Childhood Memories

My sister and I were recently contacted on Facebook by a childhood friend that we have not been in contact with for over 40 years.   Just the initial contact alone brought back many memories of our childhood, playing with Barbie dolls, playing dress up with plastic wigs, imitating the band The Monkeys and fighting over who would be Davie Jones.  I was instantly transported back to an elementary school age girl, sitting on the floor of our friend’s bedroom playing with our Barbie dolls, or picking fruit off of the trees in their backyard for an afternoon treat.

This long lost friend asked if we could set up a dinner date where we could reconnect and we met last week for the first time in 40+ years.  Four women; two sets of sisters, who had the common thread of a childhood where we were free to roam the streets in search of playmates as long as we were home by dinner time.  We reminisced about an era-gone-by where children could be children and communities and families lived life together.  If I was out in the community and did something that went against the values of our family, my mother knew about it before I got home.  We reminisced about our childhood, and laughed so hard that I thought we were going to be thrown out of the restaurant at one particular point.

As with all communities, there are tragedies and we also remembered with sadness, a certain family where a fatal car accident took the life of the mother and the family just seemed to die emotionally, spiritually and physically from that point on.

Hopefully, childhood memories consist of stories of playing and learning through play.  I understand that not all of us have those cherished memories and some are impacted like our friend mentioned above.  Unfortunately tragedy  happens, and as children we need the strength of the community and loved ones to help us navigate through such events.

Our childhood should be about learning how to interact with others and become a part of a community outside of your immediate family.  It should be about learning how to connect with others whose family life might be completely different from your own family life.  It should be about learning about other cultures and family values that help us transition from childhood into adulthood.

What did we learn from playing with our Barbie dolls, or playing dress up, or fighting over who would be Davie Jones?  We learned that every individual has an important part of each formed community and every individual has something to offer.  Not everyone can be Barbie or Ken, but everyone has something to bring to the table. We learned to compromise with others and how to share with others.  We learned to be respectful of others.  We learned that communities are important in molding us and shaping us into young adults.  I am thankful for my childhood and I am thankful for a childhood friend who took the initiative to contact us and reconnect.

 

 

 

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Living And Dying With Dignity

 

Recently I have had the opportunity to witness the deaths of two patients, one who died alone and the other surrounded by family, yet each died with dignity.

One death was a batchelor who had lived life on his terms, having never married or never having children.  He had a nephew who looked in on him daily and ran his errands for him.  One morning, as part of his daily routine, the nephew stopped by to visit his uncle and found he had slipped away sometime during the night.  This patient had died as he had lived, alone.   Knowing him as his hospice chaplain, his death occurred just the way that he would have wanted it.

This gentleman was pleasant and we enjoyed our visits together.  He was always ready to laugh and share some of lifes stories. He was a Catholic and took his faith practices seriously and looked forward to the Comminion Stewards that visited weekly and the connection that was made through their visits. He was an intellectual gentleman and thought much about life and the meaning of life.

We never talked about why he was a batchelor and why he had chosen this life, or perhaps this life had chosen him.  He hinted around at times about an anxiety that came about as a result of the short time he had served in WWII, but he would never allow the conversation to go any further.

I share all of this with you to paint  a picture of a gentleman who had chosen to live life alone and would invite others to occasionally peer through a window with him to gather a glimpse of his life and his outlook on life.  He was warm and friendly, he thought much about life and what life brought to not only him, but to each one of us.  He was spiritual and embraced his faith and his religion with dignity and grace.  He loved helping others and often gave what he had to those who had impacted his life.  He had developed personal and warm relationships over the years but time and life had eroded that away for him.  Yet, he died as he had lived, alone.

One contrast to this is the portrait of a lady who has lived her entire life where she was surrounded by those she loved; she loved her family and her family loved her.  She often spoke of her college days where her father would come and pick her up so she could spend Christmas with her family.  Her room was filled with 4th generation pictures and photo albums of the family she loved and cherished.   As her time on earth was winding down, you would enter her room hearing the sound of music playing and witness her her family surrounding her with love and telling stories of a mom who will be missed.  This lady was also a very spiritual person with a strong faith who raised two sons that are pastors and a daughter who married a pastor.  She played the piano her entire life and would often been seen in the facility where she lived, playing the Baby Grand piano in the lobby of the facility, and talking about her love for music.

Throughout my short experience as a hospice chaplain I have had the privilege of witnessing  both tragic deaths of pain and suffering and peaceful deaths of dignity, where individuals are surrounded by those they love or where they choose to die alone with no one around them.

Sherwin Nuland stated “The greatest dignity to be found in death is the dignity of the life that preceded it.”  I believe with all my heart that this is true.  The way we live our life is the way that we will die.  And for most of us, living with dignity is an important aspect of life.  Even the gentleman that died alone, died as he had lived life.  He lived a life of dignity as he enjoyed the stillness and quiet of his life.  Some of us might think that dying alone is sad, but in hospice we often see those who choose to die when the house is quiet or when a loved one has slipped out for a meal.

My mom was one of those persons, she was a very private person.  I can hear her now telling me to “Hush Ganelle” if I was talking too much about family affairs.  I believe with all my heart that she chose to die in the stillness of the predawn hours while her baby sister Violet was away for the night, and Bill and I were still sleeping.  Dying alone for her was dying with dignity.  While she did not live her life alone, she did enjoy her quiet times and enjoyed her privacy.

Dying with dignity is really the only true source of hope that we have, as stated in Rainer Marie Rilke’s famous lines of verse, “Oh Lord, give each of us his own death / The dying, that issues forth out of the life / In which he had love, meaning and despair.”

In hospice, we often see individuals lingering for a visit from a loved one or holding on with incredible dignity and strength until a special event such as an anniversary or the birth of a grandchild occurs.  The life that we live and love is what brings meaning to the lives we have lived, and dignity at the time of our death.

 

 

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Families and Sacred Space

I had the privilege and honor of meeting with a family whose mother is in the process of transitioning from life as we know it to life everlasting.  Having only met the patient after the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s I cannot testify to who she was as a wife, a mother, or a friend.  I can testify, however, to her sweet nature and beautiful smile she was always ready to offer.  For me, her smile would light up the entire room.  She had another side of her, however, that others spoke about but I never saw, for whatever reason.  There was this other person that the Alzheimer’s had created; a side where she would be angry, often to the point of being violent.  I never saw anything but her sweet smile.

Today her adult children gathered at her bedside and they reminisced about her as a mother, and a wife.  They also acknowledged this other side that I was not privileged to witness.  They acknowledged and shared some stories about her alter ego.  This family was walking in a very sacred space as the embraced all that their mother has been.  They celebrated the good and acknowledged the human aspect of their mom without shame, without embarrassment.

They understood that as humans, we often walk with one foot in the sacred space of life and one foot in the human side of life. A pastor friend of mine has an expression that I have used often; we all have our but’s, everyone of us.  I love her, but……. He is a great man, but…..

Hopefully as Christians, we are in the process of letting go of our “but’s” and being transformed more and more into the image of Christ.  A process of being set apart for God’s work, becoming a vessel which brings honor and glory to God’s name. This process for me is a life long journey.  I am not perfect by any means and I can only hope that when my time comes, my family will be able to celebrate the sacred part of me and the human aspect also.

This family understood their mom was both spiritual and human and they were able to embrace all of her, accepting both aspects of who she has been.

I am often asked by families how I can do what I do as a hospice chaplain.  My response is merely that I am honored to be invited into and share this sacred space with the patients and families.

 

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The Gift of Presence

Recently I had the privilege of knowing a precious woman who was 101 years old.  This woman who had come from a musical family, was legally deaf and was also loosing her eye sight.  By the time I met her, her family had stated that they were once able to write notes to her, but because of her loss of eyesight, they had also lost that ability to communicate with her.

Communication with this lady had become a real challenge.  She still walked about with her walker because she could see shadows but she could no longer see to read, nor could she no longer hear to enjoy the voices of her loved ones or the music she once enjoyed.

On my initial visit, I tried to write to her and she just tossed the paper aside and got up with her walker and went to her room.  On another visit, she patted me on the leg, before she got up to leave, as if to say, “poor thing, she keeps trying.”

One day I went to visit and she was in her bed taking a nap before her noon meal.  When I touched her to let her know I was present, she started getting out of bed, almost as a reaction to a routine she was living.  Sleep, up to eat and back to bed for a nap.  I tried to communicate with her that it was not time to get up so I pulled a chair beside her bed and reached out for her hand.

This human contact, this mode of being present with another human being, appeared to be what she needed.  She grabbed my hand and clutched it tight and rolled over and went back to sleep.

There we were 101 and 58 year old women with the ability to communicate by being present and offering human contact.

This story reminds me that often what others need is someone to be present.  There was no fixing her loss of hearing and sight, there was no turning back the clock to a time of family and their love of music, but there was still present a desire to know she was not alone.  A human in need of human contact.  A human in need of knowing she was alive and present.  A human in need of an Incarnational Presence.

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Patron Saint of Love

In 300 years, if you were to be named the patron saint of X, what would you like X to be? Places, activities, objects — all are fair game.

I have enrolled in writing 101 class for the month of June, so my journals will look a little different, so bare with me.

Sainthood, I cannot fathom the concept of me being named a saint, but the question did bring to memory of a lady who I would consider a modern day saint.

Her name was Lillian Wilson, aka Willie. This woman exemplified sainthood like no other person I have know. She looked a lot like the cartoon character Maxine, even down to a bump on her nose and even Maxine’s actions remind me of Willie.

Willie could and would tell you what she was thinking, but she always did it in love. After she got through being tough with you she would say, “you know I still love you, now come here and give me a hug.”

This beautiful saint was a missionary in her own neighborhood, she embraced the children who lived on her street and always kept molasses cookies in her freezer for anyone who visited.

At the age of 90, she was too busy to go and have lunch with you on Sundays after church because she needed to go to the nursing home and “visit the youngsters.”

While she was still able she collected clothes for the United Methodist Children’s home and make a trip across the river about once a month to deliver the clothes.

She was the essence of a Christ follower and truly loved all of God’s children. She gave unselfishly and served those who were within her sphere of influence. She was a modern day saint.
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I Am Tired Of Doing and Just Want To Be

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Today I started a personal journal and when I wrote these ten words “I am tired of doing and just want to be,” they brought tears to my eyes and I knew I need to figure this out. See, I am a doer, a “Martha’, and I desire to be a being, a “Mary”. I desire to figure out how to sit at the feet of Jesus and become more like Him, instead of always being busy doing the “stuff of life.” My problem is that I truly don’t know how. I am a wife, a hospice chaplain an ordained minister in the Free Methodist Church, a home owner, etc., and all of these things demand attention. In all reality, I realize I have the option of stopping all of these things, but I don’t think that is what God requires of me right now. I would love not to work and to spend time at the feet of those who have this “being” thing figured out. I would love to take three months off and go to the beach in order to walk, to journal, to sit at the feet of Jesus, but I don’t know how to do that when there are bills to pay.

The truly amazing thing is that I love what God has called me to do at this season of my life. I frequently say that I cannot believe that God has brought me to this wonderful ministry where I am invited in to such sacred spaces with others. Yesterday was such an incredible day in the life of a hospice chaplain. I sat with a spouse who shared how tired they are in the caregiving process. I sat in the kitchen with a husband a wife and we sang hymns and had church together. I also sat with an individual who had tears streaming down their face as they wondered out loud why they are still here, confined to a bed, only being able to look outdoors and see the pond and the ducks; the time was so precious and so real and I truly value the trust that was given to me in our time and space together.

Therefore, I need to figure this being thing out where I learn to listen to myself as well as I listen to others, where I learn to invest in myself as well as I invest in the lives of others. I need to figure this out so I can continue to be a vessel that brings honor and glory to God’s name.

Will you pray for me as I learn to stop and smell the roses?
Shalom

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Death As A Spiritual Event

One of my favorite quotes as a hospice chaplain states; “Death is a spiritual event with medical implications.” Gwendolyn London.

I had the privilege and opportunity today to attend the death of a patient who died with his loving family surrounding him. This patient died as we surrounded him and prayed for him.

Spirituality is defined as the human desire to find meaning in life and the universal search for that meaning. This search is grounded in the awareness that we are part of some reality that is greater than ourselves.

The timing of this patient’s death that occurred during prayer, while being surrounded by family, speaks to the heart of his spirituality that was grounded in his love and faith in God and his love for his family.

What a privilege and honor to be a part of such a sacred time in the life of this patient and family.

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