The Business of Dying by Christina Knowles

seidoryu       As an atheist, I shudder at the thought of a chaplain at my bedside when it’s my time to die. However, today I was privileged to listen to a truly profound and helpful chaplain guide someone close to me on “the business of dying.”

Shortly after being informed that she had very little time left, the chaplain arrived, and instead of a long dissertation on theology, endless prayers, or reading cliché bible verses, he merely accepted her word that she was confidant of her eternal life and moved on to the harder part, the present.

At first, I was concerned. He seemed pushy and inconsiderate. When he asked her what she was feeling, and she replied, “It is what it is,” he pushed, aggressively.

He led her through each possible emotion, explored them, talked about them, and acknowledged their validity. He said it was okay to grieve your own life, the disappointment, the lost time, the things that you will never be able to do, time with loved ones stolen. He asked about fear, not fear of the afterlife, but fear of the actual dying and fear about leaving loved ones behind. He validated all emotions someone might feel and empathized.

Next, he asked her what she wanted. He said she didn’t have to answer now, and that it didn’t have to be one big thing, but that she should think about that every morning when she wakes up and ask, “What do I want today?” He explained that he meant real things, good things like asking for a hug or asking to have a conversation about a memory or about what someone means to her. He encouraged her to go deep inside herself everyday to really get in touch with her heart’s desire. He said to not let these things go by undone. If she needs to say something to someone or just relive a memory with someone, ask for it. If she needed closure, to fix a relationship, or address a regret, she should have that conversation.

The chaplain told her that part of the business of dying was to celebrate the life she’s lived. He said to reflect on her life’s accomplishments, things she was particularly proud of, things she enjoyed, and things that she did right. He told her she lived a life that deserved acknowledgement.

He ended his counsel by asking her if she wanted anything else from him. She asked him to pray with her. He laughingly responded, “Is that what you want, or do you think that’s what I want to hear?” She said she did want it, and his prayer was beautiful, specifically saying that she was in control of her life and how she lived it to her last breath.

He was brilliant and profound, comforting and respectful. I thought, This is what a chaplain should do. So many times, I’ve heard the well-meaning pastor spout clichés and seemed more concerned with reinforcing religious beliefs than dealing with real emotions and concrete issues. I always cringed at the shallow recitation of the typical platitudes. Finally, a chaplain who knows what to say to the dying, what they need to know in their last days, what not to forget in the days to come. The compassionate and practical advice I heard today cut through all the nonsense of avoidance. People don’t need vapid dictums when they face the end of their lives; they need something real, something meaningful and honest to go about the business of dying. –Christina Knowles

photo via seidoryu.com

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Signs of Life, A Memoir in Poems

I have always wanted to write my memoirs, the story of how I got from there to here. Perhaps, I just need to explain it to myself or to those I love. Perhaps, I need to leave a legacy for those who knew me after I’m gone. At any rate, I find that whenever I try to express my deepest feelings and my most profound experiences, I do it through poetry, so here it is, my memoir in poems.

This collection of eighty-one poems is a series of reflections of moments throughout a life lived. Some are joyful, some tragic, but all are heartfelt and real.

“Christina Knowles is a poet who is not afraid of delving into the inner world of symbolism, emotion, and dream imagery. Signs of Life is a revealing journey into the soul, a look at the inner self to which we can all relate.”

Available in paperback and Kindle Edition on Amazon.com. 

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“No one can destroy you like a child” by Christina Knowles

anime-woman-cryingNo one can destroy you like a child

Born out of your flesh, birth of the sacred

Adored

Loved unconditionally, while

You stand spurned, shorn

Of all aspect of affection

Unjust deflection, dejection unending

Saturated, consumed, unbending

Rending nights of mourning

Hours of scorning

Heights of sorrow, teetering

On a glimmer of tomorrow

Tears adorning the lifeless

The helpless, bought and owned

By your own blood

How else could

You be destroyed by a child?

No one else can slice you in half

With a word or a smile, put you on trial

For trying

What’s left of you dying

Doomed to go on amending

Defending the right to hope

A press to tamp down the hurting

Until you’re cut fresh

Veins spurting, you lay broken

Crumpled in a heap, racked with grief

Burning hollows weep

No relief, no light

Appears, calling me to go

Forced to remain, it’s worse

Worse than you ever feared

Because who knew?

The pain you accrue

The depth of the blow

It’s an effort to stand and smile

When you’ve been destroyed by a child. —Christina Knowles (2015)

Photo via Pinterest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop the World by Christina Knowles

“Stop the World”

Earth orbit

You still my world and stop the turn

Of this manic swirl

Mesmerized and taciturn

Rescued from the tilt and whirl

The distractions of a life filled

To excess with nothingness

All at once is stilled

a quiet catalyst to reassess

the curious calm of standing still

You still my world and stop the turn

A gentle discovery of a pearl

Reflectively, I adjourn

From the spinning of the world

–Christina Knowles

Photo via all4desktop.com

“Dozens of Days and a Thousand Smiles” by Christina Knowles

24 in colorado (1)Dozens of days in my memory play

I can’t help but smile

Rewinding the slow serenity of those days

Reflecting on each fleeting mile

Each ephemeral year that goes by

The collected hours, passed time

The unfortunate distance we multiply

That priorities realign

Separated by a thousand small details

As time seems to stretch before us without end

We can’t quite make out all it entails

And what lies around each future bend

But I remember those days when

We could just sit for awhile

Sipping coffee or talking and then

Fishing on a still mountain lake

Camping at Eleven Mile

Swapping stories in the break

While time stretched before us without end

The wind blowing through my hair

Speeding through turns

On the back of your bike, unaware

Of time slipping by, unconcerned

I remember driving cross-country in the snow

Holding our breath through the pass

A little CCR on the stereo

Rubbing the frost from the glass

As time stretched before us without end

Just watching westerns on a lazy Saturday afternoon

Nothing but time to spend

I never realized life would move on so soon

I remember when you taught me to drive

And how to work on cars, to prep and to sand

Working together, talking and laughing comprised

Our minutes and hours, a lifetime spanned

Leaving me with a thousand smiles

Memories to tend

Images of dozens of days and a million miles

As time stretches behind us without end

–Christina Knowles

 

 

 

 

 

“Distant Trains” by Christina Knowles

Train tracks

“Distant Trains”

Though miles apart, the same blood runs through our veins

On different tracks, we wave, riding gracious trains

A big brother and a little sister, two branches on the family tree

Through time and space, you linger in my memory

Images of you from childhood wane

Faded pictures lovingly explain

A Christmas wish book and a Santa story

A moment in time, but not transitory

Because no matter the miles, our blood is the same

Idolized, a big brother contains

The wisdom and sweetness of reverie

Looking up to a you, a brotherly apogee

Distant the miles, but our blood is the same

We took separate paths, but love remains

Older, you spent your life far from me

Pursuing your dreams separately

Though through the miles, our blood remains

But on different tracks, we wave, riding distant trains

We smile wistfully

Sharing a memory

At times, we gather to reminisce, too often in pain

Through time and distance, love is the chain

In sorrow, we pull together as family

In joy, we share transiently

Because the same blood runs through our veins

And we’re never gone so long as to constrain

The feelings between you and me

Two branches on the family tree

Though miles apart, blood sustains

And on different tracks, riding distant trains

We smile and wave wistfully

Sharing the same sweet memories–Christina Knowles

Photo via Pinterest

Bad Advice by Christina Knowles

follow your heartWith all the graduations and weddings this time of year, the world is rife with “good” advice.  It seems everyone has an aphorism or two to share. But are these common aphorisms comprehensive truths? Or are we so used to hearing them that we don’t really bother examining them? Here are some suggestions that many people take as some kind of universal wisdom that really should never be followed:

  1. In college, major in something that will lead to a good career. Students are so brainwashed into becoming marketable that they need very little encouragement to throw their dreams and passions in the wastebasket in order to please some corporate exec who will use them up and spit them out. Don’t do it. Follow your passion, and you will be automatically “marketable.”
  2. Go to college right after graduation. Kids feel the pressure from parents, teachers, and colleges as early as their freshmen year in high school to choose a career, check out schools, and apply for scholarships. Geez, not only do you have no idea who you are yet, you certainly have no idea who you will be in two years. Go out in the world and find out before wasting $50,000 unless you’ve known since you were two and it’s never changed.
  3. Get a good paying job. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with making bank if you are doing what you love, but do what you love first, and then decide what kind of lifestyle doing what you love can support. A good paying job is a prison that will enslave you into wasting the next 40 years if you are not careful.
  4. Establish credit. Sure, don’t ruin your credit, but don’t go around thinking you have to get a loan and pay it off to build up your credit. That just enslaves you to debt. The best credit is built by NOT having debt and paying bills on time, bills like your rent and the utilities.
  5. Put your kids first. This is a modern idea. In past generations, adults took care of their kids’ needs, and didn’t really lose sleep over their kids’ wants. You know what? It worked. Kids became self-sufficient, hard-working, considerate, unselfish people instead of entitled, self-loathing people who can’t figure out why everyone is not trying as hard as their parents to make them happy. They learned to make themselves happy.
  6. Buy a house instead of renting as soon as you can. Buying a house is a better deal than renting if you know you are ready to settle down. But buying a house too soon is another trap, designed to keep you from following your true desires. When you are young and unattached, don’t be in such a hurry to tie yourself down.
  7. Wait for marriage. This is an old fashioned idea that most people have given up. There is a lot of baggage tied up in sex, and incompatible sex partners make miserable life partners. Do you really want to take that chance? By all means, don’t jump in bed with someone on the third date, but if you are considering marriage, take a test drive around the block first.
  8. Marriage is hard work, so stick with it. Marriage is supposed to make life easier, not harder. I’m not talking about throwing in the towel as soon as the honeymoon is over, or giving up because one of you is going through a hard time, but if sharing your life with someone is really that much work, why bother? When you are happily partnered up, life is sweet. When you are miserable, and going home is worse than working a 12-hour shift, move on. Life is too short.
  9. Wait for the kids to get older to get divorced. There is a common misconception that it will be easier on the kids, the older they are. Not true. Young kids are way more resilient. They will adapt and forget what it was like living with both of you at the same time. Older kids and even young adults hang on to the past and resentments much longer, and as an added bonus, love to manipulate the situation for their own benefit. Also, when you are in an unhappy relationship, you probably aren’t doing your best parenting.
  10. Save for your kids’ college. What? You’re getting old, and you don’t have much time left to get that mortgage paid off and prepare for a few leisurely years before you die. Your kids have their whole lives to pay for their education, and they probably have more time left than you. An added bonus is that kids tend to get a lot more out of their education when they pay for it themselves.
  11. Stay out of the sun or use sunscreen. The sun is really good for you in moderation. A half hour a day provides you with much needed Vitamin D, lowers blood pressure, alleviates depression, and gives a general sense of well-being. Conversely, sunscreen causes more cancer than sun damage. Just don’t overdo your exposure. If you have to stay out in the sun for a long time, wear a hat and a light weight long-sleeved shirt.
  12. Shelter your kids. Protecting your kids from reality is not helping them. Keep them safe by letting them understand the real world and how to protect themselves without scaring them. Expose them to different ideas and diverse groups of people while keeping lines of communication open. Answer their questions honestly. By answering uncomfortable questions in a direct and forthright manner, you give yourself the opportunity of influencing your child while they are actually interested in what you have to say. You will also earn the reputation of being someone who tells the truth and that can be trusted.
  13. Take “You-Only-Live-Once” to mean “Die-As-Soon-As-Possible.” The trend of risk-taking for entertainment is nothing new among the young, but lately, it seems people aren’t outgrowing this behavior. Jumping out of an airplane on a motorcycle may make you feel alive, but you won’t actually be alive that long if you indulge in this type of hobby. Adrenaline junkies also tend to get cancer and heart disease sooner, that is, if they live long enough. We weren’t meant to live in the fight or flight mode full-time. So, if you only live once, shouldn’t you try to make it last a while?
  14. Save all your money for retirement. Saving for a rainy day is always a good idea, but spend some of it on the now. What if you live frugally, putting off all your traveling and fun for retirement, and you never get there? What if you die two weeks before retirement? You can’t take it with you, and to be honest, you can’t save enough to matter anyway. I mean a nice nursing home will suck that retirement account dry in a matter of months. The best retirement plan is to be out of debt, own your house, and have a modest income coming in, so you don’t have to work until you’re dead. If you have to go in to an assisted living situation, you may as well have spent your money while you could enjoy it, and let Medicaid take care of the years when you can’t.
  15. Don’t Go to Bed Angry. This has got to be one of the worst pieces of advice I have ever heard—like your relationship’s really going to be better off after staying awake fighting all night? The more tired you get, the more stupid things you will say to regret in the morning. Just go to bed mad, and when you wake up, you probably won’t even remember that you were angry the night before. If it was really that serious, you wouldn’t be able to solve it one night anyway, and at the very least, you will have had some time and space to calm down.

So next time you reach for that age-old (worn out) wisdom that you’ve heard so many times that you think it must be fact, look at it from a different perspective and just do what you want. And however hypocritical it may be, I’ll offer my favorite bit of advice from notable French author, François Duc de La Rochefoucauld: “It is more easy to be wise for others than for ourselves.” –Christina Knowles

“Morning Light” by Christina Knowles

  “Morning Light” 

morning light

As light dances across the room we share,

You smile your love on me

Gently waking us to one more day spent together

How many we have, I wonder

Burying my head in your shoulder

I try not to think of a day

When I may wake alone

But you breathe hope on me

And gaze at me with your clear blue love

I don’t like knowing that you own my heart

That you could hurt me irrevocably

Pushing away the fear

Because I know you feel the same

So I will live in this moment

As light dances across the room we share

Christina Knowles (2006)

Photo via Pinterest

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