One of the questions I always ask guests is, “What does it mean to live a good life?” For the first time, however, a guest has left me thinking about changing that question to, “What does it mean to die a good death?” This guest is Eve Joseph, an award-winning poet, incredible storyteller, and the author of a book about death and dying (which also happens to be her memoir) entitled In the Slender Margin: The Intimate Strangeness of Death and Dying. The book flows out of Eve’s lessons and insights from working with and serving people at the end of their lives as a hospice care provider and represents the two central themes of the conversation: death and writing.
Eve’s life has been marked by distinct seasons. She fell in love with writing in fifth grade, but for about thirty years stopped writing. In that intervening period, Eve got married, had children and became a social worker within the hospice care system of her native Canada. Profound family events shaped her cessation from writing and later resumption of the practice, and the writing of her later years is shaped by the cumulative impact of her decades of remarkable experience. She has experienced indigenous culture, faced illness and tragedy, and spent herself in service to others.
Eve is an insightful and creative person committed to drawing as much as she can out of both life and death. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with her. In this conversation, Eve and I talk about our society’s relation to and (limited) understanding of death, what it means to have a good death, lessons in metaphor, the creative process and the role of solitude in it, what Eve learned from having a stroke, and what is common in different cultures’ understandings of death.
“Poetry knows more than I do.” – Eve Joseph
This week on The School for Good Living Podcast:
- Why Eve doesn’t have an answer to the question of what life is about
- What sets her memoir apart from her previous books
- When Eve started writing, why she stopped, and what she did while not writing
- The intersection between the drive to be creative and the drive to be helpful
- The family events that have shaped Eve and her writing
- How all factors of life come to bear in writing and in being with a dying person
- Can you be a poet and not write? What does it mean to be a poet?
- Eve’s sense of self and authenticity is related to poetry
- How society denies and is frightened by death
- What the significance is of death kits and not dying at home
- Why a too-firm concept of a good death is problematic, and how Eve wants to die
- What Eve has seen different cultures share in their approaches to death
- Why Eve named her book as she did
- What Eve has to say about outsourcing, community, rituals, and even gardening
- Living poetically and why young writers should follow what they love
- Eve’s thoughts on metaphor and how her stroke shaped her
- A wild ride, living generously, avoiding slogans, the value of books, and care for others
- Give money away and it comes back
- Why Eve values solitude as a writer, but doesn’t call herself a writer
- Eve’s perspective on technology and audience as a writer
- Why Eve suggests writers start with a passion, send their work out, and try different forms
- In the Slender Margin: The Intimate Strangeness of Death and Dying, by Eve Joseph
- Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl
- The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion
- Five stages of grief (from On Death and Dying, by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross)
- “Gravy,” by Raymond Carver
Connect with Eve Joseph:
- To connect with Eve Joseph and learn more about her and her work visit her website
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