It’s funny how life works – or I should say: it’s funny how death works. I had a conversation about organizational hospicing with a friend last week Thursday and then the next day I was presented with an opportunity to practice hospicing in my own life. My sense in both of these experiences is that there’s something important, potent – and generally overlooked – in that concept.
The conversation with my friend started when he shared that he had pushed a client just a little further or a little faster than they were comfortable, and they recoiled. It’s taken a long time for them to feel ready to move forward again, he explained. And this wasn’t the first client to have such a reaction. My response was that maybe we need to do more hospicing work – not only doing the exciting work of helping new visions and strategies come to life, but also helping other things die – things like projects, habits of thought, or patterns of relationship. He reminded me that we’ve talked about that idea before. “But do we actually have strategies and practices for doing it?” I asked. It seemed that we didn’t (or maybe we do but we hadn’t yet identified them as such). We both wanted to keep exploring what that might involve.
The next morning, my nineteen-year-old cat, Kevin, took a sudden turn for the worse after several months of steady and irreversible deterioration. Before my two children went to school, my husband told them that Kevin may not make it through the weekend, and they took the news bravely. The vet later confirmed that he would need to be put down and that it could be done immediately. That might be for the best, I thought. Why put the children – and all of us – through more emotional upheaval? But then I remembered my conversation the day before about hospicing. Emotional upheaval is appropriate and healthy under these circumstances, as is honoring the years and experiences we’ve had with our steadfast family friend. Skipping that process would have been skipping an important part of life. And so I asked the vet to make Kevin as comfortable as possible, and I brought him home for another 24 hours. It was a difficult and exhausting weekend, opening up larger emotions about death in general. But it was exactly the right thing to do, allowing us all to live more deeply together.
As we were immersed within it, the link to organizational hospicing was often on my mind. I put a call out to the global Art of Hosting community: Are there resources available for this part of the practice? Do any of you have stories, particularly of hosting emergence and hospicing within the same timeframe for a single organization?
What came back was a link to a beautiful article by Vanessa Reid about carefully stewarding an entire organization to its end. What stands out for me in the article is the intention to learn, individually and collectively, through the process, along with a level of presence and care that might be called “grace.”
Another resource, shared by Linda Joy Mitchell, was the Eco-Cycle, which describes the four stages a living system continuously cycles through, namely: (1) germination, (2) growth, (3) maturity, and (4) death and renewal. This leads naturally to a compelling question posed by Vanessa: What skills and structures are needed to hold the space for creative destruction and renewal?
Sogyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, writes: “Change is the living link with death.” Through all of the stories and resources I received, my instinct is that what’s needed most is recognition that “giving death” is a vital part of stewarding an organization’s ongoing evolution. What is needed is the care and courage to make space for that process. Not only will this create a more human organization, it stands to enable renewal and innovation, to enhance learning, and to deepen relationships and relational capacity – positive outcomes by any standard. The ultimate benefit, however, is that every organization may become a practice ground for grace.