Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Up north, spring was often a disappointing transition between winter and summer. Sometimes winter hovered through April, like a house guest overstaying her welcome. Frosts often damaged early blooms, and old winter coats too often obscured new Easter dresses. For me, spring only seemed like a season in theory. There were no flowering trees or special birds to announce the return of warm weather, just a gradually rising mercury and longer days that promised a reprieve from the grays of winter.

The first spring I lived in North Carolina I was struck by the beauty of the season. Beginning in early March the daffodils bloomed, heralding the arrival of spring. I guess the crocuses bloomed first, but I didn't notice them. Other perennials followed in succession: tulips, hyacinths, lilies, and on and on. Likewise the trees flowered in hues of cream and pink and purple with each tree taking it's turn at center stage. And then the birds came: cardinals, blue jays, golden finches, nuthatches, and bluebirds. Finally I understood why the Resurrection occupies its place on the calendar. That first spring the world around me seemed to birth and bloom and grow in a crescendo made for my eyes rather than my ears. I was an awe-struck city girl racing around campus with a camera in an effort to record an experience with nature unlike any I had ever known.

Years ago, whenever I would pick a paint color for a room, I would ask myself, "Would color do you want this room to be when you are dying?" I guess it shows how long I have been thinking about my death. Once scleroderma came into my life and accepted my mortality, there was no going back. My death became an everyday aspect of my life. I do not mean to say that I spent part of everyday in fetal position. Of course, there were many times when I did curl into a ball and cry inconsolably. And I often cried in the shower and the car and in other random, unpredictable places. But the awareness of my likely premature death yielded more than moments of catharsis.

I suppose that in some ways I became a more calculating person. I did may things purposefully, knowing that my remaining time was short. I abandoned any plans to seek an academic job with tenure. Deep in my heart I knew I did not want that life even if I was healthy. I liked to do too many other things that I feared that I would have to surrender to be a successful academic. And being sick gave me a justifiable reason for opting out of a career path that I did not want. The background noise of my mortality played into everything else in my life as well: the choice to have children; the determination to stay married; the documentation of my children's lives through journals, photos, and collections of their artwork; the desire to make life beautiful with gardens and parties and costumes and birthdays parties. In many ways, my illness has been my life's director, showing me how to play my part so that it was genuine and real. It taught me to listen to my heart rather than the brain that ruled my world during my healthy years.

I would sit in a room, puzzling over colors. I would picture myself relaxing in a chair or sofa, covered with a blanket. In my mind's eye I would see the future me staring out the window to the birdfeeders where I imagined beautiful feathered creatures converging for an afternoon snack. And I would try to imagine how it would feel to watch the birds while my life slipped away.

When we walked into my hospice room, the curtains were open to reveal a sliding glass door and a patio complete with a table and chairs. Nearby stood two birdfeeders and I felt immediate peace. I knew I was where I needed to be, resting and staring out the window at the birds just as I always imagined it.

This hospice room is cosy, with homemade quilts and blankets. My patio overlooks a bucolic setting. My heart, soul, and body are in the capable and loving hands of the staff and my symptoms are coming under control. We are making progress, but there is no rush or hurry. They want to see me comfortable before they let me go home to live out my remaining time. I truly believe that choosing hospice with not only improve the quality of my life but also the duration. If I can be comfortable instead of writhing in pain and coughing violently, I can nurture my will to live. I can still fight if I just don't have to fight so damn hard.


~Jamie said...

I will pray that your fight is easier . Even a heavy weight needs time to catch his breath, get wiped down and have a good spit! I'm sure you'll catch your breath and make it out of your corner for the next round! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

hospice is wonderful! i am sorry that you are on this downhill ride, perhaps you can coast for a little while now.

Marie Coppola said...

Sounds like you're cutting yourself a break and being nice to yourself. I LIKE it!


Annie said...

i'm glad that you're able to receive the help that you need. i have been praying for you and your family and wishing peace for you all.

i hate to sound greedy and feel it's out of place but i don't want you to go.


MJH said...

Now, I have to go and collect all bird feeders I have hanging in my garage & scrub them all up, also to put 100# bird feed on my shopping list. I didn't hang any last winter. Life is too short. Children don't stay small. Time to DO what I wanted to do while I could.

Thank you for the reminder!

Linda Crispell said...

I have learned so much by seeing the world through your eyes.
thank you,

Cha Cha said...

I'm so glad that you are comfortable and the birdfeeders were there to greet you. Let those nice folks take care of you and pamper you.

Hope said...

Michelle, There is an irony in coming to your site everyday. I come to listen to someone who is so alive, someone who appreciates the moments of life yet at the same time has a thoughtful and encouraging understanding of the bigger picture. The beauty of your words is that there is no illness. You speak with more life and clarity than anyone I've ever known. Your words are healthy and strong and inspiring.
I know you are suffering and I want so desperately for you to feel better. We've never met, but my life is so much richer because you cared enough to speak. To me you are one of the healthiest people I've ever had the pleasure to know. Can't wait to hear more.

Just A Mom said...

You are an amazing person and you have made a huge impact in my life at a time when I really needed to understand why we are here and what our purpose is. I will never forget you and I have you in my prayers and thoughts. I have a little one year old boy and I make sure that I cherish each and every day because we just don't know when it will be our time.

desert dirt diva said...

yes i beleive you do impact lots of too.. and thank you for that! glad to hear about hospice working out for you!it makes me feel good that you'll be here alittle bit longer...for bill , your kids and us...hope that does not sound selfish....but i am learning lots from you, like not to take so much for granted, be thankful for what i have.
thank you for sharing all you share.
take care vicki

courtney said...

Like you need a task right now...but I suggest you leave the names of the paint colors of the rooms of your house on your blog, Michelle. Knowing your organized nature I am sure they are all filed away somewhere at home. If everyone could understand how welcoming, life affirming, and warm your house feels the moment you walk in (not only because of the warm happy colors, but partially because of them), I bet the colors would sell out in an instant.
Love you oodles. Courtney

Carl said...

Great posting Michele. I am glad the birdfeeders are there to help made you feel more at home and at ease.

hesslei said...

Feeding wild birds does carry potential risks. Birds may contract and spread disease by gathering at feeders; poorly maintained feeding and watering stations may also cause illness. Birds at feeders risk predation by cats and other animals, or may incur injury by flying into windows. Steps can be taken to reduce the risks to birds, such as: regular disinfecting of feeders and watering stations, ensuring feed has not become moldy or rancid, and proper positioning of feeders to reduce crowding and window collisions.


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