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Graceful Endings: Navigating the Journey of Loss and Grief Paperback – September 19, 2012
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Dana Craig Baier, LMFT ( former Virtues Project Facilitator)
The sharing of such a personal journey is an act of courage and a true gift to humankind. It is so fitting with the work we do in hospices - heart to heart.
Mr Kavelin was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in April 2008, passing away some fifteen months later. The book narrates the "inner journey" of both Mr Kavelin and his sister in navigating "this fragile and sacred passage of life". Mr Kavelin's attitude to his imminent passing was informed by his deep faith, and was quite remarkable. Ms Kavelin-Popov writes: "John's new script was that of a dying man who was not merely embracing the unknown, but awaiting it with open arms. Most of the people I have cared for at hospice met death with a sense of peace. Yet, I had never before witnessed such joy. The palliative care nurses told me and John the same thing." When asked about this attitude, Mr Kavelin responded: "Well, I've always loved change - enjoyed the new. In our Faith, prayer is conversation with the Beloved, and death is reunion with the Beloved. So for me, there's no fear. There's never been any fear. To be honest, I can hardly contain my excitement about what's next".
Born in 1944, Mr Kavelin had lived a full and rewarding life, enjoying a distinguished career in design working as a Walt Disney Imagineer. Amongst other achievements, he designed "Mr Toad's Wild Ride" in Disneyland. His work demonstrated the sense of adventure that was a part of who he was, and this was also reflected in his attitude to his process of dying. He saw dying, and the life beyond, as simply a new adventure to be welcomed.
One of the distinguishing features of "Graceful Endings" is the insight it receives from the author's work with "The Virtues Project". The Virtues Project, which draws on the teachings of the world's different spiritual traditions, suggests that our life's purpose is deeply connected to developing a range of spiritual qualities, such as love, compassion, gratitude, justice, generosity, joyfulness etc. Life's hardships can be viewed as "teachable moments", in which we have the opportunity to develop these qualities within ourselves. From this perspective, the process of coming to terms with the struggles of a terminal illness represents a further "teachable moment". Ms Kavelin-Popov describes her brother's teachable moment in these terms: "He moved into a state of mind where this normally fast-moving, multi-tasking engineer and designer slowed down to a genuine pace of grace, living in the moment. As John often said, he was learning, for the first time in his life, how to move from doing to being. The virtues of endurance, acceptance, fortitude, and faith merged toward the end into awe and joy - what he called his `slow miracle'".
As well as a touching account of how a person might embrace the challenges of suffering from a terminal illness, "Graceful Endings" is full of uplifting, and practical advice for caregivers and family members in this situation. A survey of the book's chapter headings is illustrative: "The Journey of Grief", "Virtues for the Journey", "What Helps What Doesn't", "Care for the Caregiver", "Final Gifts", "Getting to Goodbye", "Life After Death" and "Reinventing Yourself". There is a wealth of advice in terms of managing both the caring process and one's own grief after such a profound loss. Her practical advice for self-care strategies draws on her other work, "A Pace of Grace", and is very applicable to this situation.
I was already a fan of Linda Kavelin-Popov's books after finding such a wealth of wisdom in "A Pace of Grace". From this perspective, I am happy to say that "Graceful Endings" did not disappoint. I loved it, and found it to be an uplifting and profound work. Similar to watching "The Last Lecture" of Randy Pausch on Youtube (referenced in "Graceful Endings"), you are left with the desire to truly get the most you can out of your own life, squeezing even the very last drop.