A Child’s View of Dying

“Now I can have my television back,” the six-year old said.

Death has its rewards.

When I was a hospice chaplain, that’s what the youngest grandson of a patient declared soon after the death. From the mouth of babes, eh? “Unless you become like a child, you won’t enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus said. And it’s not just Christianity, for Buddha reportedly expressed, “The heart of a child is like that of Buddha.”

But a television?

All of us present chuckled when the youngster spoke of his entertainment plans. We laughed sadly—and joyfully—because of what had occurred a few minutes before . . . and what had been happening for quite a while. The grandfather had lived with the family for longer than his grandson’s lifespan: eight years. That meant adjustments for everyone. Sometimes the household had to be very quiet—hard for any kid. Trips to Disneyland were postponed. Friends couldn’t come over at certain times. Holidays were low-key.

In the final months of the grandfather’s life, with most of his time spent in a bed, he got to have the television in his room.

None of the sacrifices were easy for the six-year old or his nearly nine-year old brother. Read More →

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Entering a Home in the Wee Small Hours

Had it been that long since they were able to take a walk?

The phone rang at one in the morning.

I sleep deeply and wake fast. Moments after the call, I was dressed. In less than fifteen minutes, I arrived at their home and stood beside their bed.

The husband wept. I’d never seen him cry before.

She lay beneath the sheets. In repose, eyes closed, and you could (almost) pretend she was blissfully slumbering through the night. But she was dead.

Later I’d recall Charles Dickens’ familiar opening in his Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” Aren’t those extremes how you react to the after-midnight calls? Why else would the phone ring in the wee small hours, except to convey the best news about a child’s birth or a beloved’s safe arrival from a far-flung war zone?

Or to share the worst news.

The odds of a jangling phone conveying the “worst” message was high. Back then, I was the on-call chaplain for a hospice. Most nights remained calm, but all could be disrupted.

And death always seems a disruption. Read More →

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Did You Hear the One about the Guy in the Bar?

Photo ©2009/Jerry Redfern

Hey, have you heard this one?

A weary guy enters a bar and sits on a stool at the counter. After a glance around the joint, he realizes he’s the only customer. No big deal. It’s been a long day and he’s thirsty.

The barkeep arrives to take his order.

The guy says, “Beer, please.” Soon, he’s enjoying a tall, cool brew.

The barkeep shoves a bowl of peanuts near the customer and then mutters about doing a few things in the back. He leaves. The customer grabs some peanuts.

After downing a little beer, the guy hears a whispered, “You are a good-looking fella.”

Confused, he checks right and left: the bar’s still empty. Another sip. More peanuts.

“Nice haircut.” Read More →

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