On matter of dying and death

Photographer Eva Deitch:

“I collected my journals from the bottom drawer of my desk, stepped into my husbands boots, kindled a fire and began to tear the pages from the bindings. The waxy papers burned less climactically than I had imagined and while the flames slowly built, I thought of the nights spent anxiously imagining, upon my death, eyes consuming my my frustrations, wishes and manic bouts of creative explorations without my permission.

Last year in an attempt to confront the ever present uncertainty of my finite life, I attended a “Death Cafe. A strangely morbid sounding place, it was anything but. I arrived to warm smiles , a bluegrass band, and plates of cookies and tea. There I met, Laurie Schwartz, a leader in the Hudson Valley Hospice movement and co-founder of Circle of Friends for the Dying.

 

 

Phyllis, a retired school teacher, is an “initiated grandmother” in her community of Beacon, New York. Showing up for those in need, she provides everything from a shoulder to lean on to Shamanic ceremonies. I met Phyllis this past Spring while exploring my favorite stretch of beach along the Hudson River and when assigned to create a multi-media piece, I tracked her down. I was curious to know more about the woman I briefly encountered and photographed that day. 

For Laurie Schwartz death is approachable, and when her time comes, whenever that may be, she hopes she’ll still feel fearless about it.

“Death to me is an adventure, it’s like getting on a bus, and not being sure where the bus is going, but having total faith that everybody on the bus will get there too and the driver is safe and secure and so, I am.”

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It was a during a recent conversation I had with Laurie,  that the decision to incinerate my journals was confirmed. Recounting a heart attack she experienced in Israel while visiting her son,  Laurie spoke about the importance for her to live without regrets.

“ I looked at my life then and I had one regret. I had some things I had left in my office that were not necessary for anybody to read or hear about …so my one regret, was that (the documents) were there. As soon as I got back home, I gathered my women friends together and said find those things that you don’t want anyone else to discover when your not here any longer and we are going to burn them”

For me, dying and death have always been one in the same for me, but when I asked Laurie if she had a working definition for death she helped me see that there are two sides to the coin.

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”I’m glad you said death, as distinct from dying, because they are two totally different matters. Dying is a biological process, the body shuts down. Death, we don’t know about. Death happens after life” I repeated those last words again and again. “The way it works in life is as long as we’re breathing, were living and as long as we’re living we can find joy. So even though someone knows that they have a limited life span that doesn’t mean that they stop living.”

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