Normal Doesn’t Feel Normal

Hospice ADLs:  My Adventures of Daily Learning.80

hello-my-name-is-normalAre you normal?

And, if you don’t think you’re normal, do you know anyone who is?

I (mostly) hope I’m not normal. Normal hangs around with average and average is a word I associate with getting a C+ on a test. I might be glad to dodge a dreary D, but everyone ahead of me earned all those better than normal Bs and As. Normal is vanilla ice cream, making it to work on time, or a bowl of instant oatmeal for breakfast. Normal is what you think you want after the adrenaline rushes and wild adventures, but the moment the normalcy you longed for is achieved, you’ll probably start planning for more excitement. Who really wants normal?

In grief, I do.

During bereavement, one of the most important things I (try to) convey to persons is that their way of grieving is normal. Indeed, to be slightly fancy, I seek to normalize their feelings. Continue reading

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On, By, Near, or Upon

Matthew 14:22-33 – The 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for August 10, 2014

“. . . and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” (Matthew 14:30)

Jesus walked on water*.

Yes or no? Fact or fiction?

  1. It’s in the Bible, so it must be true that Jesus performed miracles and ignored the laws of nature. Therefore, Jesus strode across the lake.
  2. The believers who wrote the Gospels wanted to demonstrate Jesus’s superiority over Roman power. Therefore, his water-walk was a metaphoric response to imperial arrogance.
  3. People in the ancient world of Jesus experienced the world differently than we moderns. For example, a storm destroying crops could be God’s anger at a person/village. Thus, it can’t be affirmed or denied that Jesus performed miracles since he lived in a superstitious, pre-scientific era.
Walking on "water."

Walking on “water.”

Which would you choose? Or what fourth explanation might you add to explain your faithful response to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s liquid stroll?

Walking on water’s not so hard during the right season. Give me a frozen stream or a snowy meadow and I’ll risk crossing to the other side. But Matthew’s story of Jesus’s miracle didn’t occur in a Wisconsin winter.

I recall a seminary professor who offhandedly pondered the preposition in the sentence, Jesus walked on water. A preposition like “on” is a (says Merriam-Webster) “function word that typically combines with a noun phrase” to express a “modification.” Ah, a modifier! That which changes! In the original Greek, the word on in the Matthew 14:25 sentence was epi. (Epi begins the word epidermis, or on the skin.) And yet, if you check a Greek-English dictionary—a tome I’ve resisted opening when I stopped regularly preaching—you’ll find multiple meanings for the simple three-letter Greek preposition. Epi appears in sentences not only as “on,” but as “upon” or “near” or “by.” Therefore my seminary professor mused, what if the sentence “Jesus walked on water” was translated instead, Jesus walked near water? Or by water?

Do you buy that? Continue reading

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Tagged With A Lie

Hospice ADLs:  My Adventures of Daily Learning.79

At hospice, I wear a nametag with five bits of information. One is a lie.

IMG_3629My name is Larry Patten.

My employer’s name is Hinds Hospice; one of their core values is “honoring the journey.”

2012 correctly indicates the year Hinds Hospice began writing paychecks to me (a.k.a. the aforementioned Larry Patten).

My job title is the lie: Bereavement Support Specialist.

It’s a quiet lie, an innocent deceit. It’s a label that benignly fulfills the needs of the human resources department. After all, everyone getting those paychecks should have a formal title.

But I know I am not a specialist when it comes to bereavement.

I don’t have the educational background. For example my boss has earned various degrees in her career as a counselor. One of them is CT. She is “Certified” in “Thanatology.” Whoa! The Greek word for death is thanos. Regardless of the meanings in Greek or English, she has completed courses and been supervised by experts to understand issues related to death. Continue reading

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The Divine Lunge

Genesis 32:22-31 – The 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for August 3, 2014

“Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.” (Genesis 32:24)

Jacob traveled to seek favor—forgiveness—from his brother Esau.

Jacob sent his family on ahead and remained by the River Jabbok.

River. Sunset. Night approaching...

River. Sunset. Night approaching…

It was night, with the heat of the day finally easing. The Jabbok flowed, a liquid ribbon of life among the arid hills and barren ridges. Stars glittered overhead, nocturnal jewels. A breeze soothed Jacob’s skin, carrying the smoky remnants of old campfires and lingering fragrance of his departed family.

Jacob was alone, and yet not alone.

In a darkness only partly caused by night, Jacob waited. He was alone with the countless promises that he’d broken and made and broken again, the old lies he’d crafted and sold as the truth, the shameful acts that moaned from the hidden corners of his soul.

Jacob was alone, and yet not alone.

Why did he wait?

Why had he sent his wives and children across the Jabbok?

Had Jacob intuited something, in the murmuring of the river or in the whisper of wind, which had prompted him to stay?

And then, so said Genesis, a man wrestled Jacob. It would be a brutal struggle, lasting the night, without rules, with neither adversary relenting, with Jacob sustaining injury and still fighting on.

Like Jacob we live much of our lives in darkness. But if we’re busy-busy from dawn to dusk, or if we have that rare stretch of dreamless sleep, we pretend to temporarily escape or ignore the darkness. Though often enough, the darkness of our fears find us. Continue reading

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Put Me To Sleep, Doctor

Hospice ADLs:  My Adventures of Daily Learning.78

The freshly cut flowers Mom's sister and niece brought to the hospital room.

The freshly cut flowers Mom’s sister and niece brought to the hospital room.

I inwardly shuddered when Mom bluntly spoke to the doctor, but tried to appear calm on the surface. Regardless of any success or failure in hiding my feelings, no one in the hospital room was paying attention to me. We were focused on the surgeon’s visit with Mom.

“They put pets out of their misery,” Mom said. “Why can’t you do that with me?”

If the doctor replied, I don’t remember his comments. In his forties, he resembled other doctors who’d visited Mom after her operations because of his white lab coat, but also different because he sat beside her as if to physically declare he’d stay as long as necessary. Other doctors—there were many—had stood, smiled unconvincingly, and soon fled her room.

In July of 2013, Mom was diagnosed with cancer. Because the cancer had grown so rapidly in her eighty-eight year old body, the doctors couldn’t pinpoint it origins. They called it stage 4, if only because that’s the highest number oncologists apply to cancers. But the cancer was no longer the worst of Mom’s concerns. Surgery had been attempted to provide relief from the relentless spread of tumors. Though I won’t share details, her first surgery failed. She had another surgery the next day. I suppose the second effort “succeeded,” except its aftermath left her with weeks, if not months, of recovery. She was stitched together by rows of metal staples, which appeared like the tips of landmines on the battlefield of her abdomen. Mom referred to the staples as, “My barbed wire.” They were still there when she died a few weeks later.

“Put me to sleep, Doctor.” Continue reading

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