The Graceful Final Good-bye: actuarial realities

by evoker on April 26, 2018

in 70th Year

But at my back, I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near  
Andrew Marvell

My colleague and master coach and teacher Doug Silsbee is dying. He has a blog on these last months of life that he is creating with wife Walker. Doug had many many like me, proud to call him colleague, teacher, friend.

He has these beautiful words to offer in his March 25th post. He wanted his son Miles to sense how an ending could be conveyed in simple images:

Imagine walking through the rainforest, the green canopy overhead, macaws flying back and forth, a deep, black, still pool far below. I admire the magical reflections in the smooth surface of the pool’s water. I grab a small rock, following the deep male instinct to make a mark, curious to see how the reflected images will change with the rock’s impact. I wing the rock out into space, watching it fall towards the pool, anticipating what will happen.

Then, the lights go out. Everything goes dark. I never see the rock land, can’t know what happens next. It’s over… My energy has put some things in motion, but it’s not for me to know what happened with them. Things go on, the rock will land, events will unfold. But, my time is up.

He has many more poignant passages, so spend some time a-wanderin’ through it. (  (And if you want to know about coaching and presence read any and all of his books.) For me, and all who are reading his blog, they have given us a way to say goodbye and let go gradually, and a sense of his particular presence in the world. And a beautiful and aglow presence it is.

The actuarial tables kick in when we get older. We travel up or slide down that curve, and the statistics that objectify us tell a hard truth not captured in the individual dramas and stories that we participate in with each passing. We lose increasing numbers of family and friends and work colleagues, and we have to be ready to say good bye, and then good bye again, and then again.

At mid-life the generation above us – mentors, teachers, parents and their siblings – are taking their journey to the other side. Then we notice more from our own generation starting to join them and the actuarial curve steepens. Then more again as the curve grows steep and we experience a monthly, or quarterly if we are lucky, reckoning: we lose someone we know and have to let go of the little or big part they played in our lives.

By now, the beginning of my eighth decade, I could spend part of everyday and much time every week just on catching up on everyone’s recent health management, knee replacement, cataract, cancer check move. It is endless. One retired entrepreneurial couple in Kansas City, Barnett and Shirley Helzberg of diamond retailer fame, told us years ago their rule on this later life phenomenon. They were in their ’70s and when they got together with later life buddies. they would each spend one minute on their health – I have since heard this elder report out called “the organ recital”- and then no more talk the rest of the gathering. The health and body realities had space on the agenda, but it was limited and contained and not central to the social exchange.

Doug and Walker are doing the same in a different way: they mention the health and treatment details to a point, then they proceed to the psycho-spiritual journey they are on. And so we learn yet again at the hands of a master teacher.

Thanks Doug. Without knowing it, we started saying good bye to our work together a few years back on a fun call, as you were into your new leadership book and camping about the country. Now I can say good bye and say well-done, you “brought your piece of the puzzle to the table” (Freud’s description of his life) and are still doing so, as you report on our shared mortal destiny and its meaning.


Image above
“PRECIOSA Ripple™ – 02010/25021” by  PRECIOSA ORNELA is licensed under  CC BY 2.0

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