- Tracie Skarbo was motivated to write by her father, who was her biggest supporter. “He was always behind me, rallying me on with my writing. I would always see him with a book in hand. He gave me a great appreciation for the written word, and the power and responsibility that writers have to shape those who read their words. He also taught me to respect nature and to value the beauty within it; my reflections on my environment are just an extension of this.” Skarbo was raised on Vancouver Island and is working on her next two books.
Friday, December 21, 2012
Interview with Stephanie Rogers : Sitting with Death and the Dying
I wanted to do an interview with Stephanie Rogers for a long time, and I was originally going to do one about her latest writing project, “Tom’s”. But then the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings in Newtown, Connecticut rocked the world and I knew this interview would take on a different direction all together. Please join me in welcoming Stephanie Rogers…
Can you tell me how you got started with hospice?
All my life, I've been drawn to death. Not in a morbid sort of way, but curious and fascinated by what happens at the end of this life. In the late '80s, I was very involved with an AIDS support group in Houston. I learned a great deal about death and dying during those years, though they were very difficult. In 1990, my father died of Cancer and Hospice was incredible not only to Daddy but to us, his family. So when, in late 2003, my entire world sort of exploded and I found myself looking to create a new one, I took off six months, collected unemployment and began to volunteer for Hospice. At the end of that six months, I was hired as a Bereavement Coordinator -- completely without credentials, based solely on the hunches of a couple of people. It was definitely one of those “Meant To Be things”.
What kind of training is involved?
It really depends upon what role you want to fulfill in Hospice. A background in healthcare doesn't necessarily mean you'll be successful or useful in Hospice, much less happy and fulfilled. I'm now a Spiritual and Grief Counselor for a very small start-up Hospice that's only just completing its first year. Prior to that, I worked in nationally-known (and publicly traded) Hospices. Although through the years there came to be many negatives in corporate-run Hospices, one thing they did for me was to reimburse my Grief Counseling education. I already had a BA in Theatre (which has come in handier than you can ever imagine) and through their reimbursement program, I was able to complete a BS in Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy.
What do you do to pamper yourself after working in such a stressful and an emotional position throughout the day?
Ummmm... nothing really. I know I should, but honestly, I don't. There seems never to be enough hours in the day.
Do you work with those facing the ends of their lives as well as the families of the dying?
Yes with both and sometimes with their professional caregivers.
What is the hardest thing about your position?
Watching families tear each other up because of greed. And it doesn't have anything to do with the size of an "estate" -- I've seen brothers come to physical blows over a rotted old recliner and seen families act with grace and generosity with hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's a situation in which most anyone is helpless and it's very sad to watch.
What is the most rewarding?
This is basically impossible to answer because there are so many rewards and each reward is specific to the family with whom I work. Overall, working in hospice has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.
Is your poetry an outlet for some of the things you experience day to day at hospice and how you come to an understanding of the human condition in general?
Yes it is. But it seems that most of my Hospice stories come out in prose. I'm slowly working on a collection of stories from my first years in Hospice -- but it's proving more difficult than I expected. I want to be so careful in telling the stories of my patients and their families that sometimes I get locked out of the stories themselves. I've written a few poems about individual patients and those have been easier for me, but don't tell all that should be known about these incredible people.
I think perhaps I get more "release" from writing about things other than my patients, or even death and dying. I'm very excited about a collaborative project I'm working on with a very talented friend. We're planning to self-publish (something neither of us knows anything about) and are carefully choosing what will/won't be included. Working with someone this way is very new to me and I'm loving it.
You said that you had a BA in Theater and that it came in handy. Could you elaborate on that for us?
The BA in Theatre taught me so many things -- discipline, improvisation, flexibility; how to work in an ensemble, how to give and how to take direction, how to audition (which is all any job interview ever is), how to take criticism and rejection and still feel worthwhile, how to work a room, how to win an audience of any kind, any size, anywhere, and how to -- always -- "find my light". But the most important thing -- about my BA in Theatre -- it gave me lifelong friends of the caliber that most people only dream of having. :-)
You are writing a regular column for Tina Armstrong's 'zine, "The F Bomb", could you tell us more about this? Where can we find it?
The F Bomb is a wonderful 'zine that I was introduced to by Keith Landrum. I'm finding that it's much, much easier to be edited than to edit. I've done quite a bit of editing in the past 2 or 3 years and, while very rewarding, it can also be tedious, and, depending upon the author's ego, infuriating. Tina is an excellent Editor -- clear and concise about what she needs and yet very open to suggestion. In fact, that's how I began the column. She posted a request for regular columns and I said, "How about one about death"? Not every Editor (even of an independent 'zine) would have the guts to say, "Oh wow, sure!", but Tina did and so we're on our way. My first column will be in January's F Bomb and I'm very excited about that.
What questions has working with those close to death answered for you on a personal level?
I'm not sure they're answers so much as verifications, you know? It's like knowing, from birth, deep deep down that we're all the same -- all living beings -- that we all want happiness and don't want sorrow and that there are truly no differences at all between any of us. All of that has been verified by the lives I've been honored enough to witness. I've also see very clearly that we do reap what we so -- karma isn't something far off, something to experience in some other lifetime -- ok, so, yes, it's that, too, but it's really much more immediate, much more Now than we realize. A lifetime's karma colors a death bed.
In light of the recent shootings in the US, how should we approach the topic of death with our children?
The shootings... It's impossible for me to over emphasize the effect that these latest murders have had on the human race -- not just children, not just the US, but the human race.
To answer your question about talking to small children about death, I have only two words: Love and Truth. About the shootings or about any death. Children basically have no problem with death -- they are born accepting it as a part of life and must be taught to fear death just as they must be taught prejudice and hate. Adults project their own fears about death onto children. A child told honestly about death in a language appropriate to their development age, is far more accepting, compassionate and resilient than most adults. Truth is truth -- the thing to remember is that the WORDS you use to speak Truth to a 4 year old are not the same as those you use for a 14 year old.
As far as the shootings go -- how can we explain what makes absolutely no sense? When any death occurs, children want to be reassured that they will be safe and cared for no matter what. This is even truer when the situation is something as horrific as the murder of children. Be honest with your children -- tell them what arrangements have been made to care for them should anything happen to Mom or Dad (if no arrangements have been made, MAKE THEM) -- tell them what the authority figures in their lives are doing to make sure they are safe -- teach them about mental illness -- try to avoid making the shooter out to be "a bad man" -- judgment doesn't help a child and may well only add to their fears.
Over the years you have been working in this field have people been more openly talking about death and their fears? Or does it in your mind continue to be a closed subject?
Yes and No -- we in the West are so pitiful when it comes to death. From the moment we took death out of the home and moved it into hospitals, nursing homes, battlefields, funeral parlors (about the time of the Civil War) we began to do ourselves a huge disservice. And while we have, in the last ten years or so, become a bit more open about at least acknowledging death exists, we are still so lost. All you have to do is look at the ridiculous fear of aging we have, the plastic bodies and faces that we try to keep "perfect" when they never really were to begin with -- the fact that our cultural models get younger and thinner and less realistic year by year -- all of that is a direct reflection of our overwhelming fear of death.
Thanks so much Stephanie for this candid look into what you do with your days. If our readers would like to know more about Stephanie or see more of her writing, her book “Toms” is linked below and her blog “A Crown of Dark Water” is as well.
Stephanie’s Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Stephanie-Rogers/e/B005RIPP9G/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1
Toms at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Toms-Collection-Poetry-Stephanie-Rogers/dp/1466201525/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1355956654&sr=8-1&keywords=toms+stephanie+rogers
Toms Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Toms-ebook/dp/B006JOJ11U/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1355956654&sr=8-3&keywords=toms+stephanie+rogers
Stephanie’s Blog: http://acrownofdarkwater.com/
If you would like to know more about F Bomb, the zine by Tina Armstrong and Stephanie’s column called "The Eye of Nephthys", please visit http://www.thefbombzine.com/