Dear Manny and all my children:
I am writing this letter, my ethical will, to share with you some things I find most important in life and to share some thoughts, dreams and hopes
that I have for you. I hope that you will feel my support and my love for you in this letter and in the other things I have written.
How much I love you! As a person who has children and also has a life-threatening illness, I have stopped trying to fix up you kids because my work is done in the world. I look at you with new eyes and delight in who you are. I love who you are! I want you to know that while I don’t express a lot of anger about dying, but go straight to the sadness of it, I don’t think for a minute that I go easily with any desire to go.
I have always believed in the life-death-life cycle. As you know, the Heart of the Beast celebrates this cycle each spring. I believe that there is also life for us after we die, just like the Tree of Life in the Heart of the Beast drama. The tree needs the people to call it back from the underworld, and sing it awake and back to life.
When I was diagnosed with cancer I could have wasted three years saying, “Why did I get cancer? Why me?” As a dancer I had learned to let go so that I could feel even the wisp of a movement as a signal for a whole series of movements. When I discovered I had cancer, I decided to dance with mystery and try not to lead. This allowed me to live large, watch my life around me, and not miss moments.
I believe strongly in making the end of life real. We have done this by talking about it and planning for it. After I die, I hope you will keep my body at home for four hours or so before you call the funeral home to take my body away. This will give you and others a chance to come back to my body in the quietness before all the activity starts. It will be your only private time together for a while. You can pray, gather flowers, light candles – whatever you want. Spend time after I’m dead with my body so you can begin the realization that I’m not there anymore. Anything that helps that realization is good. The more present you can be in your grieving, the less grief work you’ll have to do later.
My Jewish friends actually lower the coffin into the grave and each person shovels in some of the dirt. They do it with an upside down shovel, which indicates they’re doing it reluctantly. And for people who learn through their muscles — kinesthetically — it is a way to realize that the person is gone rather than running away from this reality. We did that for my Dad. Be present in your grieving.
Always be listening! I’ll always be saying, “hello” to you through the cat purrs, fingernails tapping, lullabies, rainbows, or when people are just generally acting nutty. You’ll find my “hello” in something that has special meaning to you.
All my love,