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The Dance of Life 

My mother works with people who are dying – and enjoys it. I simply cannot understand this. Death is forbidden to my mind. The moment I start to think about it, I immediately stop myself -which says a lot for a woman who drowns herself in thought daily. I tend to block out death and the dying simply because it scares me so much. If I think too long about the true meaning behind this mysterious and eerie word, I start to go insane. Not knowing what happens after this life petrifies me. I’m the type of person who needs structure. Stability. I’m that person who puts her plans on the calendar and writes out a hundred lists every week, no matter how futile or rudimentary the task may be.

Not knowing my destiny after I pass away deeply worries me. How is it possible that you live so many years, with so many memories - so detailed and tailored to every individual’s own experience - and then have it all stolen away within a matter of seconds? Where do you go? And for how long? Do you “live” forever in this so-called afterlife, or do you die in your afterlife as well – and if so, where do you go after that? My thoughts exhaust me.

Clearly, I have an awful time comprehending this. My mother seems to be perfectly accepting of the matter, however.

“How’s the whole hospice thing going” I curiously ask my mom, not knowing if I genuinely wanted to hear the ins and outs of her volunteer work. She was in the driver’s seat and I was next to her on the passenger side- just the two of us. The radio was humming in the background and I could feel the cool breeze on my face through the window of the car as we coasted downhill.  My mother smiled. “You know, Grace,” she said as her eyes were fixed on the road. “It’s going really well. I like the people I’m working with and have learned a lot.” That’s one of the best traits about my mom. Even at 54 she’s still open and eager to learn new things. My mom has always said she’s a “life-long learner.” Oh, the irony.

As we continued on our way back home, I became intrigued, and prompted myself to question further.  “I’m not sure if you feel like sharing this, but have any of your patients passed away?” I was feeling particularly bold, and didn’t realize the magnitude of my inquiry until it had passed my lips. My mother wasn’t fazed by my question. “Yes, four of them have passed since I started.” She’s been a hospice volunteer for a matter of months, so this number startled me. “Oh man, that’s so sad,” was all I managed to mutter as I tried to process what she was sharing with me. Jeez, and she’s not even getting paid for this. My mother responded to my shocked and slightly pathetic statement. “This experience is not about me at all, it’s all about people helping people”; as the patients help her as much or more than she does them. What a selfless statement. “I just worry about listening to the patients, and being completely present for them.”

Completely present. In the “now.” These are some phrases my mother kept touching upon as she explained her endeavors with her patients. What I discovered as I was listening, was that my mother was learning about living from the dying.

We turned the corner and my mother signaled to switch lanes. I gazed out my window at the melting snow banks as I listened to my mother speak. “My first day on the job I was sent to see a woman who wasn’t doing well at all. She didn’t have much time left.  When I entered the room, the woman was laying there on the bed, fingers interlocked over her chest, motionless with her eyes closed. She was still living, but barely,” my mother recounted to me. As she was telling me this, I could vividly picture the scene in my head.  Curse mom’s story telling skills.

“It was my first day and I didn’t have much experience. We talk to the patient’s family before we arrive, and they had shared with me her love for polka music.” As we turned onto Main Street, I glanced at my mother as she narrated her encounter. The sun was shining down on our faces and I swore her skin sparkled. My mother then explained that she decided to play some polka music, since this was some of the only information she had on this elderly lady. “I think that type of music is so corny and bizarre, but I tried it out anyway.

“I don’t want her, you can have her, she’s too fat for me! She’s too fat for, she’s too fat for, she’s too fat for me!”


As she sung these lyrics to the tune of the polka song, I couldn’t help but let out a chuckle. They were so hilariously offending.

The next part of this story is what resonated with me the most. My mom continued, “Well, I was standing there, polka music playing on my phone, when I noticed her two index fingers, still interlocked on her chest, were tapping to the beat of the music! For those few minutes, I was right there in the moment with her, living in the now.” My mother had a smile on her face, clearly feeling very accomplished, and rightfully so. “You see, this is how I think of it; you live life all the way up until you don’t.” The women passed away the following day.

As my mother would say, “a lot of people think dying as so sudden and abrupt, but really you’re only dancing for so long. You don’t know when your dance will be done so you should really try to live until the end instead of anticipating the being gone part.”

Right then, right there: I had a change in heart. A strange sensation in the pit of my stomach arose. These weren’t typical knots of anxiety; this was a new feeling of realization blossoming inside me. My breath accelerated slightly, so I turned my head towards the window. The wind pulsated through the cracked window onto my face; making my ponytail whip around in a flurry – mimicking my heartbeat. I leaned back and my body became one with the padded leather seats. Still feeling the breeze from the window, I closed my eyes and inhaled. I could feel my lungs fill up with the sweet air. I held onto that breath for as long as possible before letting it escape back into the atmosphere.

I was introduced to a whole new mentality. It’s fascinating how a casual conversation with someone you trust can break down mental barriers you have been building for what seems like forever. Completely unaware of the power her thoughts possessed, my mother’s words acted as a wrecking ball for many of my anxieties about death.

The car came to a gradual stop as we approached a red light. I continued to mull over the knowledge my mother had just disclosed to me. Seeing how at ease and composed my mother was about something I considered to be petrifyingly morbid was strangely comforting. This simple example in my life has shown me the power of perception and illustrated how many anxieties and insecurities can be fostered by close-mindedness.

The light turned green and traffic resumed to its natural flow. As I watched the cars outside my window, I explored my thoughts even deeper. I now realize that my mother is much further along in her dance of life, so naturally she has a completely different insight. Having her wisdom bestowed upon me is an eye-opening experience. I was so engrossed in my personal fear of death that I became a prisoner to them. They had bound my hands and tied me up; I was starved of my own enlightenment. It wasn’t until my mother’s words that I was alleviated of the burden that my thoughts carried. 

Even though I speak of one specific instance, this realization has impacted me even further. It is because of the conversations my mother and I shared in the car that has led me to believe this holds true for so much more in life. It is truly amazing how two people can endure the same exact experience, yet have two completely contrasting emotions associated with said experience. One can see this in more simplistic everyday occurrences as well – like when your friends get hyped to ride the tallest, most badass rollercoaster in the entire amusement park; the one with giant loops that flip you every which way, yet all you feel is your fried dough coming back up.

My vision is now clear, and I can see why my mother takes so much time visiting these people. “This comes from a place of selfishness, I want to feel of use”. Don’t we all? We all crave to feel like we mean something to the world- that we aren’t just a waste of space. This was my mother’s self- fulfillment. This is what feeds her soul – fuels itself. Before, I deemed my mother crazy for willingly enduring this experience. Realistically, this has less to do with enduring and more to do with enriching.

My mother’s rays of compassion touch my soul and warm me from within. Her continual sense of selflessness acts as a catalyst for my own humility. My mother, an already exceptional being, is now dancing like no one’s watching. She fearlessly twists and twirls on the dance floor of life, not worrying about the moves she’s already done or planning her next step; she simply does. Her footing may slip up now and again, but this does not shake her. She simply forges on to the rhythm of the living. She does not dance to conjure an applause or to catch the eye of a spectator. My mother’s mind is not clouded with anxieties of when her dance will be over. All that matters are the dance floor, and her presence. Her heartbeat that is the conga drums, unwaveringly pounds in the background until the last breath is exhaled from her lungs and the vigorous beat subsides. Until then, she confidently dances on with endless poise and passion.

I hope one day I’ll learn to dance like my mother.

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