As I Sat With Tamara

There was a daily calendar on the wall emblazed with the words: “Today is” but there were no pages left.

Tamara looked at it, saying over and over again, “Today is…”

“What is today?” I asked my sister.

With her eyes wide open she uttered, “no tzures,” a Yiddish expression meaning “no problems,” then licked her lips and savored the absence of suffering. It was a good day.

I sat with Tamara in silence.


I was reminded of Emily Dickinson’s words- Saying nothing sometimes says the most.


She lay in a hospital bed. I sat in a chair. Timed passed.

Tamara broke the silence.


“I’ve shown great courage and strength. I’ve shown enough anger and gratitude.

I’ve shown passion…I like passion,” she said, once again licking her lips.


“Did you write that down?” she asked.


“I did. Anything else?”


“Yes, please pray for the “wonder factor of tender mercies’ and send me a draft,” she said.


I had Bernie write her prayer on the whiteboard, in her line of sight.


I was hesitating to say that it was now time for me to go. There was a plane to catch.


“I’ll be waiting for you in Vermont,” I said.


“Do I have to pack much?” she asked


“No.” I answered. “You’ll come with everything you need.”


“Good,” she said.


“I want you to know that in your dying you have taught me how to live,” I said.


“I couldn’t have done this without you,” she responded.


“Now, go out and teach the world.”


Tamara taught by her own example. She was a teacher and psychotherapist.


With tears in my eyes I asked, “Do you remember Mary Oliver’s poem


When Death Comes?”


“Remind me,” she said.


I reached into my carry-on bag. The book of Oliver’s poems was waiting for me.



I read…


When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of life something

particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened

or full of argument

I don’t want to end up simply having

visited this world.


When it was over my beloved sister Tamara moved from the physical to the spiritual world not sighing, frightened or full of argument.


A few weeks later, she arrived in Vermont to settle into her final resting place.



(5) Comments

  1. My beloved husband died in 2009, at the far-too-early age of 73. The way he managed his oncoming death was very impressive. With me, he remembered all the happy times we’d had together, and all the good things he’d done all his years. He also helped me to go on without him, as he focused (with me) on my strength.
    A family member has called this denial — looking at past and future while denying the present — but I prefer to think it was an expression of his love. I don’t know of many people who have handled their death so bravely, so generously.

  2. Mary Ann Carlson

    My beloved sister invited me to journey with her during the last three months of her life. It was a gift and an honor. Her wise and loving children invited family and friends to the virtual celebration of the life of a “Practical Mystic”, and over 180 people joined us.
    I am still reveling in their love and kind words .
    I love Mary Oliver’s poem. ❤️

  3. Beautiful and wise, Celia. My condolences. Thank you. The power of poetry – of silence – of being present.

  4. Beth Newman

    So beautiful. My love and thoughts of peace and comfort to your heart.

  5. Denise Jahn

    May Tamara’s memory be a blessing.
    You and Bernie are/have been in my thoughts. Peaceful moments are wished for you. One moment after another as we journey onward.

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