Deborah J. Haynes

A Year to Live, Part 1

In 2002-03 I read Stephen Levine's book A Year to Live for the first time and made major life decisions as a result of that year of reflection. One of those decisions was not to return to a 2nd term as chair of the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Colorado Boulder. Our college dean accepted my decision, and immediately asked me if I would develop a new program in visual and performing arts for 1st- and 2nd-year undergraduates. I said yes and spent the following 8 years happily building that program. Besides hiring faculty and creating new facilities, I had the pleasure of teaching hybrid courses on art and religion to young students.

In June 2022 I decided to revisit the book, and began working on Levine's suggested exercises on the summer solstice. On June 21, 2023 I concluded this year of reflection. As part of my yearlong practice, I completed my "Exit File" -- a binder with all the pertinent information that my family and friends will need when I am ill and or have died. Based on an 8-week course I took with Susan Mackey in Boulder in 2018, my binder contains advance directives, personal, legal, and other information, funeral wishes and obituary, as well as resources that will support my agents and caregivers. The year was momentous is several ways. As detailed in my last blog entry, deciding to place my husband David in memory care at a fine local facility marked a major life change. As he said to me in mid-November last year, "For every beginning there is an end."

During this year I have experienced tremendous grief and sadness and doubt -- such tender and intense feelings. I worked on lifelong issues of forgiveness and cultivated gratitude for all that I have been given in this life. I had three major eye surgeries. I conducted my 8th home retreat under the guidance of my Buddhist teacher, Venerable Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche. I spent much time in solitude, and also enjoyed the pleasures of deep and sustaining friendships with family, friends, and sangha. I listened to music and danced, and listened to the sounds of the world -- rushing water and rain, birdsong, wind in the trees, even the traffic. I got back into the studio to draw and paint; and Guadalupe Leon, a skilled stoneworker, sandblasted several stones for me. I acknowledged that I really do love to cook and prepare food for others; and repeatedly offered my gratitude to Catherina Pressman, who died of a suddent heart attack last August. Over more than 9 years as one of David's caregivers, she demonstrated her own love of food and taught me so much. So, the wheel of life turns, and turns, and turns.


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