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Time to live it up

Dying with dignity — and lots of parties

By Carolyn Pogue

Our friend Patricia Brownlee is preparing for a journey into death. I’m paying close attention, because I realized soon after her diagnosis that I have much to learn from her. For example, Pat says a dying person ought to party as often as she can.

“I’m energized around people,” she explains. Soon after she understood that she was on her way, she and her husband, Paul Armstrong, threw a party. It began with communion. They invited my husband, Bill, to lead it; he in turn asked them to serve the bread and wine. Afterwards, we told stories and enjoyed music and feasting. That was four months and several parties (and drum circles) ago.

Pat gave up her computer service business 20 years ago in order to devote her life to activism. The Council of Canadians, Friends of Medicare, Women in Black, Art of Peace Camp and Calgary Association of Retired People, as well as political leaders, the United and Unitarian churches, and organizations supporting Aboriginal rights and interfaith work have all benefited from her wit, wisdom and work. 

I’m not Pat’s only student. Professor and activist Ronnie Joy Leah met her some decades ago at the Lone Fighters camp defending the Oldman River in southern Alberta. She says, “Pat is teaching me about the preciousness of life, the importance of family and friends, knowing that your life has made — continues to make — a difference. I think about leaving the planet more compassionate, just, beautiful and caring. I honour Pat’s courage to be fully present in the face of her own mortality; to be aware of our limited time on the planet and find joy in little things. I think about living as if each day might be my last.”

I asked Pat how she had arrived, at age 71, with this level of acceptance, joie de vivre and humour. She told me, “Most of us live unrealistically in a death-defying and death-denying culture.” But closing our eyes to mortality does little to build a compassionate society and often means energy is spent denying the natural cycle of life. Pat has taken time to learn from First Nations elders and leading thinkers. For example, she read all of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s groundbreaking books about grieving, including the 1969 classic On Death and Dying. Pat’s philosophy is accepting that dying happens to everyone, and living every day deeply.

When Pat dies, her ashes will be spread in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in the Rockies. She says, “The site is Mount Indefatigable, which I once climbed with my husband.” Indefatigable pretty much describes her life. The Energizer Bunny has nothing on her. In fact, when I visited her last week, she sent me home with a bowl of her pasta and meatballs. And she was making soup for a friend who had a bad cough.

As well as learning from Pat, I’m donating blood at Canadian Blood Services for her. And throwing a party, of course.

In the next blog, I’ll let you know how the party went and write more about how Pat arrived at this moment in her life better prepared than many.


Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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