CORVALLIS - An Oregon State University professor has written a new book about the transformational power of death, based on her close relationships with a graduate student who died of leukemia and her mother, who died of a brain tumor.
"Perfectly Still: A Journey Through the Heart of Loss to Love" is a memoir recounting the 18 months that Patricia Moran spent caretaking, grieving, and finally emerging with a new perspective on living.
This perspective, which she describes as coming from a sense of stillness she experienced at the bedsides of her friend and mother, defies simple description.
"What I experienced was a quieting of my 'other' life - an ability to see beyond the world that I had constructed for myself," Moran said. "What I discovered beyond all of the activity of my mind was a stillness that is very peaceful and loving."
Published by Station Hill Press in New York, "Perfectly Still" will be available in bookstores and libraries in August.
An associate professor of human development and family science at Oregon State, Moran has a growing interest in end-of-life issues. Her interest was sparked by her friendship with Sarah Reynolds, a Ph.D. student in the department, who developed leukemia and died in 1995, leaving behind a husband and two small children. That same year, her mother, Frances Moran, died of a brain tumor.
Those experiences transformed her, she says.
"There is the opportunity in being with dying to experience our own vulnerability," Moran said. "To be truly present with someone who is dying means being truly present with our own mortality. Once one glimpses this, there is a realization of the many ways we defend ourselves against this truth. And then there is the realization of the countless ways we defend ourselves against smaller fears as well.
"Seeing beyond these defenses puts them in a much different perspective and helps us to be more compassionate," she added. "Our defensive walls begin to dissolve and we are better able to see beyond the walls that others have constructed. There is the possibility of relating to others from a more authentic place."
Mary Manin Morrissey, author of "Building Your Field of Dreams," said Moran has written a "beautifully luminous book, brimming with the love that energizes our universe and lies at the still center of all of us."
"Patricia Moran writes with profound spiritual insight and deep understanding of human emotions," said Morrissey. "'Perfectly Still' offers us an incomparable gift: joyful awareness of the real nature of life, death and love."
Moran said the deaths of her mother and Reynolds were not her first confrontations with mortality, yet their impact was profound.
"Many people were impacted by Sarah's and my mother's deaths," she said. "Sarah seemed to stare down death with an intense honesty that was quite remarkable. It was as if she invited me - and others - to climb on board the train, so to speak, and take the ride with her.
"My mother seemed to have transcended this world before she actually died. Everyone who entered her room noticed a different kind of energy. It was very peaceful."
Moran says books about the transformational power of death are not new. Nor is an experience with death required to achieve such an awakening. Her contribution, she feels, comes from simply telling her story with honesty.
"I have benefited a great deal from hearing and reading about the experiences of others," she said. "I hope this book benefits others in the same way."