The Last Adventure of Life: Sacred Resources for Transition
By Maria Dancing Heart
go to Maria's website to purchase
THE LAST ADVENTURE OF LIFE is an inspirational resource book that presents a fresh look at life, death, grief, and change of every kind. Maria Dancing Heart, a seasoned hospice worker, has compiled her own reflections with a variety of material she has gathered over the years: Inspirational stories, poetry, scripture, prayers, guided meditations, and alternative/holistic healing methods. These pieces encompass all walks of life to help the reader acknowledge the unity and interconnectedness of all as s/he walks through the changes in life. A specific chapter on grief and an annotated bibliography are also included. More than ever it is time for each of us on the planet to awaken to our mortality and our spiritual nature. We are called to live with deep awareness of how we affect one another and the planet. This book will assist us in our healing - coming into balance - as we become a part of the healing of the whole Earth.
A bright forty-five-year-old mother of three is devastated and afraid. Her cancer has returned, and the stable of medical miracles is empty. She faces the breathtaking journey ahead of her with uncertainty and inadequacy, and I feel unequal to the task of being her spiritual director. Then, this unusual book arrived for review -- just when I needed it most. The comforting voice of Maria Dancing Heart whispers through its pages as an experienced emissary of God's grace, listing poems, scriptures, compelling stories, guided meditations, and visceral personal experiences gleaned during her years as a seasoned hospice counselor. It is a treasure house of hope and healing, reframing the experience of death as "the last adventure of life." Hoaglund offers this motivation for the writing of the text:
"Many people wait until the last minute of life to talk about death. I have come to see that talking, reading, and thinking about one's own death--even visualizing it--can be one of the most rewarding experiences of a lifetime. Facing death is definitely something we do not want to wait until the last minute to deal with, when our body strength may be dwindling, our concentration weakening, and our emotions distracted by death's encroachment. In fact, I am convinced that facing the reality of death can be a catalyst to help us let go of our fears and live more fully in the present moment. (P. xiv)" The author's familiarity with this natural stage of life reminds us that indeed we are all terminal. Whether the dying person is a loved one or ourselves, this book is a meaningful manual about the process. It confronts every conceivable question and dilemma from instructions on leaving a video for your family members (p. 93) to helping someone deal with the question "Why me?" (p. 84). Hoaglund's explanation of a wide variety of healing therapies includes Web sites and addresses where the reader can acquire even more assistance. This is not a medical compendium of information about the death process. In fact, the language is simple and uncomplicated--almost conversational in tone. It is as if the author is viewing the process through the lens of the heart and offering a helping hand to guide us through this inevitable experience. In the final one hundred pages, we are offered an array of resources, including deathbed rituals, information about unusual therapies such as music-thanatology (p. 230), and the use of aromatherapy for terminal patients. In the annotated bibliography, her candid personal comments about each book made me want to rush to the library. The diverse offerings in the book reflects Dancing Heart's cross-cultural background of spiritual work, including an upbringing in Japan and education at Yale, Pacific School of Religion, and Chicago Theological Seminary. She has served as a parish minister with the United Church of Christ, and transitioned into hospice ministry eleven years ago. As a result of her broad religious perspective, she embraces a wide range of healing and spiritual practices in her work. As my dying directee comes in for her next appointment, I will feel better able to accompany her on "the last adventure of life" thanks to this splendid resource. Perhaps deepening our capacity to die with faith will somehow teach us to live with faith. --
"Presence," Magazine for Spiritual Directors International; December 2006 (Reviewed by Linda Douty
Denial of death and dying is one of the most profound issues we face as we undertake life's Second Journey. At the same time our own mortality begins to assert its existence, many of us confront final goodbyes to our parents. Having lived 60+ years in a culture that encourages ignoring (and even denying) death, we have few tools to deal with it effectively -- either for ourselves or other. Maria Dancing Heart has found a way to transcend this cultural liability, develop an understanding of the dying process, and share her insights with the rest of us. She does so in her self-published book, THE LAST ADVENTURE OF LIFE (Clinton, WA: Bridge to Dreams, 2005).
In spite of the fact that it is only 318 pages, THE LAST ADVENTURE OF LIFE can be viewed as two books, a practical resource for those caring for a dying loved one and a spiritual, realistic introduction to the dying process for those just wanting to explore the issue. The book is a combination of Dancing Heart's own words and carefully selected writings from others. The Zen-like quality of what she herself writes is a reflection of her practical, no nonsense approach to looking death in the eye and not blinking. In fact, the reader gets the idea that Dancing Heart's life-long spiritual search has brought her to such a comfortable relationship with death that sharing these insights with others is easy for her. The evocative, emotional tones in the book come from her generous selection of prose and poetry written by others. There are carefully chosen passages from well-known authors (Joan Borysenko, Gerald Jampolsky, Lao Tsu) and not so well known (her own hospice patients and their loved ones). The reflections by hospice clients, written during that magical moment just before Death, are often poetic and guide the reader to an intimate understanding of one of the most private moments we must all face. The poetic passages seem to have been chosen with a very practical purpose: to convince the reader to drop his carefully defended denial of death and see enough beauty in the completion of a journey to have an open heart. Many have experienced and described the magical moments leading up to and at the time of death. It is not possible to read these sacred accounts and, at the same time, pretend that death does not exist. For a brief moment, the reader is brought face to face with a fearful, yet mystical, beautiful truth. For those seeking practical advice and wisdom, Dancing Heart includes a chapter of resources and a detailed explanation of hospice care. She also answers many questions such as: How can we 'start the conversation' with out loved one who is sick and perhaps dying? What are some of the signs that death is approaching? How can I be with someone through this time as death nears? How do I say goodbye? What do I do immediately after my loved one dies at home? What are some alternatives, besides more medication, to cope with the pain? What is hospice and how does it work? What is a near death experience? Her answer to the question about saying goodbye is typical of her brevity and pointed directness:
"These are probably the most basic thoughts that you'll want to convey to your beloved ones before you leave them, or before your beloved leaves you. Don't wait until the last minute to share your deepest feelings, like why and how you appreciate and love them. (1) Thank you. (2) I love you. (3) Please forgive me. (4) I forgive you. (5) Goodbye. God be with you." When Dancing Heart tries to convey the sacredness and mystery of the moment of death, she makes one short statement herself: "It is a time... filled with awe and unexplainable mystery". Then, she completes the chapter with a generous collection of journal entries and poetry eliciting an emotional tone reflective of the special experiences that happen at the time of a loved one's passing. This short quotation from Kahlil Gibran is an example of the beauty and mystery that fills the rest of the chapter. "Know, therefore, that from the greater silence I shall return. ... Forget not that I shall come back to you... A little while, a moment Of rest upon the wind, and another woman shall bear me." Read THE LAST ADVENTURE OF LIFE from cover to cover in spite of the author's encouragement to pick it up and begin anywhere. Read from beginning to end, the book develops in the reader a greater familiarity with that adventure everyone must ultimately take. Knowing what is in the book also makes it even more valuable as a reference source because one already knows exactly where to look for specific information. --
"Second Journey" online Newsletter, Fall of 2006 (Reviewed by Barbara Kammerlohr
Getting the summer blues? Can't wait for fall to come and the good old school days to be back? Maybe it's the books you've been reading while winding down the days until the leaves turn to golden hues. If that's the case, there are a number of new books that have hit the local and national markets that feature the work of Whidbey Island authors and photographers. Intrigued? You should be. Whidbey is home to world class authors. Take a look. "The Last Adventure of Life:Sacred Resources for Transition" Maria Hoaglund, a seasoned hospice worker has just completed "The Last Adventure of Life," a book that brings together information and lessons learned during her 10 years of hospice ministry and over 20 years of working in ministry and spirituality.
"I don't see the book as something you read front to back, you pick it up and find the piece that is most useful to you at the time," Hoaglund said. "The Last Adventure of Life" is filled with inspirational stories and poetry.Insert body text here...