Do you ever look at care labels and say to yourself, “Why do they feel compelled to tell me not to do this?” Surely, everyone knows you shouldn’t stick a bobby pin up your nose, right? Well…rest assured, if it’s printed on a tag or in an instruction manual, then someone tried it. Unsuccessfully. As a child, I thought my baby blanket came with magical flying powers since it had a picture of the cow jumping over the moon on it. It did not come with a label cautioning seven-year-olds against flying, so I made my attempt to soar off the fireplace landing.
I came out relatively unscathed, with only a bruised ego and carpet burns on my elbows.
Fast forward 30-some years into the future when two people I love dearly are dying – my black, Burmese kitty, Inky and my dad, Rowe Motley. As I began to take care of them during their transitions from this life to the next, I searched desperately for care labels and instruction manuals. I discovered, aside from the Hospice staff, that hardly anyone talked about the nitty gritties of death and dying in tactical terms. It was a tough year of feeling my way through the dark, trying one thing and then another, until things felt right, or at least tolerable.
When I decided two years later to revisit my journal entries from the longest 12 caregiving months of my life, themes started to appear. Everything I experienced with Inky, I then experienced with my dad. Inky was my teacher for how to be fully present for my dad. I fished an empty, crumpled envelope out of my purse.
(I am convinced Jimmy Hoffa handed it to me. He’s still missing because he lives in the bottom of my purse, covered up by napkins and other purse miscellany.) As I scribbled my thoughts on paper, I realized I had an outline for a book. During that time, I talked to several friends who asked, ” My sister/friend/father is dying. What do I do?” After a few consultations, a couple of friends said, “You need to write this down.”