Too Mean To Die

This week I bring you two heads-up pennies that I gathered along my way.

  • The first is a letter about an encounter with a woman who was “too mean to die”  from my friend Kathleen,  a volunteer hospice worker.    It’s a great reminder to begin again when life gets the better of us.
  • Second, a poem by Mary Oliver that we read  in our Year to Live class.  I’m told that Mary Oliver lives on the tip of Cape Cod and draws inspiration from long walks along the beaches and salt ponds.

Wishing you time to muse this week as you stroll along under the open sky!

Letter from Kathleen

Your recent hitting the restart button post and the premise of one year left to live reminded me of a hospice patient I once had.

When the volunteer coordinator called me, she said she had a woman who was “too mean to die” and that she trusted that I was the right person for her.  (They used to send me all the “hardest” and “most unusual” cases!)

With that introduction, I left with an open heart and open mind, intending not to judge, but send loving energy to her.

She was the most miserable, unlikable, complaining, woman I have met!  She was staying with her granddaughter, who had escaped to Florida for a break, leaving behind her husband who needed to study for an exam.  She made his life pure hell!

She complained that the hangers in her closet were not hers and that other people had taken hers.  She wanted me to rearrange the furniture in her bedroom. When I told her that I was the volunteer and didn’t move furniture around, she demanded to know why I had come if I was going to be worthless!

When the nurse came, the woman went into the bathroom and wouldn’t come out.  When she finally did, the nurse examined her, changed the bandages on her legs, with the woman telling her how to do it all along the way.

When the nurse left, she cut off the bandages and called for the grandson to re-do them another way.  She complained about how he did it to!

This kind of thing went on and on all day… but I kept to my plan of open heart/open mind.

At the end of the day, I was putting her into her bed, and she looked up at me and told me this:

Every day I go into the bathroom and look in the mirror and promise myself that I will be nice to everyone today, and I try very hard….but I find myself not being nice… I go back into the bathroom and look again into the mirror and start again! and again, and again…

My eyes filled with tears and I embraced her and told her that God knew what was in her heart and that was all that counted.

She was not too mean to die, she was refusing to die until she could be nice for one full day.

Talk about restarting!

When Death Comes

Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purseto buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.


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2 responses to “Too Mean To Die”

  1. Jill M. says:

    Wow. The letter from Kathleen changes one’s whole perspective on difficult people. It’s easy to assume that they get pleasure out of being mean, but really this woman was tortured by her own behavior. I try to remind myself that people who are difficult or unpleasant are usually really unhappy people. I’ve had a few experiences recently where I was in a store and there was another customer who was being incredibly rude and almost verbally abusive to a salesperson (in both cases the customer was an older woman, actually). What can you do in these situations? You know they act that way because they’re probably miserable people, but I feel so bad for the salespeople who have to take their abuse…

    • Barbara says:

      Such a great question, Jill. It reminds me of what they say about bullying: most bullies are bullied themselves, either by parents, other peers, older siblings, etc. It doesn’t make their actions excusable, but it definitely helps reframe our attitude and approach to them.

      I wonder what would happen if we were able to say quietly to the aggressors, “It seems like you’re having a really hard day.” Would the validation catch them off-guard? Would it give them a little space to think more clearly? (Or would they just punch you in the nose?!) Depends on the situation, it would seem. And somehow we never know until we’re right in the thick of it!

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