Striving To Die Smilingly

A Tribute to Terrell Jones

October 25th, 1942 to August 15th, 2002

An earlier version of this story was first posted
to Light Morning’s website in the Autumn of 2002

Terrell Jones, a good friend and a fellow Vipassana meditator, died at his home just down the road from Light Morning in mid-August. Many of us in this area are indebted to Terrell, not only for introducing us to Vipassana meditation, but also for modeling an exceedingly rare quality — a learned ability to die well; to leave with awareness. As a small token of my appreciation, here are several stories about my Vipassana relationship with Terrell.

Continue reading Striving To Die Smilingly

Letting Nature Take Its Course: 3

This is the last of three posts which chronicle Marlene’s
final journey home. Part One, which introduces this series, is here.

Marlene drying veggies at Light Morning circa 1974

May 30th, 2018

May is a manic month in a homesteading lifestyle. Several of the past few evenings have seen me either hoeing or mowing by moonlight. Mama black bear passed through the orchard recently to taste a few small apples. Standing up on her hind legs to pull down one of the branches, she looked like a large man, with very good posture, in a bear costume.

Marlene is once more back in her bed and Ron is wrestling with myalgia. For the past month, Marlene has preferred to be on the floor. Ron didn’t want to keep the side rails of the hospital bed raised because it caused her to feel imprisoned, so Marlene became adept at lowering herself off the bed and onto the floor. Once down, she could scoot around from place to place using her hands and knees.

It was hard for Ron to minister to her needs, of course, while she was on the floor. But he was willing to do whatever it took to help Marlene regain some semblance of mobility. Her use of morphine also decreased significantly while she was out and about. For one stretch of ten days she didn’t need any at all.

Continue reading Letting Nature Take Its Course: 3

Letting Nature Take Its Course: 2

This is the second of three posts which chronicle Marlene’s
final journey home. Part One, which introduces this series, is here.

April 9th, 2018

I checked in with Ron and Marlene yesterday evening. Much to my amazement, Marlene was her feisty, smiley old self. She was lying on her stomach instead of her back. As soon as I walked in, she asked me about Ron’s taxes. She’s done his taxes for years and, knowing that tax time is close, she was concerned. I told her that all the financial info she had stashed in Ron’s red folder had been delivered to a tax person in Roanoke.

She grabbed my hand and gave it a tight squeeze. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Then she talked about the cards and letters she’d been receiving. She couldn’t understand why so many people were suddenly writing to her. I saw an unopened envelope lying on the bed.“Do you want to see who sent this one?” I asked. “Sure.”

It was a long letter from Jess, whose family lived at Light Morning many years ago. Marlene has remained close to them, so I read the letter aloud. Marlene listened attentively to the news about each of the family members and each of the family’s cats.

Later, Marlene said she wanted to have a chiropractor in Blacksburg fix her back. Ron paused for a moment before answering. Then he gently reminded her about the childhood injury to her back, the progressive osteoarthritis in her spine, and the cancer.

“No one can fix those things for you,” he continued. “You’re just going to have to learn to live with it.”

There was a brief silence as Marlene tried to take this in.

“Well, I’ve had seventy-seven years,” she said.

“Seventy-seven beautiful years,” Ron replied.

Marlene gave him a delighted smile. Then she reached up to where Ron was standing beside the bed, grabbed the sides of his face with her hands, and pulled him down to give him a kiss. A second and third kiss quickly followed.

Continue reading Letting Nature Take Its Course: 2

Letting Nature Take Its Course: 1

Marlene cutting tomatoes for canning

This photo shows Marlene, one of Light Morning’s four co-founders, prepping tomatoes for canning on the porch of the old community shelter. She taught me how to work; I learned by watching her. Marlene’s hands moved at the same consistently fast yet careful pace, whether she was typing, cutting tomatoes, or bow-sawing firewood.

Marlene also deepened my understanding of what Light Morning half-humorously refers to as U.P.S. — Unresolved Parental Stuff. In a previous series of posts (here), she shares a harrowing tale of how primal childhood woundings leave scar tissue, which in turn causes us to re-create our unresolved trauma with other people and in other settings. How much of our trauma can be healed and how much will remain unresolved is an open question.

Finally, Marlene taught me about death and dying. The teaching was up close and personal, as Marlene chose to die at home, here at Light Morning. The following story (in three parts) charts her journey from receiving a diagnosis of terminal illness to taking her last breath. It’s based on a series of email updates I sent to Marlene’s far away family and her many friends. It’s also a story about the shadow dance between the acceptance and denial of death.

Continue reading Letting Nature Take Its Course: 1