Resurrection or Chocolate Eggs?

For those of us who are Christian, this past weekend has (hopefully) been one of reflection, contemplation and rejoicing. Christ’s sacrifice for us was the single most important thing anyone has ever done for humanity, and it calls on us to continue in His wake, spreading this Gospel and being kind and loving to our neighbors. For those of you who are Christian, I hope you had a blessed Easter week and a peaceful Easter celebration Sunday. May Christ’s resurrection restore you in ways only God can provide.

For those of you not Christian, this past weekend may have been about chocolate eggs, jelly beans, family dinners, or maybe nothing out of the ordinary at all. Whatever you did to fill your time, I hope it was joyful, relaxing, and you were able to find some peace.

I hold no illusions that everyone celebrates these “religious” holidays as I do. Heck, I even said as much at one point during our worship service, as I contemplated how this country seems to cater to Christianity, but not to other religions. I have no idea how we got this way, but, here we are. But because I am a Christian, I want to offer my well wishes to everyone else, because in doing that, I feel more joyful, more peaceful, and more fulfilled.

Blessings to you all for great week, no matter what you are doing, who you are with, or where you are in your faith. I’m looking forward to jumping back into my work and sharing with you stories only a chaplain can tell.  Peace!

Really?

Walking into a new home every few days can be a daunting experience. Who will be there? What kind of place is it? Are they going to be “normal?” Do I have to take a shower and shake out my clothes once I walk out the door? Hundreds of questions run through my brain. Thankfully, I haven’t been in too many homes which require coveralls, booties and/or masks due to bug infestations, animal feces/urine or airborne illnesses. Those have been few and far between.

The things which catch me off guard more often than not tend to come to light during conversation. Take today’s for example. What started off as a somewhat normal chat quickly moved to the realm of not quite right when the wife of one of my patients was explaining to me her belief in how a certain race of people were created. She had received this knowledge from a grandparent many years ago, and wanted to share it with me, since it encompassed religious figures. To her, my being a chaplain meant I had to be interested, and because I had not been able to answer her question of, “Chaplain, do you know how _______ people were created?” she eagerly wanted to impart her knowledge to me.

What followed was the story of an Old Testament prophet, a drunken party, nudity, Jesus banishing someone to the desert and the eventual creation of said race. I was hoping my astonishment was not showing on my face, and I responded, “Thank you for sharing that with me.” As I looked around at each person sitting with me, it was clear they all believed the story and had heard it numerous times. I, on the other hand, was left wondering how something that was clearly taken out of context from scripture could be so misconstrued.

As conversation continued, it was clear there was a distinct difference in this family’s faith beliefs from my own. That is perfectly ok, mind you, I have no issue or concern with others beliefs. But sometimes I have serious concerns when said beliefs are coupled with other, more concrete or in the moment happenings. The totality of this visit included grave concern for a military happening which occurred today overseas, and the family’s interpretation of what that could mean for them. I felt the military action did not impact me directly, at least not in the immediate and literal sense, but this family spent time discussing it as is terrorists could be knocking on the door at any moment in retaliation. This realization hit me hard, and I understood once again how different people are.

I recognized that my faith beliefs are just different enough to where conversation with this family may turn toward an area that could cause discord. I decided then and there to limit the amount of information I would provide when questions are asked. For my health and safety, I need to keep my personal faith out of discussions. I am generally forthcoming when asked about my faith, because I feel honesty is better when forming a bond with patients. In this case though, I feel things would turn sideways quickly.

Every person should have the opportunity for support from others when they are faced with an illness and/or end of life issues. That is why I am there, and I am honored to be able to provide it. The practicality of it though is this: I have no idea what I am walking into when I enter a home, and I need to make sure I do the best I can for the patient I am seeing. Sometimes that means sharing more of myself when the time is right, and sometimes that means not sharing anything at all. Today was a time for the latter. I trust God will guide me through my patient visits, putting into my heart and mind exactly what I need to do to be a comfort to those I meet. Today’s comfort was about listening and affirming this family’s beliefs. Tomorrow’s may be about something all together different, and for that, I am thankful God will once again be with me.

Peace to you all!

Love and Marriage

Today was truly an eye opening day. So often, I feel like the lot of us – that is, people in general – just go about our lives, heads down in our cell phones or just down to avoid eye contact. We shy away from really seeing the world and making an effort to understand our neighbors, both in our communities and in the world. Until something directly impacts us, we are oblivious to others and their needs. Now, I know this seems like a blanket criticism, and in some ways I guess it is. But how much of an effort do we really make in getting to know those who are not in our families?

But let’s also realize that while we may not choose to get involved in the lives of others intimately, we are also closed off to others learning about ourselves. In a world of password protection and privacy fences, we are hardly inviting anyone into our lives. We offer to the world only what we choose to, in the form of Facebook postings, Snapchat, Instagram or Tweets, and the occasional conversation at church or the grocery store when we run into someone we know. Let’s face it, what we tell people or advertise on social media is rarely the messiness of life, it’s more like a movie trailer highlighting only the best parts.

So today I really got to understand how very little we truly understand about our friends and neighbors – Specifically in the area of marriage. In my area of work, I can easily fall into the trap of assuming a couple’s marriage is picture perfect, when in actuality, it is anything but. I succumbed to the “foot in mouth” disease with one couple where I make a comment such as, “You’ve been together for so long, you must really have had a wonderful life together.” In actuality, said couple couldn’t stand each other and the wife later told me out of earshot of her dying husband, “I can’t wait until he’s gone. My life has been hell for the past 40 years.” She went on to share that her husband never appreciated her for anything, including spending 10 years taking care of him when his health got bad. He never once said Thank You. So much for the assumption that 50 years of marriage were full of love and wedded bliss.

We can never know exactly what goes on inside a marriage, unless it is our own. We can think we know couples very well and there is nothing wrong in the relationship, when all of a sudden they are separated or getting a divorce. Gossip and speculation begins, but unless both parties are willing to share the details, we can only assume what happened. The messiness of marriage is usually well hidden. The gambling, shopping, or porn watching problem isn’t something advertised on the home mailbox for all to see. The affair with the nanny, secretary or coworker isn’t generally on display for the neighbors. Even worse, the physical abuse of spouse or children is usually so well hidden, something drastic like a death needs to occur before anyone realizes there was a problem.

Even if such drastic events have not occurred in a marriage, every day life is far from a bowl of cherries for the general population. Just think about your own. Do you really share with your coworkers or church friends that your spouse likes to yell a lot, or your mother-in-law despises your cooking? Do you reveal just how little monetary savings you have or that you are struggling to make ends meet and live paycheck to paycheck? Do you tell your friends that your daughter or son got caught cheating on a test in school, or that you found pot in a bag under your child’s mattress? Of course not! Those are the intimate details we cannot share, because they make us seem less than perfect. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to meet a perfect person.

We are all messy in our own way. We all have things we hide from each other because we don’t want people to think less of us. Marriage is tough. Marriage is work. The love part is often the easiest. The day to day grind of living and caring for someone can test us in ways we never imagined, yet we all want everyone to believe it is so easy. My mess is not worse than yours. You don’t want my mess, and I don’t want yours. The thing is though, if we both knew about each other’s messiness, wouldn’t it be easier for us to help each other? Wouldn’t that foster a sense of empathy and compassion, which in turn would allow us to share strategies for supporting and healing? I think it would.

Today I learned that this loving couple I met, who had been married for well over half a century, really did mutually love each other at some point, but somehow over the years the relationship soured. No longer were both on the same page. Now, one person berates and verbally abuses the other, and has for longer than we could ever comprehend. Now there is only one person who still has compassion and caring for the other and is saddened to know that the death of the other is near. Both still put on a good show for the outside, making it seem as if everything is ideal.

I look at my own marriage and wonder what it will be like in the years to come. We have had our ups and downs, for sure. But I’m in it for the long haul, whatever happens. I just need to remind myself that it is work. I want to use every resource I can to make sure that what I am working for is going to last. My faith helps me in that regard, because just like my marriage, my relationship with God takes my efforts as well. Whether in marriage or with God, the love is there for the taking, I just have to want to take it. God’s peace be to all of you.

What’s in a plan?

Some might say that planning and organizing is the way to go. Others, not so much. For instance, is it better to plan our your day, or see where it takes you on its own once you set foot out the door. I mean, even if you plan everything down to the minute, what are the chances you’ll actually keep to that schedule, without the randomness of the day putting roadblocks up along the way? The random detour because of roadwork, or the line at the grocery store because there’s only one register open and someone is physically writing a check (yes, that happened to me the other day). Or the power goes out at home just as you were settling in to watch Frank and Gracie on Netflix (highly recommend it, I might add).

Is it really worth planning anything if we are just going to have those plans subverted by the unknown? More than that, I suppose it’s how we choose to react to these interferences. We can throw our hands up in frustration or we can shrug our shoulders in resignation. Neither will change circumstances, that’s for sure.

I have to say though, that I have come to the realization that planning does matter…for certain things. In fact, I feel it is truly important for these things. Specifically, planning for the end of your life. I know, you figured I’d get around to that eventually because, gee, this is a blog being written by a hospice chaplain. Duh! So I do feel end of life planning is important. And not so much so that we individually get what we want at the end of our lives, but so that those who love us have at least some basic understanding of how to get through it all.

We all float through our lives assuming that once we die, that’s it, case closed. For many though, that’s not it. There’s the physical body which still needs attending to. Where does it go? Who is responsible for it? I’ve spent quite a bit of time on the phone tracking down family for deceased person in a hospital morgue. Believe me, that’s not fun. It really makes you think about who in your life actually cares about you. Once you’ve called 5 people and no one is willing to provide a funeral, it really makes you wonder.

I mean, I don’t think that at the age of 30 you should be contacting a funeral home and making final arrangements, but at some point, it’s a worthy thing to accomplish. My husband and I have had our burial plots for at least the last 15 years, and, God willing, I’ll still be around for at least the next 30 years. We also have life insurance for ourselves and our children – each since they were born. Life takes unexpected twists and turns, and we decided we wanted to at least be prepared financially should anything happen.

But many people don’t do these things. They leave it up to others because it’s easier than thinking and taking responsibility. Just talk to any widow or widower who lost their spouse unexpectedly and had never had a conversation about death or prepared in any way. The cost of a burial or cremation is huge, and to have to think about all of that at a time when you’re in shock is devastating.

I’ve said this hundreds of times to my patients and their families: Death is a part of life. We can’t hide from it and we are getting closer to it each and every minute. Why not take the time we have to prepare – even in the smallest of ways – for what is inevitably going to happen. It can be a gift for those you leave behind, and it can bring a small measure of comfort to yourself, knowing you eased the burden once you’re gone. I pray each of you spends just a few moments thinking about those you love who will still be here, and how you felt when those you’ve loved have gone. Peace be to all of you.

A work in progress

So it seems my blogging hit a wall this week, and I’ve barely had time to devote to it. My apologies, although only being a couple weeks into it, I’m sure I have not disappointed too many. Life just gets in the way of things sometimes, and before you know it, days have gone by.

But so much has happened, I could probably writer for hours. It would bore you to death, but I could do it. Several of my patients have died this week, including the wonderful man who mistook me for a 20-something. His death was peaceful, although all things considered, he did not want to die. He may have come to terms with his eventual death, but he did not want it, for sure. I was glad to have spent the time with him that I did, and I hope he found some comfort in the words I spoke to him.

I also received some good news from my church body’s synod office. Things are moving quickly toward official commissioning as a Deacon, and there is much planning involved in making this happen. More news coming soon I hope. By and large though, I’ve spent the majority of my time attending the school events for my children. My oldest’s high school musical is now complete, and I don’t think I’ve laughed that much in a long time. It was nice to get out of my head for a while and just enjoy seeing all of the kids work together and have fun performing. I remember being in that exact same place, having done the musical during my high school years. Memories like those are cherished.

Today though, was spent about 90 minutes from our home at another high school, where my youngest was performing in three different choir groups at the Solo and Ensemble contest. When it was all said and done, they had delivered excellent performances. I know it’s not easily when you’re 12-14 years old, your voice and looks changing, and you’re asked to get up in front of other people.

Well today, I got to see middle school at it’s finest. In the span of just 5 minutes, I saw a boy with a mohawk, another boy with teal hair, and a third with his hair in a ponytail on the top of his head. All great kids, I’m sure, but obviously each trying to figure out their own personal style and personality. I spent a good deal of time (as we waited for hours in between performance times) listening to the kids as they laughed, talked and prepared for their judging. My child’s friends were a mixture of personalities as well. A pack of cards was introduced from my child’s backpack, and it was as if the kids had never seen such a thing before. Once of the boys had never played cards, and didn’t even know how to hold them in his hands. He was a sweet kid, polite and quiet, but yet goofy and funny as well. Before long, he was winning at hands of rummy. He’s the kind of kid I want my child to be friends with for the long haul.

The girl at the table though, was a force to be reconed with. She was bossy, loud and overbearing. The chaplain in me could see she was compensating for something else in her life, but I didn’t really like to watch her behavior up close. I was amazed that the sweet boy I met today was more than willing to jump up and do her bidding at a moment’s notice. (And before you say it, No, it wasn’t because he likes her) All it seemed she had to do was sigh and say, “Oh darn, I forgot my bag in the gym,” and give this boy a look. It seemed liked he had done this multiple times before, so it was no big deal, and off he went to the gym. When he returned, she whined, “Oh, you didn’t bring my lemonade.” Never mind that she had another drink in the bag as well.

As the day progressed, her behavior became more rowdy, but the kids didn’t seem to mind. Even my child retrieved something for her on the way to the bathroom after she shouted, “Hey, my lemonade!” as my child walked away. While she was polite and said thank you, it never seemed to occur to her to actually get up and get her items herself. The truly sad thing is this: I knew I needed to bring her home with us because she lives only a few blocks from my home. Initially, I had grandiose ideas of taking both kids out for an early dinner to a pizza place. But once I witnessed her behavior, I decided she didn’t deserve this kind of treat. I spent a good portion of the afternoon wondering if I was being to harsh.

As we prepared to leave, she debated with me why we were leaving, even though both kids were finished with their performances (She evidently wanted to stay until the end to watch one of her friends perform). I disagreed, so we began walking toward the exit. Unfortunately, she needed to retrieve her ear buds, which a friend had borrowed. As we walked toward the performance rooms, she again sighed and said, “I really don’t want to have to walk up to the second floor.” Sure enough, the sweet boy I had met quickly came to her aide and said he would do it. She then walked back to the gym with my child, who had found her friend already and retrieved her ear buds. Evidently she was then ready to go, but I reminded her that it was rude to leave after their friend said he would go looking for the ear buds. She smirked and said, “Oh, yeah. Right.”

So I ask you – was I right in my decision to not stop for said dinner on the way home? Should I chalk it up to kids being kids and middle school being that “discover who you are” time of life? I still don’t know. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting on my own life, and don’t recall being quite that domineering or rude. It seemed to come so naturally to her! I seriously debated with myself the entire way home, and, after dropping her off and a snarky “thanks for the ride,” comment from her, was glad I had stuck to my decision. But some doubt still lingers. If there really is something going on behind all of that attitude, etc., shouldn’t I make more of an effort to nurture her and make her more comfortable so she can share what’s going on?

I don’t claim to be a perfect Christian, or a perfect human being. I have so much work to do to become a better, more loving person. Today was a tough day for me in that regard. I was judgmental and irritated. What’s worse, my child witnessed my irritation first hand, which required conversation about it after we dropped her off. So my prayers tonight will be for wisdom and understanding, as well as for the ability to offer grace to others. I am a work in progress.

Blissfully Unaware

How is it possible that the best part of my workday yesterday was with the patient whom, in many ways, is in the most unfortunate circumstances? But, I guess it’s all about perspective, and maybe her situation is not so unfortunate. After all, she is safe, cared for and seems to be happy.

See, I spent quite a bit of time with one of my patients in the memory care unit of a facility. She has Alzheimer’s Disease, and while otherwise healthy, cannot remember much of anything outside of a few things about her husband and son. She is relatively pleasant, generally has a smile for me, and is willing to engage in conversation…most of the time.

Yesterday was a wonderful adventure outside onto the patio, where the sun was shining and there was an abnormal spike in the temperature, causing it to be a lovely 78 degrees. There was a refreshing breeze as well, which made the totality of the opportunity too good to pass up. My patient no longer walks on her own, but she easily maneuvers in her wheelchair by “walking with her feet.” Sometimes, it was hard to keep up with her!

As I walked beside her, we talked about the sunshine, the breeze and the newly growing plants and flowers. All of these topics did not require any specific memories from her, so it was easy for her to respond to questions and to formulate opinions. Yes, that plant is beautiful. I love the fresh air. It is really bright out here. It is when I ventured into deeper topics that her conversational abilities shifted. She would begin sentences, but then not be able to finish. She would “cover” her lack of cognitive functioning with comments like, Oh, you know what that is.  Or, I never liked that because, you know… I didn’t press her to continue, but let the conversation flow where it did. She could not remember details of her life, such as if she ever rode a horse, or flown in a plane, or been on a boat. She could tell me the basic information required about how she was feeling, if she had to use the bathroom, or if her stomach hurt, but she could not offer anything deeper than the present here and now. More than that, she still did not recognize the pathway we were walking on, even though it was basically a circular one and we had made the trip around it no less than a half dozen times. When she asked, “Where does this path go?” I was struck that for the rest of us who have not lost any memory or cognitive functioning, we take so much for granted.

As I think about this visit, I am affected by all that it implies. There is so much we can lose in life, and so much we can also gain. What we each lose is different. For some, the loss is a limb, a breast, or the ability to walk. For others, the loss is a job, a home or even a child. Sadly, for many, loss is a combination of many things, including a limb, a job or a child. Which loss is the worst though? Obviously, any loss each of us suffers is the worst, because we are going through it. No one could possibly understand our personal loss, because that loss is not personal to them. One would think our empathy would increase for our fellow man in light of this knowledge, but somehow, our society has seen our empathy decrease, because we become selfish in the light of that loss. We refuse to see others and their understanding of what it is like to suffer a loss, and instead assume we ourselves need to be coddled and babied. No one could possibly understand, right?

Some say the loss happening with Alzheimer’s Disease is not the worst because, At least they are unaware of what is going on. On some level, that might be true.  But what happens when all cognitive abilities have ceased, and what is left is fear and uncertainty? Your limbs may be working, you can feed yourself, and you can still manage to go to the bathroom on your own, but you don’t recognize anyone, nothing is familiar and nothing makes sense? Would any of us want to be in that situation? Sometimes this notion of blissful unawareness is anything but blissful. And realistically, it is not a state of unawareness because we would be aware of one thing: fear. That’s not a state I want to be in for an extended period time.

Thankfully, my patient is not yet at that point. She still smiles, talks and can, for the most part, carry on a conversation. But I’m sure there are others in her residence who are not as lucky, and who are moving swiftly to the state of fear, losing all other abilities. My patient is my reminder that each of us lives in our own little bubble of the world, interacting with others minute by minute. I don’t want to continue to live in this bubble. I want to live in the larger world, seeing as much as I can and feeling as much as I can. And I want to recognize the differences between us as opportunities to come together and to get to know how we can be supportive of each other in our losses, whatever they may be. I don’t want to live my life blissfully unaware of those around me and their struggles. More often than not, seeing the struggles of another person brings perspective on how to get through the struggles in my own life. The bonus is, now I can be a comfort to someone who is coping with a loss of their own. So the best part of my day yesterday was realizing there is still hope for things to be better, one realization at a time.

Frustration and Outrage

You know what really grinds my gears? Wanting to go off about something, but knowing there’s no point because those on the receiving end of such outbursts will just not get it. Such was the case yesterday when, as I was driving from one patient to the next, I find myself behind a black SUV with temporary tags. This wasn’t a brand new vehicle, mind you, just one that seemed recently purchased as a used car. Nevertheless, I am behind said vehicle at a stop light, when all of a sudden, the passenger side window of the SUV rolls down and out flies a carryout bag and drink cup. Before I could stop myself, I’m screaming, “What the hell?!?”

The light changes and we continue on our way, me fuming, and the occupants of the SUV completely unaware of my rage. Now, I have to admit, there were more choice words shouted out in my car, as well as contemplation of widely known hand gestures, but I tempered myself before that literally got out of hand. As I zoomed around them in order to physically put them out of sight and hopefully out of mind, the trash-thrower-in-question just stared at me. We came to stop again, side-by-side at the next stop light, and thankfully, they then turned down another street.

I realized that, for the most part, my world is fairly simple. I choose to see my world as a positive one, where everyone is essentially good, until it is proven otherwise. I want to recognize the beauty God has created, despite the negativity constantly displayed both in person and on tv/movies/online. I guess that’s why I am so outraged when I see blatant stupidity rear it’s ugly head right in front of me. It causes me to ask myself: Am I in denial about the reality around me? Is the world actually a crappy place to be and I just choose to not see it? Do I have a right to be angry and outraged when I see something like this, or should I just resign myself to the fact that this is the world we live in and I need to get used to it?

So I’m interested in your thoughts. How do you choose to see the world – in a positive light with the occasional negative segment thrown in, or, that it’s all going down the drain and you’re just keeping your head down to get through it? When we ask ourselves these questions, I think it causes us to go deeper in search of our meaning on earth. What are we here to do? For those of us with a faith practice, what has God/our higher power placed us here to accomplish and/or be? I refuse to believe I am not supposed to see the good in others and to continue to try to make this world a better place using the gifts God has placed within me.

BUT…at present I do not have a frame of reference for what I am supposed to do when that goodness is challenged and the negativity appears. Biblical scripture tells us, “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet,” (Matthew 10:14). These are words I do practice, but again, I question how I am supposed to feel in the wake leaving these situations. Is it right to be outraged? Should I shake my fist at the defiance of common decency and respect for what is right and good? More importantly, who am I to assume that I alone know what is right and good?

There is so much that is wrong with our world…from hunger, to disease, to terrorism, to abuse…the list goes on. I’ve often felt that, no matter how long we are on this earth, those things will continue and we will never eradicate them. Yet, I feel we must constantly try. I choose to fight for a better world, one that I can be proud of and one I know God had created for us. Sometimes my fight is in the form of doing for others and living up to my defining belief that “Whatever you did for the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did for me,” (Matthew 25:40). And, sometimes it is in the form of outrage and venting on social media. Neither are perfect in their results, I know. But hell, if it all was perfect, I wouldn’t have anything to writer about, would I?