Words Help, Except When They Don’t

Hospice ADLs:  My Adventures of Daily Learning.100

Books all around. (I like books!)

Books all around. (I like books!)

Books about dying, death, and grief surround me in my office. There are additional like-minded books in digital form on my tablet.

Do any of them truly help me understand the grief I’ve experienced in my life, or help those I try to support as they grieve a loved one’s death?

And what about the workshops, seminars, and webinars I’ve attended? Helpful? Not helpful?

The resources I’ve casually thumbed through or read and re-read, and the experts who have shared their wisdom in person or online, have added to my knowledge. And, given my love of books, and that I like to keep growing as a professional, I’ll probably buy the next well-reviewed memoir about grief or register for a webinar touting unique research about hospice care.

I love learning! Books are my friends! Workshops can provide new knowledge!

However . . .

Recently I spent time with someone who has dealt with a terrible tragedy. I won’t reveal what she experienced, and who died in her family, but this person is struggling with an event that is unbearably difficult. You would not want to be her. And if you’ve ever had a similar traumatizing event, then you might begin to fathom how deep emotional wounds can change . . . everything. Or maybe you wouldn’t understand, because tragedies can numb the ability to empathize with others for a long, long time.

This gentle, hurting person and I talked about books. Continue reading

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The Knife’s Edge of Love

Luke 2:22-40The First Sunday of Christmas – for December 28, 2014

“When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in a accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to the Jerusalem…” (Luke 2:22)

simeon-with-the-infant-jesus.jpg!Blog“Wait here for a moment,” Joseph said, “I forgot to, need to . . .”

He didn’t finish his sentence. Not to her. With a word or glance, she might stop him by shaming his anger or calming his fears.

Mary nodded, hugging Jesus closer to her chest.

Joseph rearranged the blanket around the infant’s face. His hands—with their map of scars, grit he could never wash out, and the stump where he lost his left little finger while a carpenter’s apprentice—gently stroked Jesus’ smooth cheeks. He also caressed his wife’s face. His wife and their newborn were so beautiful, each a gift that Joseph didn’t deserve. And yet here they were, together. Wasn’t he all that stood between the worst of the world and their dreams for the child? Well, maybe he and God would protect this miracle family, but the Almighty had secretive ways, and terrible silences.

Mary dutifully waited on the temple’s expansive courtyard. Around her, as with most days, construction continued on Herod’s pet projects. The temple, its glistening, sculpted stone reaching toward heaven, had been finished in less than two years a generation ago. But the open areas around the towering edifice were being expanded so merchants, beggars, and pilgrims had more room to bargain with or boast to each other. There were stairways everywhere. How could they all lead to different streets into the city? Jerusalem made Nazareth seem puny.

Joseph entered the temple, eyes again adjusting to the dim inner light, the flickering oil lamps and shards of bright sunlight. As before, the stench of sweat from weary humans, incense from mysterious rituals, and endless burnt offerings irritated his nostrils. To his left, a Levite chanted the Psalms. To his right, a barefoot, beardless man, taller and much younger than Joseph, stood alone. Two fat turtledoves dangled from his hand, the birds fluttering and fussing, unaware of their impending doom. Maybe the barefoot man-child was confused about what to do next, just like Joseph had been a short while before. At another time, Joseph might have assisted him.

But Joseph’s plans urged him forward, and his family waited where there was a constant crowd of pickpockets and whores. Continue reading

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Even Kim Kardashian Matters!

Hospice ADLs:  My Adventures of Daily Learning.99

Please read aloud the following list of six “famous*” people:

  • Waris Ahluwalia
  • Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
  • Varaztad Hovhannes Kazanjian
  • Houa Vue Moua
  • Larry Patten
  • Vasyl Virastyuk
  • Maite Perroni
Lights of Love

Lights of Love

Yes, there are seven names. You probably noticed that the guy alphabetically sandwiched between author Houa Vue Moua and actress Maite Perroni was the not-so-famous . . . me!

But wasn’t my name the easiest to pronounce?

Or was it?

The hospice where I work sponsors a annual celebration in early December dubbed the “Lights of Love.” People gather to witness the lighting of an immense artificial tree at a local shopping center. Partly we do this to raise funds, inviting folks to donate money for a symbolic light on the tree that will honor or memorialize a loved one. While much of the impetus for this celebration is tied to the Christian celebration of Christmas, our hospice (and hopefully every hospice) attempts to honor all faith traditions. We keep the “Lights” program simple, sometimes including songs from local choirs, and serving warm drinks and cookies to encourage mingling.

Most importantly, we read names. Continue reading

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Advent 4 – Gabriel Shuffles In

Luke 1:26-38The 4th Sunday of Advent – for December 21, 2014

“When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee.” (Luke 1:26)

She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. “The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, God is honoring you.”

“Mary,” in the sheltering darkness of the room, is alone but doesn’t feel lonely. She leans forward, alert.

Why does this moment feel different?

“Gabriel” slips unnoticed into the building, as hesitant as he is hopeful. With curious eyes, he scans the unfamiliar surroundings.

Is this the moment that will make a difference?

*       *       *

With apologies to It's A Wonderful Life, I think Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire is the best movie about angels...

With apologies to It’s A Wonderful Life, I think Wim Wenders’ Wings Of Desire* is the best movie about angels…

In several of the churches I served, I asked a young woman—maybe fourteen or fifteen years old—to read Luke’s familiar verses where Mary was informed about her impending pregnancy. I wanted a reminder that the first Christmas story hinged on the voiceless. In the so-called Bible times, all women were considered property; Mary’s identity would always be based on which him she married. She was merely some man’s future wife from a ho-hum village in a meaningless region that barely appeared as a dot on the sprawling map of the empire. Like a million other female nobodies, Mary lived in an era when the powerful trampled the weak, and the haughty rich acquired more treasure while the humiliated poor spiraled deeper into poverty. (Though it’s always been and still is this way.) Continue reading

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We Didn’t Expect Her To Die So Soon!

Hospice ADLs:  My Adventures of Daily Learning.98

Take advantage of the 100% chance of sharing time with your loved one . . . right now

Take advantage of the 100% chance of sharing time with your loved one . . . right now

You know your father is dying. After all, he’s in his eighth decade of life and his Alzheimer’s has caused him to become a “sundowner,” far too awake at night, sleeping during the day.

You know your wife is dying. Even if you avoid the subject, you were both in the oncologist’s office when the worst news was shared.

You know your ________ is dying. After all, she (or he) is being cared for by hospice.

Hospice is for those with six months or less to live. Six months seems brief, but it represents two season’s worth of togetherness, a summer and an autumn or a winter and a spring. It’s good to have six months so the family and friends living in another state have a chance to visit. Six months means you can settle into routines. Six months means you can plan for “last” events and share memories.

Six months rarely happens. Nearly 15% of patients die within 24 hours of entering hospice care. Over a third (34.5%) will die before the first week concludes. The average length of care from hospice (2013 data) is 18 days. However, in the arena of statistics and odds, there are 11.5% of the over one million patients annually served by hospice that live for six months (or even longer).

Most of us imagine we’ll “beat the odds.” Won’t our loved one be in that 11.5%?

We hope so. We pray so. We want more time.

Death surprises us. Continue reading

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