Claire Willis Claire
As a child, grief was the wall paper in my home. Unspoken traumatic deaths and losses swirled through the lives of both my parents. As a child I felt the unspoken sorrow in my home. I made a vow at that time to live differently. After college I went to social work school to become a clinical social worker. Initially my work was focused on working with those at the margins - the voiceless ones - and when my mother's health failed, I switched the focus of my work. I started working with people living with cancer when my mother was dying in the late 80’s. Before she died but with death clearly on the horizon, I had conversations with her that I had yearned to have my whole life. I saw how rich and healing these weeks could be in people's lives. I wanted to have conversations with people that were meaningful – that were open, honest and heartfelt. I found a place where my intensity was welcomed. About 12 years ago, I developed pulmonary emboli and had a near death experience. At that point, my life took an unexpected U turn. The first book I read after my hospitalization was called Living Fully, Dying Well. As it happened it was written by someone who had also had a near death experience with pulmonary emboli. He had experienced, as I had, that coming to terms with death enhanced his life. I felt even more deeply called at this point to working with people who were dying and grieving. Having come to that edge of life and death shaped my work going forward. Shortly after, I was drawn to a Buddhist practice when i met my teacher at a workshop. Buddhism emphasizes the impermanence of life and the inevitability of suffering. But I also came to realize that coming to terms with what is instead of what or how I wished things to be was essential to lessening the suffering in my life. I have had a daily practice ever since.