The Last Day of Gainful Employment


It is over.

The “Amen” has arrived.

August 27, 2020 was my last day of gainful employment at Hinds Hospice. In August of 2010, I started as a volunteer. I mostly visiting hospice patients in their homes whenever the Volunteer Coordinator gave me an assignment. In the summer of 2011, the person in charge of Hinds’ Center for Grief and Healing was wondering about having a volunteer handle some of the Medicare-required bereavement calls. Kathy Cromwell interviewed me and decided to take a risk on this grumpy old fella.

It was a risk because it required extensive training, trust I would do the work, and (drum roll, here) giving a volunteer complete access to the confidential medical records of all past and present patients served by Hinds Hospice.

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On Suicide: Thanksgiving with a Phone

And yet, all day long, I thought about suicide. Has there been a suicide in my family? Yes. Has there been one in yours?

At 6:02am on Thursday morning, I clicked onto the Hinds Hospice employee intranet to access the payroll information. After selecting the correct menu choices, I was officially on-call for Thanksgiving 2019.

A few months back, I had agreed to the turkey-day shift for our LOSS team program. My wife and I don’t have kids. Our parents have died. Our siblings live in various places across the country. I have colleagues with children and nearby family. It just seemed right and fair to be the on-call for one of the major holidays.

LOSS is the acronym for Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors. This program officially began last July (2019), mostly funded by Fresno County and under the “umbrella” of Hinds Hospice’s Center for Grief and Healing. At its simplest, LOSS will respond to any suicide as quickly as possible after being contacted by the police or coroner’s office. Two people—a clinician and a volunteer—will go to the scene to provide support and information to the family and friends impacted by a loved one’s suicide.

Arguably the most crucial action the LOSS team does is get contact information for the “survivors.” In the moments, hours, and days after a family member or friend has died by suicide, an entire universe has been shattered. Emotions are on a runaway roller coaster. Doing routine tasks become like climbing El Capitan without ropes. Tender memories clash with the new grim reality of non-stop, unanswerable questions.

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On (Not) Saluting the Flag

I don’t think I have placed my hand over my heart to “honor” the flag of the United States since high school. (Which means during the Vietnam War. More on that later.) When the national anthem is played and those present turn to face the flag, I will stand, angled toward the flag. I will remove my hat if I’m wearing one. I will remain quiet and attentive.

But my hand doesn’t cover my heart.

I am not anti-American.

I am not un-American.

I view myself as a respectful, responsible citizen.

Rising Sun
What Franklin mused about…

When visiting Philadelphia and Independence Hall many years ago, I paused to gaze at the chair used by George Washington during the Constitutional Convention. Benjamin Franklin noted the distinctive carved sun on chair and declared his belief, with this new nation, that the sun was rising and not setting. I wept. How powerful our history!

After the 26th Amendment was ratified, I knew it would soon be my turn . . . to vote! In 1972, during college in my twentieth year of life, I arrived at the polling place in the early morning for the first election where I could cast a ballot. Since then, I have always voted in local, state, and national elections.

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