AK Reader: Conversations with a Dying Crone (2007)

About a week ago an old friend of mine emailed to say that an old lover of mine was dying of pancreatic cancer. Bill said that David told him he had about a week left. I asked Bill to please get David’s phone number for me. Two days later, Bill sent it. I called David. He answered, startled, his voice spectral. “David! It’s Ann!” I had obviously thrown him for a loop, while he was sitting there serenely, waiting to die. I proceeded to tell him how much I love him, how much he did for me way back, 40 years ago, when he funded a house that became a community center which in turn harbored the community magazine I started, to gather us all together.  “Oh yes! ‘OpenSpace!'” 

I spoke to him awhile longer, told him what I was doing now, much the same thing, but in a new environment. Asked about his gardens. He had been an organic gardener before others had even heard about it. “I gave up growing vegetables a couple of years ago. Now I just grow daffodils.” And it’s true, another old friend of mine, Ellen, says, his yard is filled with daffodils. “He used to plant them by the box!”

On the phone, it was obvious that he didn’t have much energy, and that my energy was  likely “too much” for him. So after about ten minutes, we signed off, with me intensely grateful that I had gotten the opportunity to wish him well on his journey.

Bill told me that another friend said that when David went to cancel his AAA insurance “because I’m going out of the country,” the clerk responded, “Well, tell us when you get back.”

“I will,” he replied.

About a month ago, David’s nephew had come to be with him. Two days ago, David asked for a marijuana-infused cookie, which he ate. Then he asked for a tiny bit of morphine (I don’t know whether he was on hospice, or whether, as a retired doctor, he was able to score some). Then he just laid down, went to sleep, and died.

I’m thinking about David now, as I repost an extended interview, first published in Crone magazine, in 2007. 

 

CONVERSATIONS WITH A DYING CRONE

 

In 1999, Julien Puzey was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and chose to be treated with chemotherapy. In March 2007, after a number of years in remission, cancer was diagnosed again. A diagnosis of stage four metastasized ovarian cancer qualifies a person to receive hospice care.  

For the past five years, Julien has directed the End-of-Life Care Partnership in Utah, a coalition of individuals and organizations that combines efforts and expertise to promote dialogue to improve end of life care. She previously coordinated educational programs at the Cancer Wellness House in Salt Lake City that focused on reconfiguring language to emphasis wellness rather than illness. She has M.A. degrees in Philosophy and Social Psychology, and envisions a transformed health care system that is socially accountable and human in scale.

Julien participated in Crones Counsels for many years, was on the Crones Counsel Board, and helped organize Crones Counsel IV in 1996. Her personal journey with cancer and its collective context was featured in three issues of Crone Chronicles, in 1999 and 2000. In early September 2007 Julien, who is considerably weaker at this stage in her life, asked to speak with me about her evolving situation. Unknown to me, she taped her end of the conversation, and when we spoke again, I made sure she taped that one too. What follows has been edited and excerpted from the transcript of her remarks during those two phone calls. —Ann K.

 

From our first conversation, early September, 2007  

Like A Polar Bear

The other day, I was so tired I felt like a mother polar bear on crumbling ice. Going hunting, out on the ice, has always been her path to survival. The ice has always held. She’d go out only so far as I knew she could get back.

Suddenly, you feel that you’re drifting out to sea and drowning. I was wondering what that bear feels in those circumstances, what other choices she could make to be recognizably herself. These days I’m thinking about what it means to be recognizably myself in the world.

Since making the choice not to pursue treatment I have been thinking about how to live well with metastatic disease rather than to die pathetically with cancer. And to sustain that choice, to live well, for as long as it’s a choice.

It’s like being faced with a hallway that has a whole bunch of doors, and there’s something behind every door. I don’t know what’s going to come out of any of those doors; I just know the doors are going to open. A hope is that the pneumonia door will open—one of the doors that can gentle me into that good night. I also know that there is no way to bargain for a particular death.

Clouds and Weather

I love the Thich Nhat Hanh quote about how, when the conditions are right, things arise; and when the conditions aren’t there, they disappear. I like to think that when I die, I will go to that place where the clouds are stored or the place where the yellow of the sunflowers is stored in the winter. Interestingly, we don’t see goldfinches until sunflower seeds are ripe. They’re stored in the same box — which I find remarkable. When the conditions are right they arise together.

Perhaps the western world embraced resurrection rather than reincarnation because of “Our Father who art in Heaven — a superego writ large. The superego always resists change — always supports the status quo. So that if you have this thing called Death — and it looks like it’s unavoidable — well, the church says it’s a temporary condition and you pop right back just exactly as you are now only better.

When my mother’s grave was being dedicated, they said, “May she be protected from the ravages of nature.”  I thought wow, that’s like asking that humans be an exception to the natural order.

Rather than illness or a disease I sometimes think in terms of my body having weather. Terminal cancer is particularly drastic weather.

Cancer, Second Time Around

Actually, I feel better now than I’ve felt in a year. I was sick with cancer for a long time before it was diagnosed. I was in intensive care with pneumonia first, and that’s when I received the diagnosis of recurrent ovarian cancer.

I had surgery in early July. They removed 18 centimeters of the large intestine and and nine centimeters of the small intestine. They removed the appendix, they repositioned the pancreas, they scraped the liver and scrubbed the abdominal cavity. I was slit from one end to the other. I think they just flipped me inside out like a frog. So it was a very nasty, nasty controlled trauma and I was in the hospital for ten days which, in today’s surgical world, is a long time.

I walked with a walker for awhile and during this process they put in a port for chemotherapy. They were excited, said they were just going to get right on it as soon as I got out of the hospital.

So I started reading JAMA (Journal of American Medicine) articles to learn more about my oncologists’s plans for my improvement. In the studies, they hospitalized some people for nine days, put two liters of chemotherapy chemicals in their abdominal cavity and turned them occasionally to slosh it, plus simultaneous intravenous administration — and I thought “Aw, that will make you sick. That will make you so sick.”

It’s like being embalmed, honestly. In that study, only 30% of the people who started completed the therapy. And they hadn’t done this procedure with anyone my age, they hadn’t done it with anyone whose cancer had recurred, and no one had ever done it that way in this hospital. I thought, I am just not a candidate for this. So I kept trying to peddle back as well as I could while in a drugged state trying to recover from surgery. They wore me down. I began to agree that maybe I could just do the intravenous stuff that I’d done before, because I thought I might be able to tolerate it.

In 1999, when I was first diagnosed, the cancer was detected at a very early stage. I was younger and had more reserves than today. Chemotherapy was stressful, and came with long-term debilitating side effects. Not only did I lose my hair but 50 points were shaved off of my IQ. I can remember being brighter, better able to focus and complete projects—and this is after taking aging into account. I also lost feeling in my fingers to neuropathy, lost lung capacity, and continue to experience a compromised immune system and cancer fatigue. (Research is beginning to show that in cancer fatigue the immune system is always “on.”)

At this point, with stage four cancer, aggressive treatment, at best, could extend my life by two years. What is not said, the fine print, is that those two years include the time one is in treatment and the time recovering from treatment. The clock starts running on the day one begins treatment not on the day one completes it. There is no likelihood that, ever again, I would feel as well as I do today.

Instead, I choose to front-load my contract — to feel as good as I can now and enjoy a reasonable quality of life. To choose aggressive treatment would result in my not being able to continue to work. (Yes, you can be enrolled in hospice and continue to work). Not working would mean that I would not be able to maintain my insurance. Even “successful” treatment, if it leads directly to debilitation and abject poverty, is, for me, not a choice.

Only once or twice have I heard a physician refer to “Q-Twist”: quality time without treatment or symptoms I believe that I have netted more QTWST and averted some suffering by choosing not to pursue aggressive treatment. “How much QTWST will this give me?” That is a question worth learning to ask.

So that’s been my thinking process this time around. Even so, I did go down the “aggressive treatment” road quite a ways; got my preemptive haircut and had people making hats . . . and then I decided I’m just not going to do it. I decided that this is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. And was pleased that when I saw my oncologist she said, “You’re not going to do this at all, are you?” I said “No,” and she said “Smart woman. You made a good choice. But would you consider Tamoxifan?” And I thought about the bear on the ice and for me, at this point, that’s the only choice I can make that I recognize as myself.

Leveraging My Terminal Cancer 

But the good news is that I can really leverage this [process I’m going through] into some nice advocacy for palliative care, particularly for decision-making and for support of patients and their family. After eight years of thinking about it and being inside the advocacy community, I am articulate and kind of credible — certainly more credible now than before. I’m also more willing to say what I think. I’m harder to silence.

And I have a good supervisor at work who sees my doctor’s appointments as “physician education.” 

“The Secret”

It is a real challenge to be diagnosed with cancer during the time when everybody is reading The Secret. More than one intelligent person has asked me directly, “What did you do to attract this into your life?” I’m getting better at responding to them. I actually had read The Secret to figure out what they were saying, but two days ago I told someone, “How presumptuous of you to think that you can identify what I’ve attracted! Because I believe that I have attracted into my life community, connections, a great capacity for feeling loved, clarity about my values.” Conditions naturally arrive with their opposites.

Culturally we have traded community for the myths of autonomy and control. I’m trying to control and orchestrate and have community simultaneously. I’m trying to make the kinds of hopeful choices that make community support a realistic option for me.

The Secret feeds into those myths about autonomy and control, that “I can be this isolated being who can have more than my share of stuff, and not only do I deserve it but I know how to get more of it. I never question whether it’s appropriate for me to have it.” We’ve traded community for those two myths. Research shows that when people are dying the thing they fear most is losing control; not pain but losing control. And then they’re so grateful when hospice rushes in for, on average, 22 days and they experience some blush of community.

One of my friends just got back from a village in Kenya where people were dying from AIDS. She said that it requires 24 buckets of water a day to care for someone who is dying. Hospice volunteers walk a mile and back for water with two buckets, 12 times a day. These people are neighbors, not trained volunteers. They know how to respond within community. They are simply responding to another person’s human need. Responding to people’s human need is extra in our system.  We have farmed ourselves out, in pieces, to experts. We know longer know how to respond with our whole human self to another human being.

The Spring 2003 Yes! magazine had a headline called “Surviving the Great Dying,” That was the first time I had seen it acknowledged — the exhaustion of the planet and the question of how to respond to that. There is a wide unspoken sense that we might be called to hospice the planet itself — to attend to the dying of the whole planet. Xena, Warrior Princess, says “love and loss travel the same river.” Perhaps we are all falling in love with the world while at the same time grieving its loss. The BBC series “Planet Earth” seems to have the same theme. We’re denying and we’re bargaining and we’re denying. There’s no sense of shared faith, which comes with a mythos of the time.

Relations among Hospice, the Family, and the Dying Person

Hospice as a business is different than hospice as a spiritual movement. As a business, hospice nurses and social workers are now only allowed 20-minute visits. They have no time to be with the dying –they’re dispensing the medication. Their role is to help so that the family can be with the person who is dying. The family thinks that hospice is going to come in and take care of their dying and they’re clueless as to how to be with this person who is dying.

The In-Between Time

I feel like I’ve got months but certainly not years My challenge is this “between” time. Because I’m not actively dying and I am doing what I can to live well. Fortunately, the NHPCO (National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization) has begun a campaign called “It’s how you live at work,” where they talk about the responsibility of the workplace to adapt to the chronically and terminally ill, and not just throw you out the door. Not just tell you to go away because you’re a distraction and too scary, and you remind them of their mortality. I’m refusing to go away. Some people where I work would like me to go away, but I have an advocate with some power, so they can’t make me go away [laughs]. For me, being recognizable in the world includes continuing to work, for now.

Duties of the Dying 

I think about not only the duty to die, but also the duties of the dying. I guess for me, one of the rules is  “Don’t use cancer as a trump card.” Don’t expect that just because I have this diagnosis, that I can demand that everyone around me become a spiritual giant and my individual servant. Rather than everyone around me having to walk on eggshells, how do I allow the honesty of the other person to be expressed to me and mine to her?

It is a challenge to stay present and real in my relationships. If I were to say that I’m dying, then people would say, “Oh, no, you’re not. That’s not true and let’s not talk about that.” Or, “Let’s not think about that.” So then darn near everybody gets pushed into isolation and none of the conversations are real.

Thich Naht Hahn, in No Death, No Fear, a lovely book, talks about people who comfort you, who bring positive energy and remind you of the lovely things of the world and not talk about their personal problems and the usual whiny stuff.

That’s great! But people who visit me shouldn’t have to feel that they have to be any more than who they are. And I know I’ve had these moments where I was going to prioritize my first tier people and my second tier people and my third tier people and my fourth tier people, depending on how much energy they take from me and how negative they are. That way I could put up a sign that says “I’m only taking visits from first tier people today and your name’s not on the list!” [laughs]

But then there are those people, who are friends — and I kind of define friend as someone who will be forgiven in advance for something I would absolutely not tolerate in anybody else — so I look at who is in the first tier and think “Huh. You are really no less obnoxious than people in the fourth tier.” It’s just that at some point I have developed compassion for them or stopped seeing them as others and seen who they are with all of their hurts.

So, though I realize that the people I care most dearly about will never make the cut, [laughs] I’ve had expectations that old relationships will change. I expected that they would be different — deeper, more enlightened. I’m acutely aware that they’re not. Still, when things are said, they carry more weight. I find that I am looking for nuances and they’re still the same bumbling people they always were. It’s shocking and lovely all at the same time.

I was angry with my friend Ruth when she died recently because she didn’t take time to bless anyone, to say something kind, to spend individual time with them. So I feel some responsibility there. The duties of the dying. Jung talks about reciprocal communication. When people are in an honest exchange with one another, it leads to the growth of both parties. Reciprocity is a challenge.

Sometimes I find that I have deleted the reciprocal part, that I expect others to be with me in the experience that I’m actually having, to be that mature and that zen; and if they’re having problems with the experience they’re actually having, they should get themselves to therapy. Because I can’t do it. I can’t do it. Well, is it true or is it selective? That’s what I’m wondering. Is there a way that I can be more present to others while asking that they be there for me?

Is it true or is it that since we come from a culture of abuse of power, suddenly I have this extra power and what you do with extra power is that you become insatiable. You don’t give. I mean in our structure it’s about demanding and getting what you want. And you only worry about what other people want when you’re trying to maintain the power structure. So this question, “Do I really have the energy for it?” or, “Here I am, expecting people to bring their whole self into this setting and I refuse because I have limited energy?” Because I can’t bring my whole self because I have limited energy? So there’s this whole continual learning around whether I’m living well with metastatic disease or dying pathetically from cancer. And who decides?

 

From our second conversation, late October, 2007

The Secret,” Again

There’s a huge challenge in being diagnosed with terminal cancer at a time when everyone is reading “The Secret.” Not only do people come up and ask, “What did you do to attract this?” but there’s a big confusion between focus and intention and attraction.

Attraction is what happens when flies come to dead meat. I don’t think that the flies sat there and visualized that meat. Who is doing the attracting? It’s the meat attracting the flies. So, for example, when Marie and I chose this house, there were criteria we wanted and that we continued to look for so we would know it when we saw it; I think that’s focus. If you want something to happen you focus on it.

A friend, who calls herself a Witch, says, “If you want to manifest something, you have to spell it out — be really clear about specifically what you want.” I have no conscious recollection of spelling out cancer. The other thing — and I just about chewed somebody’s head off for this one — is the arrogance of other people who think they could know what I attracted.

These are probably the same people who, when they go to a maternity ward, ask to see the afterbirth. During the last year I feel like I’ve attracted support, a sense of community, a greater capacity for loving and feeling and getting love, and I think cancer is just a very ugly birth canal. They’re completely missing what may have passed through that birth canal, which I hope is what I was actually attracting. So that’s why I say they’d rather look at the afterbirth than the baby, because they don’t have the eyes to see. And if it doesn’t conform to what they think would help them feel secure, it’s just too scary.

We’re not as young as we would hope. And we have no control.

On “Hope,” Other Choices, and Social Support

Hope. Well, I’m flopping around on that. You know what Derrick Jensen, the anarchist and writer, said about hope: “Hope binds us to the unverifiable and blinds us to possibility.”

My expected course was to take tremendous chemotherapy that would kill me with the hope that it would give me health and length of time on the other end. That was the hope. But in taking that hope, you shut off all other options, and particularly options that might possibly lead to individual meaning and standing up against the machine. But that takes individual choice. And it’s dangerous and frightening to other people when we make these choices.

And it’s frightening to you too, because you lose social support. And you don’t know that you can make other choices that will still get you social support.

People don’t want to talk about any of it. Or even think about it. I mean, “What would you rather have? A catered reception with an open bar or a lead-lined box?” And then people say [about arrangements they choose after the person dies], “That’s what she would have wanted.”

People just don’t want to hear about it. They’re not there; they don’t want to make that decision now. And if the one who’s received a terminal diagnosis is determined to make decisions that lessen people’s future suffering, it’s even hard to get social support for that. In my case, not wanting to bankrupt my partner. Making sure that things like the trust are in order. Making sure that we’ve separated our assets. Making sure there’s a professional guardian in place should we need to spend down my assets and move into a publically supported situation. Making sure I get the hospice that I want lined up rather than having people making choices for “happy hearts and helping hands” and incompetence — when I do know who is competent and who isn’t.

All that kind of stuff. Choosing to go work three-quarter-time because it has short- and long- term disability associated with it, and half-time doesn’t. And it also has three times my annual pay in insurance policies with no preconditions — but I have to decide to die with my boots on. So gosh, you know, best to get pneumonia and leave people better off.

My Daily Schedule

On an average day I wake early, do my email and news, have a fruit smoothie. I go into the office three days a week — to meetings, and to see people who want to have conversations about dying. That is a kind of peer coaching, and my supervisor allows it as part of my job. I have great autonomy. I have lunch and then I go home.

The days I stay home I do light editing. I don’t have to write the newsletter, just wordsmith the hard copy a little. I’m more productive at home because I can focus. They’ve set me up so my work computer is actually at home. It’s hard for me, I’m dyslexic, I count on spellcheck. And just my general awkwardness, my focus is not the best. I can manage that better at home.

I’m still on the board of the YWCA so I show up at their luncheons. I have people who give me rides, particularly at night. For awhile I didn’t drive because I didn’t want to drive and take pain meds. I’m not on pain medication now, so I watch energy levels for transportation. I’m not currently in pain. I was in pain last winter, before that surgery. And as I said, I’m feeling stronger. So I suspect that my trajectory will be that I will continue to feel quite strong until the tamoxifan can no longer keep the beast at bay. And then the cancer will roar back with a vengeance.

Need for Precise Timing When I Die 

I think it will come back very quickly and I will go downhill very quickly. That’s the hope. In terms of planning, because I am not doing conventional chemotherapy, I am considered right now to be hospice eligible. If I go by the professional definitions, they’ve given me six months or less to live. I think I probably have a little longer than that. I don’t know; I certainly don’t know. But I do know that I have failed to achieve Medicare, since I’m not sixty-five.

My mother was on Medicare and on hospice for 18 months. I will be 63 in February. My individual insurance carries a six-and-a-half month benefit. So failure to achieve Medicare means that I have to time my death a little more precisely. [laughs]

I was smart enough from the first time I had cancer, to have private insurance, and it’s not tied to my employment. Which is very nice. So I can drag my employment out as long as I can and when I can no longer work, I’m still insured as long as I can pay $600 a month. So we have to plan that pretty carefully too.

Medicare and Medicaid used to do an 18-month look back.  Now they do five years. What that means is, if a person wants their children to inherit their house and some of their property and they give title to the house to their children, so that their nursing home or whatever will be paid for by Medicare, then as soon as they have used up their 90 days of Medicare, Medicare looks back for the assets that they had for five years before that and detaches those from the children. And if they haven’t been signed over, the house and the property estate immediately becomes attached and the children can’t remove anything from the house — no paintings, no jewelry, no furniture, nada. They can be very aggressive about that.

So the advantage of being lesbian partners, not able to be married, is that we don’t have to worry about immediate spousal impoverishment.

So there’s all this stuff I have to try and put in place or at least sketch in so that when the crisis is upon me, I can focus on the importance of being with the dying process rather than running to the attorney. And nobody really wants to get these things in place ahead of time. Nobody wants to think about dying. Marie, my partner, and I are doing really well with that. We can navigate that and come to those places where we can do it without one or the other of us going into denial or dragging our heels.

How has it changed our relationship?  It has given me an opportunity to see Marie as a much bigger person than I realized. She spends the evenings listening to Pema Chodron, various teachers. Meditation practice. Seeing a therapist. But basically she’s learning to be there with great equanimity.

Dying at Home, or in Residential Hospice?

I think that dying at home is sometimes overrated. There’s a residential hospice here that’s basically a hotel that I’ve been very critical of because it’s the designer version of death. But it’s absolutely lovely and has French doors that open on a meadow and it has 24-hour care and places for loved ones to stay overnight and for visitors to hang out in the lobby with you — instead of in your house creating worry for your loved ones who are trying to get you to eat and taking care of you all hours of the damn night.

So there’s a point where, just because of ease and comfort, Marie really has to know, and she does, that that is an option. That I would not opposed to living there with people who could be there rather than those who wish they could. And so tomorrow we’re going to visit and do a walk through so that she can be familiar with the place and the people. I also think I’m propping myself up; but because I’ve been doing this end-of-life project for five years now, it matters where I choose to have my hospice care. And because I have done all this end-of-life work, people will be watching which hospice I choose. And the organization will be extra careful to make sure I get good care. [laughs]

All of this is not philosophical, but it is essential.

My Core Spirituality

I feel like I have been extraordinarily fortunate in cultivating a spirituality that never saw me as separate from wholeness so I don’t have anywhere to go, I mean, I’m not going to be separated out. So I tell people that I’m going to go to that place where they store the clouds. Or where they put the yellow until the sunflower comes up again. Because I do like that Thich Naht Hahn quote about how when conditions are right they manifest and if they’re not, you don’t see them.

I was wondering the other day, what is my core spirituality? And I think it’s fluid sentience. Fluid sentience. “Being” is an adjective, not a noun. The flow of sentience through different manifestations. I identify with that process of flowing rather than the manifestation. Just like rivers have a process identity, so do people; they only change to become more of what they are. So I feel very confident about that.

It takes the monarch butterfly three generations to complete the single process we call the migration to and from Mexico. Yet Western medicine would put a caterpillar on life support rather than allow it to turn into a butterfly. “Resist Transformation!” seems to be the prime directive of the medical establishment. We simply fail to see that individual lives are transforming and that they are participating in a much larger process. So I get very fascinated by that larger process I’m aligned with but am not consciously aware of. Because I’m confident it’s there.

I told somebody the other day that I was unpixellating what was tightly pixelated — I am feeling more spacious. Like outer space. Spaciousness.

How I Want to Live until I Die

People only have awareness of what dying from the treatment of cancer looks like. That’s all they know. They know bald heads, they know puffy moon faces from steroids, they know all of that stuff but they don’t know what dying itself looks like.

My doctor said, “Well, it’s obvious to me that it’s important to you to be recognizably yourself in the world.”  And I thought, that’s what it is. For as long as I can, I will be recognizably myself. People say, “Why don’t you go to Hawaii? Don’t you want to take a trip or something?” and I don’t want to go away from here and do that. That’s not recognizably who I am. I have to keep doing what I’m doing.

Living with Others’ Fears of Cancer

In response to my remark about a mutual friend who hated the chemo that made her so horribly sick as she neared death and said she kept it up because to stop would be too hard on her friends: 

Yes. And for the very reason she said: it’s just too confusing for other people. I’m trying to sit down with people individually and say “This is my choice [not to take chemo]; this is why I’m making it.” It has been interesting and difficult. I feel better prepared to have that conversation than most.

The other day someone asked, “How are you doing and what are you doing?” and I told them sleeping and then I I’m going to go see an attorney, and she said, “Why are you writing yourself off?” I said, “I’m not. I’m just going to go see an attorney.” But the real explosive things they say, like, I was wiggling my fingers in a team meeting at work, kind of drumming them nervously, and the person next to me, who I consider a friend, said “What’s that? Now you’ve added Parkinson’s to your repertoire?” [laughs]

I said “Whoa, Christie, you are really mad at me for being sick, aren’t you?” Just bursting out in the middle of a meeting. Two or three people kind of went pale, silent, recognizing that she might be rude, but I just thought “Wow, you are really angry!” Four years ago when she first met me I said something about being an ovarian cancer survivor, and she said that she told herself right then, “Oh, ovarian cancer. I’m not going to invest much emotionally in this one!” She decided to be distant.

Well, as life would have it, she did invest emotionally in me, and now I’m doing this. What kind of crap is that?

Yet fundamentally, we are tender-hearted. And that’s why they say that terminal illness is the new American sabbatical, because this is where you finally get support, you actually get support for slowing down, and people actually risk their tender heart. And that’s why hospice workers and people like that say that this is the best work because they risk their self-importance and access their humanness for a minute—and they get to do it for years.

She-Bear, 2007

I wrote a poem; it’s called “She Bear 2007.”

Where else can she go?

The expanse of ice ripping the ocean at the top of the world

Had always been the way to survival.

Now in open water 60 miles away from solid ice

She is adrift in the sea and drowning.

As her known world crumbles with the arctic ice

She calls for her cubs and she dreams of seal.

You do what you have done to be recognizably yourself even as it crumbles under you. What else can you do? Just one ice floe to the next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Response to AK Reader: Conversations with a Dying Crone (2007)

  1. Beautiful conversation! Thank you for sharing this.

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