The Last Things To Give Up

Wednesday, January 27, 2016 - 7:31am

The Last Things To Give Up

I've loved this poem for a long time. Linda Pastan's idea of an almanac of last things inspires me in a way that a "bucket list" does not!

The Almanac of Last Things
From the almanac of last things
I choose the spider lily
for the grace of its brief
blossom, though I myself
fear brevity,

but I choose The Song of Songs
because the flesh
of those pomegranates
has survived
all the frost of dogma.

I choose January with its chill
lessons of patience and despair--and
August, too sun-struck for lessons.
I choose a thimbleful of red wine
to make my heart race,

then another to help me
sleep. From the almanac
of last things I choose you,
as I have done before.
And I choose evening

because the light clinging
to the window
is at its most reflective
just as it is ready
to go out.

I know there are folks who don't want to contemplate the end of life, or any sort of loss, before they get there. For them it drains joy from the present moment.

For me, it's the opposite. Every reminder that there will be a last this and a last that — including a last moment — deepens my gratitude for this moment and helps me "be here now."

So a "last thing" has several meanings for me. It's among the last things I want to give up. It's among the things I want to be holding with gratitude and grace when my last moment comes. And it's among the things I will need to let go of at the end, so it's important that I appreciate it fully right now.

P.S. The ocean and the full moon are in my personal Almanac of Last Things. Both of them say life in a big way to me. And both are on the long list of blessings for which I can only say a heartfelt "Thank you…"

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Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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This is so very beautiful. It made me cry this a good way. Thank you.

Very lovely. I was writing on this theme today. It seems, when you have had enough loss, that this is what ponders inside. It lives inside. And, even though it can hurt, I am grateful too.

Right !


I would love to send you my book, titled From Sun to Sun: A Hospice Nurse Reflects on the Art of Dying. I can guarantee you something Palmer Parker; with your sense of joy and wonder you will have a good end of life experience.
A sincere, wraparound hug to you, my dear,

A year ago I was with my family at my home when our mother died of Alzheimer's Disease. I was able to be with my father 13 years earlier under the same circumstances. I spent most of the last year being gentle and reflective, growing in awareness and gratitude, sad and happy and present in a new way. When I saw the name of your book, I immediately went to Amazon, read the preview and bought it for my kindle. Our hospice nurse, Judy, was a part of our journey for nearly two years as Mom declined incrementally. She taught me so much about myself and life and death.

As a 13 year hospice volunteer I have known many patients deeply and watched in awe how hospice nurses interact with them. Those nurses are all saints, they have all earned beatification. So grateful that they are here, on earth, serving us.

A sincere wraparound hug to you my dear Parker! My memoir as a hospice nurse, titled From Sun to Sun: A Hospice Nurse Reflects on the Art of Dying, may interest you.

As I move and de-clutter and celebrate another birthday and the loss of so many things, what a lovely gift this poem is... Let go .. let God work on this for you has new meaning..

letting go..letting god embraces---freedom "to" instead of freedom "from"♡♡♡

I too, have felt this way,even since childhood. It is only recently, in my fifties, that I have realized what a gift it is. I enjoy reading so many of your reflections.
Thank you!

St Benedict teaches us. "Run while you have the light of day", and "keep death always befor your eyes". Sharing the same number of years with you, I so appreciate your words to help me prepare....gratitude .

Ah dear Parker, what a beautiful reflection. Thank you. Your words call to mind John O'Donohue's blessing: Entering Death
"When your time comes, may you have/Every blessing and strength you need./May there be a beautiful welcome for you/In the home you are going to."
And with that, I also recall my Brooklyn retort to the instruction to "Be here now." That is: "Be someplace else, later."
With love and gratitude.

While reading this poem, I am reminded of the best book, Talk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg. Essentially it's a book about a woman who is dying of breast cancer but the treasure of the story is how she wants to surround herself by her women friends until the very end. It's a story of friendship and love. My daughters know the music I want to be listening to (The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle) and how I want my collection of shells all over me. If I'm fortunate to continue to have my wonderful lover, him also by my side. Then a huge joyous celebration of me and my every crazy life. Thank you for sharing this with us. What a gift.

As a caregiver for a woman now in her 98th year, this is what I often feel I'm doing: collecting V's almanac, holding it for her. That work can be exhausting and overwhelming, the weight of both uncertainty and concern, of wanting to help her keep what gives her deepest joy. Then from time to time, in the middle of tending to one of our many mundane quotidian rituals, she will say, "Thank you for all you do to take such good care of me." Of course our almanacs are ultimately singular, private, solitary, but knowing our solitudes are shared, that we can witness these thanksgivings for each other--for me that fills the giving up with such grace.

... It's among the things I want to be holding with gratitude and grace when my last moment comes. And it's among the things I will need to let go of at the end, so it's important that I appreciate it fully right now.

Yes! So important to appreciate fully right now!

This a stunningly poetic and graceful reflection. It brings to mind "In Blackwater Woods," one of Mary Oliver's finest poems, in which she writes:

“...To live in this world/ you must be able/ to do three things:/ to love what is mortal;/ to hold it/ against your bones knowing/ your own life depends on it;/ and, when the time comes to let it go,/ to let it go.”

This summer my youngest child turned 18. This event was the beginning of me paying attention to last things. I felt sad and a little frightened about noticing last things. Thank you for your perspective, it helps me to appreciate them.

Oh my goodness, Parker, were you speaking to me? What a lovely column and your P.S. about the ocean and the full moon took my breath away and made me cry. Which often is what happens when I walk the beach or the full moon shines through my bedroom window.

This is profound and puts things in there proper place!

My homework for our hospice volunteer training is to write a "bucket list." I do like reading & re-reading this tonight, instead...

I too do the "looking at last things" a lot! Funny, though - it's mostly about the real things in my life. It's getting easier each day to let them go with no regrets. It's harder with the dear ones - their smiles, their quirks, their knowing of my life as I know theirs. Thanks for mentioning this, Parker. It's provoked a lot of reflection!

Dear Parker,
once again I thank you for your deeply moving writing, which made me weep.
The poem which is new to me ,I now will also love.
Your words and the shared poem triggered so many experiences of deep loss in past times:
" Our memories cradle our grief and preserve our joy."
Living out of all the love I have received over so many decades,I can only be deeply grateful,
full of gratitude for the gift present in the present moment.
I do not know what lies ahead for me ,I only hope I also can say when my end time nears,the words a dear dear friend spoke:
" tell everyone,I am so grateful,I ask to be forgiven by those I hurt,and I forgive all that have hurt me."
I pray for such grace.
Thank you Parker,it is such a great gift to have met you through your writings.
May you be blessed with continued health,we need you in our lives.
God does send us companions along the journey,you are one of them.

Makes me think of various songwriters and singers who knew their last albums would be their last albums, and so had to think very carefully how they wanted to go out. I'm thinking specifically of Warren Zevon's "Keep Me In Your Heart for a While," Joe Strummer's "Silver and Gold," Johhny Cash's version of "We'll Meet Again," and though I know everyone hated the last Replacements album, and though no one in the band was dying they well knew it would be their last, so they wrote a very pretty song called "The Last." But that poem is beautiful, thanks for giving it some light!

I hope the things I have taught all my kids and grand kids about God and life they will remember me.

Thank you for this wonderful post. For me contemplating the end of life brings joy the present moment because the present moment is the all we have.

this is pretty heavy stuff

I live each day in present time. No regrets from the past; no worries for the future. I feel blessed with grace; filled with love; grateful for each moment! It's taken 70 years to get here, but it's totally worth all the effort to cleanse one's soul! Thank you for this!

When I think about the advent of the last day, the last sun rise, the last hour and minutes of my life it puts a kettle of fear in my stomach. I do it deliberately as it grounds me in the present moment and to the beauty around me if I would just look. The fear subsides and I pay attention as my chest expands with another breathe. This poem intensifies my wild love for life. Thank you!

I hope I have many, many days before I get close to the lasts, but lasts of many other things will happen before then. My daughters' needs will change as they grow and we will have last time they ask us to kiss them goodnight, last night they sleep in our house as residents, last, last. It hurts to think of it all, but, yes, it's motivational for gratitude. I am also a moon and ocean person, the pulls and the movement, their energies give me a feeling of transcendence. Thank you for your beautiful writing.

Parker, in several days I will be visiting a friend who is dying. I find there is very little, in poetry or prose, that sounds meaningful for someone who is dying, but your reflection will be one of the gifts I will bring her. Thank you, for this and so much else.

This reminds me of a zen saying Stephen Batchelor shared with Krista a few podcasts ago, and it seemed so wise I wrote it down and posted it on the refrigerator for daily remembering:
Since only death is certain
And the time of death uncertain
What should I do?

Thanks for sharing Linda Pastan's beautiful poem. It will be posted and shared alongside the Zen teaching. They both remind me to wake up to this precious life.

The "last thing" which I will remember for all my life, are the ten days I lay in bed with my mother as she was dying, with my head on her chest listening to the ebb and flow of her breath, holding her hands growing cold, inhaling the intimate odors of her hair and body. On a windless day the leaves swirled in a maelstrom of activity and sparrows circled the Bradford pear tree outside her window. Four brilliant beams of light shone upon her bed; then she was gone. If I had any skepticism about the soul leaving the body, it was dashed in that moment. Though she was unresponsive in those last days, I had many "conversations" with her, and I think, at some level, she was aware of my presence and love. Ours had not always been a felicitous mother-daughter relationship, but , in the end, though I was not the daughter she had wished for, she knew I was the daughter who loved her.

Thank you Parker for the poem and for two of your last things - these weeks in summertime on the west coast of Aotearoa New Zealand I have the privilege of the moon rising in the East over the Paparoa Range and growing fatter each night ... on the West the ocean in all her moods and where the sun sinks flashing green. Then the risen moon journeys until she shines above the ocean. Two always precious to me last blessings.

Thank you, Parker Palmer, for sharing the poem and your thoughts just as I, after almost ten years in Hong Kong, face moving back to the USA. A more timely blog could not have appeared for me.

My little Ollie, my rescue pup who really rescued me. He loves me like God does, no matter what. He brings me joy just by being.

I think of this often. In particular, I think of it in relation to my beloved dogs. Why is it that they have such a short life span? I cherish every morning walk with them knowing that some day, I will no longer have it. They enrich my life by their presence and love.

Thank you ! (My sentiments on dying , also - at a ripe old age )


Thank you!

I'm happy and thankful to discover and read this today.

The last things to give up, the last things I'd like to hold in my memory, the last things I want to busy myself with. If I can keep it to a minimum of three--what makes life lovely?

The warmth of the morning sun,
The soft wind brushing my skin,
The birds chattering and singing...

I wish I can always close my eyes and feel and hear and remember these things so that I won't remember how often I question what HUMAN LIFE really means--in a world like this.

Oh normal day - let me be aware of the treasure you are...

I choose Saturday mornings because of the promise they bring

Yes, something about seeing this at first light reaffirms Parker's musings. Norway Spruce and Trillium are definitely on my list of "last things" that have me present to eternal gratitude! (Ocean and full moon are too.) As always, thank you.

Good to know. Now we know all pros and cons of the form. Maybe you would be interested in an online service with a ton of Form templates (tax, real estate, legal, business, insurance forms, etc..) I used it to fill out