San Francisco Zen Center presents an evening with Lucy Kalanithi, Grace Dammann, Lennon Flowers, and our moderator, Jennifer Block. We will explore how the human experience of sickness, old age, and death creates an appreciation for the preciousness of life.
The evening’s conversation will invite each speaker’s multiple perspectives on death, sickness, and ageing. Lucy Kalanithi draws upon her experience as a widow and mother, caregiver, and physician. Grace Dammann speaks as a physician and also one who has been both a care receiver and a trainer of caregivers. Lennon Flowers met death from the perspective of a daughter and now creates community through the millennial generation’s experiences of death. Our moderator, Jennifer Block, calls upon her broad experience as one who works with those facing the spiritual and emotional issues related to ageing, sickness, dying and grief.
At San Francisco Zen Center, we view death as a normal process, a natural part of life. As Zen Buddhists we consider death as a teaching. It reveals and enriches our understanding of impermanence, compassion and interconnection.
“What [my late husband] Paul saw and what I now carry deep in my bones, too: the inextricability of life and death, and the ability to cope, to find meaning despite this, because of this. Although these last few years have been wrenching and difficult – sometimes almost impossible – they have also been the most beautiful and profound of my life, requiring the daily act of holding life and death, joy and pain in balance and exploring new depths of gratitude and love.”
—Lucy Kalanithi, widow of the late Dr. Paul Kalanithi, author of When Breath Becomes Air.
“There’s no way to get through life without old age, sickness, and death. And you can be happy in the middle of all of those. It comes and goes. It doesn’t last forever. Nothing lasts. And the wonder of life is just amazing. The wonder of the human body is incredible. Just living with and through the events of one’s life is really what it is all about. And recognizing it's perfect, just the way it is.”
—Grace Dammann, who runs the Pain Clinic at Laguna Honda Hospital from her wheelchair.
“These experiences can be deeply isolating. My coping mechanism was very much about staying really busy. We realized that the very same experiences that had been sources of isolation had suddenly become sources of really powerful connection and community.”
—Lennon Flowers, whose mother died of lung cancer when Flowers was a senior in college.
“The most important thing is to have a relationship to hold the grief process. And that’s what the Zen teachings do so beautifully, create a container to hold the changes and the loss of hope. That’s all we’re working on all the time, to say, it’s like this, without a lot of strife and discord. That’s the way to stay with the experience and not turn away.”
—Jennifer Block, an interfaith minister and Buddhist chaplain who has practiced Zen, Insight Meditation, and yoga since 1988.