There are many stereotypes about Hospice that we see dispelled every day by patients in our service. Sometimes the sound of laughter and song float through our residence as patients connect with family, staff, and volunteers. And there are often signs of creativity, such as the handmade paper flowers Martha decorated the hallway of the residence with. Russell Bourne, or Rusty as he is known, is one of those patients on our services who seems to defy our expectations of what final stage of life looks like. While on Hospice, Rusty published a book of his poems.
Earlier this Spring, Rusty shared poems at Lifelong from his recently published book Between Sky and Water; Poems of Maine, the Finger Lakes, and Changing Weather. His poems elicit a rich felt experience of our relationships with the ever-changing landscape and how it can touch our hearts.
The event beautifully illustrated the community collaboration between Kendal, Lifelong, and Hospicare, and drew a lively audience as Rusty said “cried when they were supposed to cry and laughed when they were supposed to laugh”. Rusty’s poems were well received and he elicited many chuckles from the audience when he opened his Q&A by asking “Are there any other questions? Like where is Maine?”.
Russell Bourne began his career as a writer on LIFE Magazine in 1950. Career interrupted by the Korean War, he operated as a Special Agent in the US Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps in Berlin until 1953. He then returned to Time, Inc, and served as Henry Luce’s assistant. Thereafter, he ran several book publishing departments, from Time-Life Books and American Heritage to the National Geographic and the Smithsonian. In the 1980s, he began creating books on his own and published about a dozen works, mostly on American History and Transportation, while also writing poetry. His poems have been published in reviews and journals across the country. He is a Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society. For many years his habit has been to spend summers in Maine and winters in the Finger Lakes.
Many of Rusty’s poems document “the excitement that I find in nature”. This connection to changing weather and the patterns of life and death in nature, prepare the reader for taking on more challenging topics of the heart like love and loss. In addition to facing his own mortality, he has also had two wives that received hospice. These many touches with death, and navigating his own grief are themes throughout the book.
From his poem, At Finger Tips…
Stretch out to seek her soft hand across midnight bed’s
(though she is no longer there) and find answering fingers
cool and squeezing back on yours and know
love may come at black
At the end of the discussion Rusty advocates for everyone writing their personal memory “For our lived experiences are what make us, and no one will write them down if you don’t”. Russell’s book was published by Cayuga Lake Books and is available locally at Buffalo Street books or online.
Thank you to Rusty and his family for their support in writing this article.