Tag Archives: Dis Ease Diary

Dying Well

11 Nov
Bruce Kramer

Bruce Kramer

I know Bruce Kramer only through his blog Dis Ease Diary about living with and dying from ALS. A profoundly wise man, Bruce died of ALS in 2015. In his writing, he wanted to ask questions in a way that united people. What a worthy endeavor. When I heard Cathy Wurzer was speaking about her relationship with Bruce and their book project, We Know How This Ends on All Saints’ Day, I knew I had to go. His spirit filled the sanctuary as Wurzer projected pictures and played audio of Bruce.

In choosing to die well, Bruce continues to teach us so much about how to live well. Bruce claimed that ALS was the greatest teacher of his life. It helped him become the man he was meant to be. He invited those around him to be vulnerable, to stay present in the day, and to cut straight through to love. In so doing, he got to know people on a different level and at a different depth, which changed his life.

Through adaptive yoga, he learned how to breathe and ground himself even at the very end. He was able to forgive his body for dying like it was supposed to do, just faster than he would’ve liked. One son stayed connected to Bruce through yoga, another came three times a week to shave his face with a straight blade, an intimate interaction. Bruce recorded himself reading children’s books so his grandchildren could hear his voice after he was gone. He took full advantage of the time he was given at the end. He allowed death to focus his life. The title of Bruce Kramer’s book comes from a line he repeated a lot after his diagnosis: “We’re all headed to the same place.” Indeed. Death opened his eyes to how precious life is, and he never stopped growing.

Wurzer grew close to Kramer over the years of interviews. He required it, actually. When they started working together he asked her, “Will you be here in the end, when I die?” She kept her word and got her buddies at NPR to play one of his favorite pieces on classical radio as he was taking his last breaths. When her colleague asked her in the aftermath, “What do you make it all?” She answered, “I think I gave grace a microphone.”

As the poignant evening came to a close, Wurzer projected a Peanuts cartoon with two characters sitting on a dock. One says, “Some day we will all die.” The other says, “True, but on all the other days we will not.” This is the gift of All Saints’ Day. There is grieving, loss and sorrow, but also great joy. I am alive today and living better in part because Bruce Kramer, faced with a horrible fate, committed to dying well.



20 Nov
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.  So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”

–Gen 32:24-30

Jacob has been through a lot by this point in the story. He’s scared, yet he is brave enough to know he must send his family away and be alone. And then the struggle.

Sometimes the struggle is so real we think we might have an idea what Jacob felt. Indeed, the struggle feels like wrestling. It comes with real, physical consequences. We are stuck with a limp to remind us of our humanity.

Yet Jacob prevailed. He saw God face to face. He only realized it, he only saw that it was God, after being utterly alone. After a physical confrontation. After injury. And after demanding to be blessed.

I marvel at Jacob’s audacity. I am a true Minnesotan. I hate putting other people out, inconveniencing them. In his spot, I probably would have missed out on the blessing because I would have been too reticent to demand it. It makes me wonder who, if anyone, I would be brave enough to hold hostage until I received a proper blessing.

Bruce Kramer, in his powerful blog Dis Ease Diary, wrote about going to a lecture by the Dalai Lama. At the time, he was living with ALS and was so afraid his body wouldn’t let him go. This is where his audacity comes in. His community rallied around him:

It takes a lot of energy for me to go anywhere, and left to my own devices, my own energy, my own abilities, I probably would not have gone. My family rallied around me, driving both the van and my chair, the six of us together and me feeling the love. My friend created a path of no resistance, placing me on the front row, making the lines to get in and security checks melt away.

Attending the lecture was not the end of the blessing, however:

At the end of the question-and-answer, his Holiness was asked if he would bless us. In reply, he stated that as a Buddhist he was skeptical about blessings, for blessings come from individual action and motivation…And then, he did something extraordinary….And he came to the edge of the stage in front of me, and when I realized he was coming to greet me, I began to cry. One of the Tibetan musicians behind me gave my daughter-in-law a scarf and he took the scarf and held it to his forehead and then said, “Meanwhile, my blessing,” and he gave it to me. Namaste….And his blessing was a message, that all blessing comes from intentional action, and cannot be conserved if it is to remain a blessing. To be a blessing it must be paid forward 100 and 100 and 100 times over, so that each blessing invites us to further realize the beauty and complexity and messiness of our sprawling humanity.

So I have been thinking a lot about blessing, and asking for blessing, and the individual action of blessing and how that act should automatically spur a rush of more good, individual action. I have been thinking about Jacob and Bruce, what they went through to get to the moment when the blessing happened. And how when that moment came, that beautiful, powerful, personal moment, they were ripe and ready to receive it fully.


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