Storytelling at Work
August 18, 2020
Words Written to Ease the Passing of My Friend's Dying Mother


A few days ago, I got an email from a friend of mine, in Denmark, telling me that her mother was dying and would I be willing to email a few of my stories to her that she might choose one to read, bedside, to her mother.

Whoa! This was not a request that had ever come my way before and I was not at all sure I had anything up to the task. Curious, I began looking through my stuff and, after a few minutes, found a few that seemed sort of possible and sent them on their way.

Tina chose this one and read it to her mother on her death bed -- her mom smiling upon hearing it, nodding, and squeezing Tina's hand.

Those three gestures -- the gestures of a 96-year old woman on her way to the Great Beyond -- a smile, a head nod, and a squeeze of the hand -- is probably the most meaningful feedback I have ever received, enough for me to live on for quite a while, indeed, but the next morning, when I woke up, there was yet another message from Tina -- this one explaining that her mother had, at most, only another 30 minutes left and... would... I... be willing to send another story?

Tina's mom's hands.jpeg

Stunned, humbled, knocked for a loop, I wiped the sleep from my eyes and tried to think of something I'd written, something, that might be good enough for Tina to read to her mom, now only 30 minutes from death's door.

Nothing came to mind. Nothing I'd ever written felt right for the moment. Nothing fit the request. And then... I got it! NOW was the moment to write it. No mussing. No fussing. No time to waste. And so I did. And here it is:

"I know it seems as if you are dying, mother, but there is no such thing as death. What we call death is really just the walking from one room of your house into another -- a room with much bigger windows, fresher air, and an even better view than anything you have seen so far. The only thing that ends is the body, but the soul flies free, forever. As always, you are in good hands, God's hands, the hands of life, what gave you life in the beginning and will guide you on your way. We come and we go, like pilgrims, just for a while. We see, we hear, we think, we feel, but there is even something greater for all of us to experience and that is the journey you are now on. No one stays here, forever. We are guests, wayfarers, and traveling companions. In terms of eternity, you are leaving only a few minutes before I do. Both of us, like everyone else on planet Earth, is on the same journey -- the journey of letting go and waking up to who we truly are -- the love supreme, the breath of life, the gift we have been given and will always have. You have lived a good life. Be grateful for that. Now it is time to fly free. Wherever you go, know this: you will be guided and protected, always held in the arms of love. Always. Trust that. Go to the light. Fly free!"

NOTE: Out of this experience, only a few days old, I've decided to write a book of stories, reflections, and poetry for people about to depart: The Book of Last Days. I feel called to do this and, God willing, I will.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:08 AM | Comments (0)

August 17, 2020
The Last Story of a Dying Woman

IMG_1049 2.jpeg

See this photo?

It was taken a few days ago in a hospital room in Copenhagen -- a photo of a story I wrote five years ago about an unforgettable moment I experienced, with my son Jesse, when he was just four years old.

Last week, a friend of mine, Tina Lindgreen, in Denmark, asked me to send her some stories of mine to read to her mom on her death bed. This is the one she chose. Her mom loved the story, squeezed Tina's hand as it was being read, then nodded and smiled. The next day was her last.

In 1998, when the experience I wrote about happened, I had no idea that 22 years later, it would help ease the transition of a 96-year old woman 3,790 miles away. Bottom line, we have very little idea about the impact our thoughts, words, and actions have on other people.

We are all connected.

Excerpted from this book
Not excerpted from this book
Or this book

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 11:21 PM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2020
Down to the Very Last Breath


Now that I am 74 and increasingly realizing, in my bones and my joints, that I am mortal, I would like to take the next few minutes, if I may, to share, just a little bit, about the preciousness of life -- something I've always sensed, but didn't know, for sure, until the moment I almost died at 21.

Looking back to that time, 53 years ago, beyond the massive trauma of it all, I understand, now, what a great gift I was given, tough love from the universe, shock therapy for the soul.

I will spare you the back story and just cut to the chase.

Caught in a rip tide, I was drowning. I was going down for the third time, gulping water as I climbed an invisible ladder to nowhere, gasping. My strength was gone, completely sapped. I had nothing in the tank. Nothing. At that moment -- only one thing was clear. I was just about to die. This was the end.

As that realization entered what was left of my mind, I looked to the shore and read the epitaph a stranger would write: "You will die here and people will remember you as the person who died here." That was it -- my entire life reduced to a single sentence -- me a cautionary tale on the back pages of the local newspaper.


As I looked to the shore, unhinged, I heard a word I had never heard before in a language I did not know, volcanic, pristine, pure, as if the earth, itself, had a voice.

"EXISTALZ! EXISTALZ!" it exclaimed, symphonic in its resonance -- my life, or what passed for my life up to this point, nothing more than a cartoon.

Only this moment was real. Only. This. Moment -- the one that would soon be my last, every cell in my body awake. What a joke! What a joke! And it was on me! Never before I had been so alive, so conscious, so completely awake, and it was all about to end.

And then? A moment I will never forget, one I will never be able to explain or honor from the sacred place from which it emerged -- a moment that brings tears to my eyes, here, now, as I write these words to you. Something took me over completely -- something far beyond who I knew myself to be -- something absolutely primal and all powerful. If infused me. It shook me, took me, gave me life, breathed me, pulled the strings that moved my arms and legs. I was not aware of it. I had no mind, no thoughts, no plan, no sense of where I was or where I was going. I had nothing, nothing at all. But something had me.

When I opened my eyes, I found myself in water only three feet deep. And so I stood, as if for the first time, and when I did, I stumbled to the shore and screamed the only word I knew. "HELP! HELP! HELP!" And why? Because the friend of mine who I'd been swimming with was still out there, alone... or so I thought.

"HELP! HELP! HELP!" I screamed again.

But there was no one on the beach, no one. I was all alone. It was just me... and the sky...and the sand... and the void.

And then... appearing from who knows where, I see a young woman slowly walking towards me. "HELP! HELP!" I scream in her direction and point to the ocean. But no one is there. No one. Just waves and foam and a lone seagull overhead.

In that moment... in that stark, brutal, incomprehensible, irreducible moment, I died a thousand deaths. Yes, I was alive, but my friend was gone. How could this be?

And then? We saw her head above water. That's when the young woman standing next to me and her boyfriend dove in and pulled her out, alive.

For the next two hours, we could not speak. All we could do was kiss the ground and sing children's songs: Happy Birthday to You... Jingle Bells... Row Row Row Your Boat and whatever else we could remember. That's it. That's all we did. Sing.

As the sun went down, we made our way back to the car and began slowly driving home. Three minutes later, we saw three hitchhikers by the side of the road and stopped to let them in. As they entered, they were complaining, letting us know they had just walked a mile, on this beautiful summer day, without a ride.

Speechless. We were speechless. We had nothing to say. Not a word.

Upon returning home, I made a vow I would never, ever, for the rest of my life, complain about anything -- that I would live the rest of my days in total gratitude, happy for simply breath alone. And that, my friend, is exactly what happened. For the next three days, I lived in a state of absolute grace and gratitude for everything in my life. The air. The breeze. The birds. The ground. The trees. My arms. My friends. The sky. My breath. And everything in between.

And then? On the fourth day of my God-intoxicated state, right after breakfast, I walked outside and noticed that the front right tire of my car was flat. I kicked it. I punched the air. I cursed. That's when I understood just how much work I still had to do to close the gap between my vows and the realization of just how sacred this life truly is. Every. Single. Breath.


Photo #1: Ian Espinosa, Unsplash
Photo #2: Li Yang, Unsplash
Storytelling for the Revolution

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:10 AM | Comments (1)

August 09, 2020


The following is a guest post from the very soulful and talented Burrill Crohn

The COVID crisis has only increased (vastly) the disproportion between the privileged haves and the far larger population who are somewhere on the scale between hungry and starving (often to death).

While the crisis has seen more hoarder mentality in many, there are others -- individuals and organizations -- who have been able send massive amounts of food to those with little or none. And so can we all, in whatever capacity.

But there is another approach as well, borrowed from the long-time Buddhist loving/kindness meditation practice -- one that breathes in the suffering of others, whether a specific individual or all sentient beings, and on the outbreath sends love and compassion to one and all.

When eating, I do my own variation.

As I eat -- whether snack or meal -- I invite others, anywhere, to come and share in the taste, nourishment and sheer joy of this food. Sometimes it's a blanket, open invitation. Sometimes I focus on a group: prisoners in isolation, someone I read about in the news, or a homeless family I see on the street. Other times I send this energy out into the non-material world seeking specific others or just any and all who can tap into what I'm sending.

One morning, for instance, eating a hearty breakfast, I specifically focused on all the front line COVID emergency responders who might have left home without a nourishing breakfast, or maybe were feeling a mid-morning let down of glucose metabolism and needed a pick-up.

Sometimes I see this like Keith Haring graffiti, lines of energy flowing from me to others; sometimes it's like inviting strangers, as is almost a requirement in many cultures and religions, into my own home (or in this case, body) to share a meal. There are other variations, as well, but you don't need examples from me. As you develop your practice -- if you so choose -- you'll find plenty of your own.

Certainly, facing the horror of pandemic hunger, there are those who will say only action counts. But we also live in a world where we send good wishes to others, offer prayers in houses of worship and the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of more than a half a billion people, says, "Think peace".

So I say, "Think food." It can't hurt, it might even help.

-- Burrill Crohn

Photo: Ashkan Forouzani, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:20 AM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2020
FOOD FOR BEYOND THOUGHT: The Nourishing Power of Storytelling


Years ago, in a faraway land, there lived an evil sorcerer who was in a bad mood most of the time. Plus, he smelled bad.

One day, in an especially cranky frame of mind, he decided to work his dark magic in a particularly nefarious way -- he cast a spell throughout the land that locked everybody's arms at the elbow.

The first few days of this massively uncomfortable condition wreaked havoc throughout the land, especially at meal time, because people could no longer feed themselves.

The only way anyone could get food in their mouths was to eat like a dog, an option that was not a popular one to this proud race of people. Indeed, mostly everyone chose to go hungry rather than eat this way.

That is, until the third day of this mass affliction when one particularly bright young girl came up with a brilliant solution.


"If it is no longer possible for us to feed ourselves," she exclaimed, "then let's feed each other!"

Bingo! Bango! Problem solved! And that's exactly what happened. "Locked Elbow Syndrome" no longer meant people went hungry or had to eat like animals. Now, all they had to do was feed each other. So simple!

Know this: the service you perform every time you share one of your heartfelt stories is very much the same as the service performed by the people from this faraway land. Every story you tell, from the heart, is food for others -- infused with the kind of nutrients that nourish, comfort, strengthen, and sustain life.

You don't have to be a professional storyteller to do this. You don't have to be a hero, wizard, or keynote speaker. All you have to be is a human being and be willing to extend yourself just a little bit.

If you want to share your stories with others, online
What Stories Will You Tell Today?
You Have Wisdom to Share
Storytelling for the Revolution
Photo: The Creative Exchange, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:53 AM | Comments (0)

August 07, 2020
You Tawkin' to Me?

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:33 AM | Comments (0)


Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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