I also understood that this man was not going to leave any stones unturned. It would require great courage for me to see it through. Like a lion scratching at his cage, eager to be set free, Ed's questions were like the keys to the lock that had kept me behind bars. Listen to my question, and answer the question I am asking. That is what the mourners and what a person who is dying wants and needs the most. Sit with them at home or in the hospital lounge and just be who you have always been. They want and need some normalcy, some comfort of the familiar; When people call me worried about what to say or how to be around the dying or their loved ones, they are surprised when I tell them, You already know how to be, so there is nothing to prepare for. Of course, when the authentic you happens to be a rabbi, the conversations and questions are in some ways different from most. We don't know how to handle them and that makes us want to not feel them at all. Think about how often you've experienced a bad situation in your life. You schedule a few doctor appointments, show up to the clinic, only to be notified they were cancelled. You get a flat tire when you're already late for work. There's an unexpected death in the family and you can't take time off of work. As you can see, these situations will always happen, and you will always have a reaction. You may as well get good at dealing with emotions. Is there any history of alcoholism in your family? Both sets of my grandparents were alcoholics, and both of my mother's brothers are alcoholics too, but my parents aren't alcoholics, I said. I don't remember asking you if your parents were alcoholics, Ed pushed, to make sure I understood I was still not answering the question he had asked. Yes, there is alcoholism in my family, I said as I smiled widely.

Ed's direct approach was teaching me to let go of my need to worry about what other people thought. Nor was he there to allow me to fall into the trap of judging myself. He simply wanted me to get clear about the facts, and assist me in seeing things for what they were, without a neurotic compulsion to sugarcoat them. If Ed was going to help me, he was going to need to find a way to get me to figure out who I was, minus the facades. Sometimes people who are dying share their dreams with me. They become more about people who have already died and less about the living. The dying often tell me that sounds and colors become more vibrant--the red redder, the green greener, the music sweeter and more beautiful. My mother died when I was only eight, Franny tells me. I am in the passenger seat of a car and someone I cannot see is driving me, but I somehow know that it is my mother. She is taking me on a journey, but I don't know where. The goal is to not be afraid of the emotions and to allow them to happen. Your boss tells you that aren't doing a good job and you'll likely be fired soon if you don't get your act together. I didn't know where I might end up, but I knew I liked feeling that I was on the right road. The question and answer session between Ed and me quickly became a sort of game. I had great respect for his keen ability to help me see so swiftly the inappropriateness of my thoughts. In less than forty-five minutes, Ed was able to turn my mind around at least one hundred and eighty degrees, in a direction that felt as if it were actually calling me forth. I've got some good news and some bad news for you, Lisa, Ed said as he knotted his fingers behind his head and leaned back in his chair. The bad news is you are, however, severely co-dependent. The idea of your mother whom you missed so much in life waiting for you in death is really beautiful. And then she asks, Is it normal to dream like that?

Whenever someone dying asks me if their feelings are normal, I always say yes. Our job as a friend is to go with them on their journey, not to ask them to take whatever detour we think we would take if we were them or to talk them into or out of something we deeply feel or deeply believe. This seems so obvious, but I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people try to redirect the thoughts of the dying to something that makes the living more comfortable. Showing up for someone requires the courage to go with that person wherever he or she wants to go, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Remember, anger is a blanket emotion, which means there is usually something underneath. You realize you feel disappointed in yourself and wish you could have your life together by now. The first part is focused on the emotional response. The second part involves how you see the situation, separate from your emotions. Your parents are adult children of alcoholics, which is why they were attracted to one another in the first place. More often than not, adult children are unaware of how deeply affected they are by their parents' alcoholism. In short, you were raised by adult children of alcoholics, and you need to learn as much as you can about how alcoholism has indirectly affected you. Your life is the result of the way you think, and your thinking is the result of your childhood programming and conditioning, and your programming is the result of whatever your parents' programming was. So, in order for you to truly figure this mess out, you'll need to go back to where you began. It was still early in my journey, but at least I felt like I had found a path I could follow out of the depraved forest of thoughts I was currently living in. Ed told me he wanted me to pick up a few articles to help get me going on my journey toward self-discovery. When someone is actively dying, within a few days of his or her last breath, I always ask a simple three-word question at their bedside: Are you afraid? I have asked that simple question for well over three decades, and the answer has always been no. Franny's only fear is that the people she loves will need her and are going to suffer the pain of her loss forever. Speaking of a fear is an important way to manage it. Then I remind Franny that nearly every child, including Franny herself, survives a parent's death somehow.

Even when the reverse occurs, the most unnatural of deaths--that of a parent outliving a child--life reasserts itself. I have helped parents bury children in a coffin the size of a shoebox, and five or ten years later I bump into those same parents at the movies and see them laughing and eating popcorn. Think of your emotion and brain as separate for a minute. Put emotions in a drawer and open up your logical brain. I really want to be a writer and this customer service job is really exhausting for me. I love this job but maybe I need to take a few days off. Let me have a talk with my boss and let her know what's going on. You take a few days off, regroup, and realize you were a bit burnt out. You come back to your job feeling a little more whole. He suggested the articles Co-dependent No More and The Art of Letting Go, both by Melodie Beattie. That afternoon, I didn't walk to the articlestore. The first few articles of Co-dependent No More spooked me. It was as if I were reading a article that had been written just for my sake -- its honesty, truth, vigor, and clarity were almost too much for my mind to handle. Instinctively I understood that if I kept reading this article, I would finally understand who I was. I felt as one might feel when asked if they were interested in meeting a parent they had never known. I wondered if I'd like who I found, and struggled with ideas of the unknown. If I kept reading this article, and others about co-dependency, things in my life would change. They would have to, because the things that I discovered would change me. Not because they have forgotten their sorrow, not because they do not ache sometimes, and not because they are exceptional, but because they are human, like all of us, with a capacity to move forward in life despite the worst pain of death and grief. Your children will be sad, I tell Franny, but they will not die because you die.

They will live and laugh and love with everything you have given them in their hearts forever. They will discover you in unexpected moments and places for the rest of their lives. My dad died two years ago now, Franny, and I promise you, he is not gone. I discover him in new and beautiful ways all the time. I can hear his voice telling me what to do, making me laugh; Think about how this is different than handling the situation another way: Your boss gives you feedback that you aren't doing a good job. You distract yourself with something else to get your mind off of it You spend time with friends afterwards, not thinking about the situation You go to work the next day and feel uncomfortable because your boss doesn't like you You might feel uncomfortable and have strong feelings about the situation but you have to put them aside to work. I absorbed Melodie Beattie's two articles like a dry sponge would water. Until I read her articles, I had no inkling of how thirsty I really was. I was lost inside a world that had been defined by two well-intentioned adult children of alcoholics, whose own lives had been directly affected by alcohol addiction. What I thought and believed about my world was built on their dysfunctional belief systems. My parents could never have known how faulty their belief systems were. My brother, sister, and I had been affected by alcoholism -- indirectly, but affected nonetheless. As if my mind were being cranked open like an aluminum can, these articles shed light on areas of my life that might have stayed dark forever had I never learned about them. The information I gathered, along with my weekly sessions with Ed, helped me maintain my focus in the days ahead. Whenever it is possible, I ask people these questions because I want them to have the final word about their own funeral.