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Linda Watson

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Fascinating talk with author of the book "Facing Death: A Companion In Words and Images". A must have for anyone who has a loved one who is terminally ill.

The challenge of preparing for one's own death is enormous. It is difficult to overcome one's own reluctance to talk about death and dying -- let alone the fear of family and friends -- and yet it helps the process for the words to be shaped. In addition, in the final stages of life, the endurance for study is limited but the need for meaningful content is very great.

The morsels of wisdom and comfort in Facing Death, along with the beautiful, accompanying nature photographs, address these needs. Throughout, this book allows readers to make their own sense of what is presented, to access what is offered in their own fashion, to identify particular items for frequent re-visiting, to personalize and customize, if and as they wish.

Facing Death understands death to be, though unwanted in most cases, an inevitable and normal part of life. The book presents death in this way but draws attention to the process of life, in all its heartache and glory. Facing Death has been awarded a 2009 National Best Book Award from USA Book News

I am one of those people who has been writing since before I could ride a bike. I recall my Grade Two teacher asking me to stay after class several days in a row, so that we could bind together a little book of the poetry I was writing then. I do not think I could possibly recall all the beginnings I have made to stories over the years. In fact, I am working now on a novel again -- whether it sees the light of day or not has yet to be seen.

Some of the details of my life are contained in the files to the left. My Facebook site allows a way to learn more and perhaps to interact some.

I just have to mention that one of my regular volunteer passions is advocacy work on behalf of the grandmothers of sub-Saharan Africa and the children orphaned by AIDS in their care. Again, I write a good deal for this cause and have authored most of the text on the advocacy section of the Grandmothers Campaign site. If you would care to learn more about this cause please check out the web site of the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

She was petite, Dorothy was. She was small in stature but potent in so many other ways: a vibrant, intelligent, opinionated, talented, loyal and wise woman, who was inclined to use giggles like punctuation marks and loved the prairies. Twelve years older, she was not just my big sister but a hero to me growing up. Once I was an adult we became friends. Later still we became fellow-strugglers against the assaults of breast cancer.

To date, I am winning my battle. Regrettably, she lost hers.

When Dorothy told me, after years of aggressive treatment, that she had finally been given six weeks to live, I was devastated. I couldn’t imagine the world without her. Worse still was that she was so far away. I had spent years in pastoral and supportive care, frequently a companion to people who were preparing for death, and I felt I could be a help if I could only spend time with Dorothy. But there she was, out of physical reach.

My solution was to create a set of cards printed onto business card blanks, with messages I thought might be of use to her from time-to-time. I set down some of my own thoughts; quoted other writers; included scripture verses because I knew she would like that; and included personal notes from me to her. I had the little deck of cards with me when I paid a visit to her shortly after her deadly prognosis. She was propped up with her walker in her family cottage when I gave the cards to her. She received them very solemnly—no giggles punctuating this occasion. I asked her please to read them through once and then decide if there was any further use to which she might put them.

About a month later, she mentioned that she was reading the cards every day, almost as a devotional practice. Then, by strange chance, she lost the set in the course of moving back to the city. I was disappointed, thinking of how much I had poured into the cards, how much they mattered to me as a means to reach out to her. She found them again just before she went into Palliative Care for the last time. I have them now.

In the meantime, I told a friend who worked with many cancer patients about what I had done for my sister. Her response was electric: “You mean to tell me you’ve created a set of cards for the dying?” She went on to tell me that she had been looking for a simple, meaningful resource like that for years. I had to get these messages out into the world, she said. In fact, I WOULD get them out there, she promised with presumptuous abandon.

So, I went back to the messages I had gathered, keeping regular phone contact with Dorothy and paying visits when I could. A desire to improve upon and further generalize what I had created for her sent me rifling through old journal entries, eulogies, sermons, poetry and prayers I had written. It also sent me to my own library and to the internet in search of complementary quotes from others. Eventually, I approached a long-time friend and award-winning nature photographer, Maggie Sale, to collaborate with me on the project, canvassed a few local end-of-life professionals for endorsements, and began the long, slow process of pitching the idea to publishers.

In the last eight days of Dorothy’s life, I was one of those who spent time with her each day. Her daughter and I made her laugh as we played "Eccentric Aestheticians" and gave her a manicure. There were times she woke frighten from sleep, unable to sort out reality from nightmare. She was very weak. Each day I read through the cards for her, at her request. The last time I read them was on a Wednesday afternoon. It was just the two of us and we both had tears running down our faces. She died early the next morning.

So it is that my sister Dorothy was the inspiration for my book, as she was an inspiration for much of my life. The book, Facing Death, is dedicated to her memory. I think she would be pleased.

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