5 different stones. Both my husband at the time and myself crying, and then I happened to lookup at the stones and I realized we were at the wrong stones. My husband and I began laughing while I picked up each lily saying to each stone “sorry guys but these are for my family. See you around.” We finally found the tombstones and I proceeded to try again.

You see with people in my family that i loved when I was very young, I was never told by my parents they were dying so I could see them before they passed on. Many things like that were kept a secret from me because my family had made up its mind that their decision was the best way to handle it. As a result I became very terrified of hearing of someone’s passing because I always found out after the fact. I thought something was wrong with dying. Wow! how thoughts manifest!!! Again, these were aunts and uncles and my grandpa who I adored and truly adored me and pouff they were gone, and I never had an opportunity to say goodbye. Death is a mystery anyway, and it became not only a mystery in my life but unacceptable!

I am also an actress and I was performing in this play called Passages about the living and dying. While I was rehearsing my dad was rushed to the hospital in Florida and we were called by the doctor to come immediately. I called the director, Cynthia Belgrave and said “Cynthia I don’t know what to do!.” She said “Sherri your’re going! You’ll know what you need to do once you are there. What I discovered for the first time about my family is they were terrified and instead of making my dad comfortable they kept talking to him so they would not have to deal with their anxiety. They all left my dad’s room after a short amount of time and I stayed. They wanted me to go and I said “no ! I am staying! I saw then I had the capacity to leave my baggage at the door and be there for the person dying. Quite a lesson. Dad actually recovered and died one year later.

I believe most people have a fear of dying. They don’t like to think about it, speak about it especially in our culture, at least that’s been my experience, but as I’ve said I have always gone towards the places that scare me and I don’t expect to back down!!!
400-Sherri Rosen RED - rectangular photo, enlarged  (400x533)

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This entry was posted on Friday, April 10th, 2015 at 11:19 am and is filed under Clients, Friends and Colleagues. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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