Home, Please

Hospice ADLs:  My Adventures of Daily Learning.93

Home, please . . .

Home, please . . .

Where do you want to die?

This is not a popular question. In a conversation that matters with people who matter in your life, it’s tough to ask, maybe tougher to answer.

There are an assortment of questions that are easily answered or cleverly avoided: do you have a crush on that girl/boy, what’s your major, did you serve in the military, what’s your favorite team, are you two getting married, what do you do for a living, what will you name your child, what’s for dinner, and should we buy a house or keep renting? Questions are age-related or relationship-based or inspired by situations. We all ask them, since they help us get to know another person. When we ask them, we may also be wondering about our own responses. At the least, these queries—and so many others—help keep an encounter lively and ongoing and . . .

However, the “Where do you want to die?” question is likely a conversation killer. Who wants to make the time for that question? It’s morbid. It’s personal. It’s upsetting.

Is it easier to answer the question’s flip side? Where don’t you want to die? Continue reading

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Holy Repetition

Psalm 78:1-7 – The 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, November 9, 2014

“I’ll declare riddles from days gone, ones that we’ve heard and learned about, ones that our ancestors told us . . .” (Psalms 78:2)

106098The writer of Psalm 78 wrote, “I’ll declare riddles from days gone, ones that we’ve heard and learned about, ones that our ancestors told us . . .”

And indeed the Bible does repeat (and repeat) those ancestral riddles, stories, parables, and more. How many times are the same stories shared, added to, referenced, and sometimes simply repeated throughout scripture? How often were the Israelites reminded they were the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? How often was the exodus referenced? David lived and died, and was never forgotten, in story after story.

Of course, it wasn’t just one person who wrote the Old Testament; instead the hands, hearts, hopes, and hubris from many went in the telling of the tales. The writing and revising of the books in the Biblical “library” took centuries. Even the New Testament, with Paul’s earliest letters likely written in the mid 50s CE and the final parts of the official Christian “canon” occurring well before the end of 200 CE, spanned several lifetimes. Everyone who had anything to do with putting words in the Bible wanted—needed—to include their version of events.

So, stories were repeated.

I’ve read that people need to hear about something at least six times before remembering that “something.” We require repetition for retention. I’m sure there are those who need to be told about a new event but once . . . well, good for them! However, a story repeated sixty times might be inadequate for the rest of us befuddled masses. We are overwhelmed by the endless torrent of new news (or recycled, rehashed, ridiculous junk) in this “information age.”

We often say we hear. But do we? Continue reading

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Alert and Oriented (Again and Again)

Hospice ADLs:  My Adventures of Daily Learning.92

Who-are-you800x420_thumbIs the patient alert and oriented?

That was the first official “hospice type” question I learned when I was a hospice chaplain.

Are they alert and oriented times 1, times 2, times 3, or times 4?

Ah, it gets more complicated! Here, as I understand it, are the key questions for determining if a patient is alert and oriented:

  1. Who are you?
  2. Where are you?
  3. What time is it?
  4. What just happened?

These are very basic, and very essential questions, to help discern the current mental status of a patient. Ideally, we all “know” these four answers. I am Larry. I am in Fresno, California. It is about 5:30 in the morning (or it’s an early Thursday morning if you’d prefer me to be general). And, finally, not all that much is happening in my (see #1) home (see #2) at this pre-dawn hour (see #3), other than I just heard our kitty Liam (#4) thunder down the hallway, likely headed toward the back of the house to bother my wife. Continue reading

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Easy Like A Sunday Morning

I Thessalonians 2:9-13 – The 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, November 2, 2014

“We preached God’s good news to you, while we worked night and day so we wouldn’t be a burden to you . . .” (I Thessalonians 2:9)

church5Seminary professors taught me that I Thessalonians represented the New Testament’s earliest writing. Paul’s letters to Thessalonica occurred years before the four Gospels were even started. Revelation wasn’t a glimmer in John’s feverish dreams when Paul conveyed his thoughts to the city by the Thermaïkos Gulf. Though Romans is the first of Paul’s New Testament letters, I recall learning (thanks again, long-ago seminary professors) that the murky decisions creating the Christian canon positioned Paul’s writings on length: from longest to shortest. The Greek community read Paul’s sparse notes as much as a decade before the Romans received their wordy epistle.

But I could be wrong. What do I know?

In the years since seminary, I’ve preached and taught and baptized babies and octogenarians and complained about district superintendents and took leaves of absences and married hundreds of men and women and buried hundreds more and attended 2,437 meetings and stumbled into a campus ministry position and started a new church and held hands in countless hospitals and had 5,692 people tell me they appreciated my swell offer to serve on a committee but no-thanks-not-this-year and became a hospice chaplain and sat by rented beds in living rooms as tearful sons bathed dying fathers and weary wives dribbled morphine into their husband’s open, parched lips and led youth through confirmation classes and hiked with kids as young as 7 and adults as old as 70 and all of them—wise and foolish, giddy and afraid—experienced mountains for the first time.

So, while being preoccupied with the minutia of my modest ministry, maybe a passel of professors have discerned that the Book of Hebrews or John’s Gospel was actually written prior to I Thessalonians. Perhaps Romans was first in the batting order of Paul’s letters because it’s been discovered—since I survived seminary—that a drunk monk in 400 CE rearranged a dusty scroll and moved Romans from last to first. Continue reading

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Ornery Is In Our DNA

Hospice ADLs:  My Adventures of Daily Learning.91

In Joan Halifax’s Being With Dying, she wrote* . . .

World religions scholar Huston Smith once told the story of a well-known psychologist, an ornery old man close to death. One morning, as he was struggling to get to the toilet, a nurse tried to help him. He snapped back at her, “I can do it myself!” Then he dropped to the floor dead.

Smith used this story to illustrate just how defensive about needing help we are often are. He called this reaction ‘the porcupine effect.’

Stubborn starts early. Do humans have an ornery gene in the DNA?

Stubborn starts early. Do humans have an ornery gene in the DNA?

I agree with Smith’s “porcupine effect,” or . . . don’t touch me! Over the years of working with those close to death (and those caring for them) I have frequently heard a variation of the phrase: how you live is how you die. That may not be as true when death happens because of a car accident or an earthquake, but still . . .

During life, some are ornery like Smith’s “well-known psychologist,” and that’s exactly what they are like as they approach death. All humans are many things. Gentle. Crude. Fearful. Talkative. Stoic. Finger-pointers. Self-deprecating. Calm. Anxious. Generous. Miserly. The list of the ways we describe ourselves, or others describe us, is lengthy. But we’re never one thing. We are a stew of emotions, a tossed salad of reactions, a buffet overflowing with contradictions.

But I think most are stubborn. (Or call it ornery.) We are gentle, kind, and stubborn. We are fearful, secretive, and stubborn. We are self-deprecating, touchy-feely, and, yes, stubborn.

  • Don’t help me.
  • I don’t want your assistance.
  • I can do it on my own.
  • Leave me alone.
  • Add your own human warning label: _____________________

Continue reading

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