Monday, June 22, 2009

Stan Goldberg - Lessons for the Living

Local author Stan Goldberg came to Kepler's on June 17th, 2009 to read from his book, Lessons for the Living: Stories of Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Courage at the End of Life. Event host Bobbi Emel reports:

I wasn't sure how many people would come to this event as the topic, end of life issues, sometimes makes folks fairly anxious. 25 gentle and supportive audience members came to hear local author Stan Goldberg talk about his book, Lessons for the Living: Stories of Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Courage at the End of Life. I wish that all people who are concerned about their own death or the death of their loved ones could have been there as Stan's stories and gentle, humorous style make the subject much less scary than most of us think it is.

Stan has been a hospice volunteer in the San Francisco area for the last 6 years and his book tells several stories about some of the patients for whom he cared in the last days of their lives. The remarkable part about this book, though, is that Stan himself has cancer for which he receives treatment and which will, eventually, probably lead to his own death. Stan related that, when he was first diagnosed with cancer, he lay in bed for three months watching "Law and Order" reruns. With a mischievous grin he said, "That didn't work, so I tried going to a support group." He found that the men in the support group tended to focus on what they had lost because of their cancer. This didn't work for Stan - he wanted to focus on living and what he was gaining from his experience. This journey led him to volunteer at hospice.

Lessons for the Living is Stan's way of relating the lessons he has learned from people near death about how he should live his own life. It is funny, touching, and warm; one of those books that I had a hard time putting down. In person, Stan himself is funny, touching, and warm. With a twinkle in his eye, he shared how the side effects of the cancer treatments he is receiving are hot flashes, moodiness, and weight gain. He said now when women talk about the symptoms of menopause he chimes in,"I know, ladies, I KNOW." The women in the audience gave a sympathetic murmur when he said he can have up to thirty hot flashes a day.

Stan produced one of the most magical moments I have experienced as an event host when he told a story about a woman he visited who loved music. He had been assigned as her volunteer but, by the time he came to visit her, she was already unconscious and near death. Knowing that many people in this active dying state can still hear, Stan played for her on the Native American flute he had brought with him. When recalling this story at Kepler's, Stan reached for a cloth bag and produced this same flute. Much to our pleasure, he closed his eyes and began to play as he had for the woman in his story. He improvised the melody and the low, hauntingly beautiful notes filled the suddenly quiet store. When he finished, I looked around to see some people in the audience wiping the tears away.
Stan Goldberg has done us all an incredible favor by sharing with us the important lessons of life, taught to him by people near death. It is in these moments, at the bedside of one who has all the unnecessary accouterment of life stripped away, that one can truly learn how to live.