Choosing the Path of No Regrets

Martha Walsh Cohen (with permission from Sam Cohen)

Martha Walsh Cohen
(with permission from Sam Cohen)

I was at the Hospicare residence to see my sick friend Martha Cohen. She was asleep so I talked with her sister a while. Before leaving, I touched Martha’s hand. She opened her eyes and beamed a smile at me, the familiar smile I’d known for many years. Her eyes fluttered shut and she returned to the liminal world where she spent most of her time. The shadow of that welcoming smile remained on her lips.

After sitting in silence, I walked down the hall toward the exit. I glanced into the room next door to Martha’s and saw another friend, a writer I’d known for years, but at a distance. I knew she was sick, but did not know she was dying. An exhalation of relief followed the sharp shock of recognition. Good, she’s where she will get the best care and help.

DSC02152“Hello. I’m glad to see you,” I said as I stood at the doorway. She glanced up and waved me toward her in slow motion. She was in a recliner, her face pale and drawn, her cheek bones pressed against her skin.

“May I hold your hand?” I asked as I sat on the hospital bed beside her.

“Yes,” she said with a thin but welcoming smile. She whispered something. I moved my ear close to her mouth, struggling to catch her wispy words.

“It’s easier for my husband with me here,” she said.

I held her hand and waited.

“I’m adjusting,” she said.

DSC00190“Are you able to write?” I asked. I had read some of her poignant pieces about illness the year before.

“Get my folder,” she said to her husband, gesturing toward a bedside table. She opened the manila folder and handed me a heart-opening poem about facing mortality.

“I have only one regret,” she whispered. “I did not get my writing together so it could be preserved.” I said nothing, but squeezed her hand.

DSC04255The day before, I had talked with Larson Publications. I was grateful they wanted to publish my memoir. I had faith in my book, but I doubted myself. Could I do what’s needed to present a book to the world? Did I want to leave my quiet country life and travel to give talks and workshops? Could I promote the book with equanimity and curiosity rather than stress and anxiety?

My friend’s words were a clear message. I needed a beautiful book to hold in my hands and offer others. I needed to say yes to honor my marriage, my love, myself, and my spiritual journey through grief. I needed to say yes to the challenges of stepping more fully into my new life.

“Do it, Elaine,” I muttered to myself as I left Hospicare. “You won’t be sorry.”


When did you choose a path that demanded a stretch? Are you glad you tried, no matter what the outcome? If you’d like to learn more about my book Leaning Into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief (Oct. 2014, Larson Publications). I hope you’ll also enjoy this new article “Healing Rituals Help a Grieving Family” found at Grief Healing: Voices of Experience.

  1. Always beautiful to come here. You are like an angel passing through to so many. I am so glad you are publishing Elaine. You have so much to give and share of yourself for the good of many. I can tell you as any author can when first touching your first published book, it is a feeling of so much that words can’t describe. You deserve that feeling. xo


    • It was a gift when I felt afraid. What about my quiet country life? What about the part of me that fears a risk? What if? What about? My dying friend illuminated what matters. Relax and do the work. Preserve my story and hope it helps others–and don’t let anxiety rule. Thank you for your encouragement along the way, Debby. As always, we’ll see what happens next. Wishing you all goodness, Elaine

  2. As always…a deep thank you

    • Thank you, Jayne. You inspire me with your powerful work–and you were the one who first encouraged me to offer a story to Hospicare. Thank you.

  3. Hi Elaine,
    I just finished my training at Hospicare this evening. I’m a little nervous about actually starting to volunteer there. So I really appreciated this post where I could “see” an interaction with residents and a volunteer. Also, I’d love to hear more from you about what those next steps are for promoting your book. I’m so excited for you. And I’m hoping I can continue to follow in your footsteps, as I seem to be doing these days although that was not the plan. Hugs!

    • Hospicare is such a great organization, Robin. I work in bereavement and in the office most of the time and not with patients, but I visited the residence often to see my friend Martha. (The training helped me be with the bereaved and also with the dying and I’m grateful for that new ease with end of life issues.) I saw the writer a few more times, but she didn’t speak again.
      Next steps? Something new each day I’m doing a phone interview tomorrow about two conference presentations this coming season. I’m beginning the process of article submissions to journals, websites, and a wide variety of magazines. There will be thumbs up and thumbs down in the process–and I’ll be doing many things for the first time. I hope to do the work in a spirit of giving rather than fretting about the outcome. Glad to talk with you anytime.
      Warmly, Elaine

  4. Beautiful, beautiful story and lesson. It seems when I stretch, a lot of side benefits attach to me, no matter the outcome of the original stretch. This is one of my favorite posts of yours. xo

    • Thank you, Patti. I read the post after it went out yesterday and felt exposed and vulnerable. You’d think I’d be used to that by now, but this “message” felt so personal. I didn’t even ask her husband if I could use her name because she was such a private person. Thank you for sharing the beauty of your world and words, your adventures, and your support.
      With love,

  5. Dear Elaine
    That sounds like a message if ever I hear one. I love the things that you write and they have helped me tremendously (as far as anything can) and I’m looking forward to reading your book. I’m sorry for the illnesses of your dear friends. I too seem to be surrounded by the sadness of others as well as my own these days. But I know we all have to carry on, and my way is to continue with my historical research which I shared with my beloved Pete. It’s for him.

    • Jan, I appreciate your kind encouraging words. It’s interesting what we do for the ones we’ve lost and how it morphs into work that is all ours. The research you did with Pete becomes something you do for him and yourself. I wrote about women’s health for many years and Vic was my first editor just as I was his. We read and commented on many drafts of each other’s work. My book wouldn’t have happened without Vic’s death. Of course, I would not have chosen this way of finding my new path, but when the old one is demolished, we have to find a new path.

      I’m surrounded by illness and loss. It was always there, but I didn’t notice as much as I do now. It’s partly aging, partly my work with Hospice, and partly watching and listening to others in a new way.

      Thank you for taking time to read my posts and letting me know my writing helps you. I know what you mean by “as much as anything can.” I came home from a short trip last night. Joy of being home and waves of grief–still there after almost 6 years.

  6. Wow, Elaine, this was powerful. I, too, would like to do brave things “with equanimity and curiosity rather than stress and anxiety!” One of the things I worry about in sending my new play to theaters around the country is that I might actually have to travel if it is accepted. But I took the plunge anyway.

    • Go, Lynne. I’m so glad you’re taking the plunge with me. I’m applying for various conferences, hoping for a new ability to handle challenges without anxiety. It’s an act of faith, but I have to try.

  7. Elaine, it is people like you that inspire me to keep the cushion on my writing seat warm. The story almost made me gasp in recognition–so gripping. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Marian. I imagine the writer friend who died not long after that didn’t realize how I needed to hear that message to help me face my fears. Gives us faith in the Deeper Source when we receive these messages when we need them

  8. What seemed like the worst thing—my husband’s employer was downsizing, while mine had just been sold—was the best thing for me. He took early retirement, which allowed him to accept a position in England. I took a very generous severance package which allowed me to NOT accept a position in England. We moved to a tower in some friends’ medieval castle (!) and I reinvented myself as the writer I’d always wanted to be. By the time my mother was in hospice care, I could say my goodbyes along with showing her my recently published first book. A year later when it was my father’s turn, I had the second book to show him. I had time and energy to spend with them and along with the sorrow and loss, I had the wonderful feeling that there wasn’t anything left undone or unsaid.

    So those lost jobs? The gifts they gave me can never have a price.

    Thanks for this beautiful reminder about “no regrets”.

    • Of course, I regret my husband’s death, even though I helped him survive long past his expiration date. But without his death, there wouldn’t have been a book and I wouldn’t have launched myself into the world as I did.
      Such wonderful gifts to give your dying parents. And what gifts to give yourself. It’s grace to know you’ve said and done it all when someone dies.
      I read a little more about you at Amazon. (Does anyone read those author pages except authors? You’re obviously a Kindle user since your books are out on Kindle. And you create books with your daughter. Wow. I’ll visit your blog later. Thanks for visiting mine.

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