The experience is the basis for
Slattery's latest book, "The Cocktail Cart," a slender fiction strongly rooted in fact. The
self-published, $12.95 paperback is available at local book stores and through Slattery's Web
It's the retired engineer's third tome with an explicitly spiritual
theme, and this one, like its predecessors, has garnered praise.
"The Cocktail Cart' is a gem of a novel about the capacity of people
to heal, and the ability we have to assist one another in that healing," says Lakewood clinical
psychologist Judith G. Dowling. "I love this book ... It's about believing."
The story finds protagonist Edward Gallagher sentenced to 100 hours
of community service for neglecting a few fistfuls of parking tickets. His assignment? The Hospice
of St. Michael, where Edward's weekly turn serving drinks introduces him to an eccentric cast of
patients who are facing death with varying degrees of courage and dignity.
His most profound relationship, however, is with Sarah, an audible -
but not visible - spiritual guide who begins mentoring Edward soon after he starts his hospice
hitch. It's Sarah who teaches Edward how to help the dying let go of life; along the way, he
learns, as well, how to let go of a son whose untimely death has haunted him for
Gracefully rendered and often humorous, the book is largely
autobiographical. The main character's name reflects Slattery's longtime pseudonym, Edward Bear
(after Winnie the Pooh, a favorite spiritual teacher). "There's a lot of Edward in me," Slattery
says. "Probably, I put into Edward all the compassion and courage that I'd like to have but I'm not
sure I do have."
Although older than his protagonist, 67-year-old Slattery also has
struggled with unresolved grief for a child; his son, Tommy died at 37 in 1998. "The Cocktail
Cart," he says, "was a way to acknowledge him and say goodbye to him, and wherever he is, I think
he knows that."
But the most striking similarity to real life is the cart itself. For
years, it has traveled the hallways of the Hospice of St. John right around Happy Hour, pausing at
each room to offer patients and guests a libation, soft drink or candy.
"It's a great way to bring ... a sense of ordinariness, a sense of
the commonplace, into a place people often think of as the house of the dying," Slattery says.
"People look forward to it; they're delighted by it."
"It describes something that's pretty unique in hospice care,"
concedes Peter Wellish, executive director of the hospice. "Marty becomes something of a bartender,
going from room to room ... and the stories (in the book) kind of reflect that.
"You know how bartenders are: They listen to people, hear their
stories. And this is what he's doing - he's tending bar in a very unique setting."
An Orthodox priest, Wellish has no argument with the book's eclectic
spirituality, which envisions ascending levels of enlightenment attained through successive
lifetimes; between incarnations, souls choose the lessons they next want to learn.
"I don't personally put much stock in ideas like reincarnation, but
that's my own hope," Wellish says with a laugh. "The idea of coming back and doing this all over
again, I don't know if I want to do that.
"But whatever gives faith to people is what's good. I don't believe
there is just this one path to God; I believe you will reach God however you view
Wellish has observed, however, that some kind of faith - some form of
belief in a hereafter - seems to ease passage out of the mortal coil.
"In what I have seen in the last several years of working with dying
people, I am absolutely convinced that there is more," he says. "Not because I've seen anything
firsthand; I've not had a single apparition or vision ... But I have come to believe that there are
things that simply cannot be explained, and that there is more to life than can be explained. "My
basic religious or philosophical view is pretty much encapsulated in the book," says Slattery. "I
think everybody's going to go on to some other kind of life."
He concedes, however, that he has never experienced the kind of clear
spiritual direction Edward Gallagher gets.
"I don't communicate with any angels per se," Slattery says, "but
there are hunches and presences, intuitions that you get. ...
"Basically, we all do have a voice like that (Sarah). ... I think we
all have spiritual guidance, for lack of a better word."
That's why he spends 30 minutes each morning in meditation, hoping to
hear that still small voice through the noise and hubbub of the human mind.
"It's my gesture to the universe that I believe there is a power
greater than myself," he says, "and if I can quiet my mind, that power will in some sense guide me
through the day."
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