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In a sense, this book starts at the end.
It starts with the story of David. It also starts with someone else's writing and someone else's words, rather than mine. When I was first asked to write a book about the hundreds of Life, Death and Transition Workshops I have given all over the world over the past ten years, I thought, "Where can I begin?" Soon the answer came to me. Do not start at the beginning. Start at the end. Do not attempt to explain in the very first chapter how this work began, how these workshops came into being, how they function and operate, etc. Start with the end, with the results of these workshops.
And so this book begins by telling you about the end product of our workshops. And by telling you about the end of David's life. Endings, someone once wrote, are just beginnings backwards. That is nowhere more true than it is here.
Following is a letter written to me by David's mother. It will tell you a lot about why this book is called Working It Through.
May 1, 1979
6:00 A.M. -- the beginning of a new day. May Basket Day! When I was a little girl, we got up early to pick cowslips and violets for the baskets of popcorn and fudge we placed by our friends' front door. But you have asked me to remember a more recent time -- the workshop, and what it meant to me and my family. Oh, Elisabeth, how can I even begin to put that into words? The workshop opened a whole new world for all of us to live in! I want to tell everybody about it. But to do that I will have to think back to those awful days, and it hurts so much to remember. I would ratherthink about Val's wedding in our garden next month. David and Brad look so tall and handsome in their new suits. Dave is practicing the songs he will sing. There is excitement in our house. New memories to mix with the old. Some of the old memories I don't want to think about, but today I must. I have stolen this whole day from a hectic week to write about the workshop. So I will sit quietly and remember --
"You are ruining your life trying to take care of me, Mom."
"Oh, no, David. Please don't say that. I love you so much." (Oh, Lord, he knows. I have tried to hide my desperation, but David knows. I just can't do it anymore. Why won't you help me? Why won't somebody help me? Please -- please --)
That was only the beginning of a conversation between my son and me. The next morning I obtained Dr. Ross's address from our public library. I wrote to her, pouring out my feelings about our eighteen-year-old son, David, who has had surgery twice for brain tumors and was left with facial paralysis, repeated corneal ulcers, impairment of right-hand movement, poor balance and difficulty walking and partial deafness. He has seizures and takes four kinds of medication daily. There is another tumor growing. David has always been a very special human being with so much to give. But most people are afraid because of his handicaps or too busy to really get to know him. So he has no friends and the world is a lonely place. He accepted that, making music and his guitar his friends. His room was his safe, warm place, filled with music, his artwork, laughter and love. Now he felt lonely and unacceptable even here because there was so much tension and weariness in the house. So many tears and not much laughter anymore. Worst of all, the tumor is growing and he knew he would soon be deaf -- no more stereo, no more Beatles, no more guitar, no more music. All of his friends would be gone. David has struggled so hard to live with dignity, to learn to respect himself. Now he was telling me he didn't want to go on living anymore.
"David, do you feel that bad? What can I do to help you?"
"There's nothing you can do, Mom. That's just the way it is." And he cried, and he put his arm around me and patted my shoulder. David never cries. "Tears won't do any good, Mom," he always tells me. But he never told me not to cry, so I wept for both of us.
I finished my letter to Elisabeth and asked for help. As I stood in front of the mailbox, I told God that I had done everything I could do and our lives were in His hands. Elisabeth was home one day a week with thousands of letters to answer, but within two weeks I received a letter from her, sending help and hope.
In January 1978 my husband Dave and I attended our first workshop at Shanti Nilaya. Our daughter had the flu. A blizzard had closed O'Hare Field. But we were meant to be at that workshop and we were. For five days, forty-six people talked and listened to each other. We also laughed, sang and ate together. We shared our fears, guilt and anger. We learned to forgive others and to forgive ourselves. We allowed other human beings to see our tears and pain. We all cared and we showed it.
At this workshop I relived some of the experiences of David's childhood which hurt him so terribly. I shared the guilt I still felt for mistakes made because I was insecure and inexperienced, trusting doctors and so-called experts who were not trustworthy. I shared the heartbreak of hearing David say his life had been worthless, the anguish of watching him try to face living without music, the helplessness of trying to comfort him when there is no hope.
After the privilege of attending two workshops, I wanted David to have that wonderful experience. I knew he had as much to give as he would receive. So I wrote to Elisabeth, but she didn't answer. Then on a Thursday in August, she called, asking if we could bring David to a workshop in California the following Monday. I said yes without even thinking how impossible it would be to make all the arrangements in three days or how I could take him two thousand miles from home by myself, against his doctor's advice. I knew it was meant to be, and with the help of a lot of good people, it happened.
When we came out for breakfast the first morning, there was the usual reaction to David. He is impressive! Six feet tall with a red Afro and a red beard. The right side of his face droops because of the paralysis. His right eyelid is sewn shut. He walks with his legs far apart to balance himself. And he is deaf. Some of the people were uncomfortable. Some were afraid. But soon, they began to come closer, to communicate with him. To every person who reached out to him, he gave his unconditional love.
I didn't know how David would react to sitting all day in a room full of people when he couldn't hear what they said. I took a notebook and tried to summarize for him what every person was sharing with the group. From the very beginning he was completely absorbed in the feelings being expressed. He willingly shared his own. "My name is David," he said. "I have come to get help." During the breaks he looked longingly at the swimming pool, remembering how he loved to swim. On Tuesday some of the men took him in the pool, the first time in over two years. He had a ball! When asked if he had come with any special answer to find, his reply was "Yes, myself." In the evening John, the priest, was saying mass out on a huge rock. David looked up and saw the big ankh silhouetted against the sky. I told him it was the symbol of life. I gave him the one I had on a chain. It became very important to him, and he has worn it ever since.
Thursday morning David told me, "Mrs. Ross has a lot of people to do, and I probably won't get done, but I would like to tell the people that I have trouble with praying." He asked if John, the priest, could help him because "he is good at praying."
So David shared: "I have trouble with praying."
John wrote: "Tell me what you want to pray for."
The answer was: "For knowing God."
John wrote: "When we love one another, we feel God. We are now praying to God."
The room was very quiet. Then suddenly everyone surrounded David, hugging him and each ot