Coming Face to Face with My Life

people doing group hand cheer

When I read about the subject, Panim el Panim, I thought immediately about my very dear friend Elise and how I’ve been witnessing her coming Face to Face with her life with great dignity, courage, and grace, and how that has been helping me come Face to Face with mine.

Elise is 84 years old, has been in oxygen 24/7 for years, and is now in hospice. She lives in Washington, DC and   is a hands-on healer and an artist who does beautiful silk embroidered wall hangings and collages. Her apartment feels like a sanctuary as it is sparse and the objects, art, and furniture she does have are noteworthy and special, conjuring a spiritual space. 

Her grandparents’ names are at Yad Vashem in the Garden of the Righteous, as they rescued a Jewish couple who lived with them for two years.  Elise’s dignified demeanor and generousity reflect that inheritance. 

She has a beloved daughter in New York with advanced cancer who is a single mother of an 8 year old son and has some support from some caring extended family. More recently Elise has been trying to go to New York to be with her daughter and bring her hospice care there, but her daughter got Covid, so she’s waiting in DC until there’s no risk of complications.

Elise is loved by many as her phone is constantly ringing with friends wanting to talk to her and she typically has one or two visitors a day. 

Elise is steeped in Zen Buddishm and some of her recurrent statements include:

“It is what it is”.

“Stay in the present moment”.

“I’ve had a beautiful life”

More recently, particularly in reaction to her daughter’s great pain, she has used these words:

“very difficult,” “terrible,” “excruciating.”

She has also said that it takes all her strength to stay centered.  

Given her aesthetic sensibility and honesty I have also shown her my art work, as sometimes when in the midst of creating some new work I’m not very objective. Occasionally, she has told me that she feels that what I did doesn’t work. Except for a couple of  times I have agreed with her and invariably, it’s been very helpful. 

Over the years, I have felt truly seen by Elise; she has alluded to that she has felt the same about me.  Face to Face.  

It’s been a most special privilege to share our lives.  Among the many gifts, it has allowed me to witness and learn how to come to be Face to Face with my own life.

–Margot Neuhaus