Author Archive for Larry Patten

Before I Knew Her Name, I Knew She Was Dying

This* happened years ago . . .

Before I knew her name, I called her the Tattoo Lady. And also, before knowing her name, I knew she was dying.

I will protect her identity, and since no longer thinking of her as the Tattoo Lady, let me give her an imagined name: Mary. Mary is good enough. It reminds me of why I met her, why I sat beside her bed, and talked about life and death and life.

For Christians, the name Mary likely recalls two different women in the Bible. The obvious first was Jesus’ mother. The obvious second was Mary Magdalene, a woman whose life changed, and kept changing, because of her relationship with Jesus. (According to Luke 8:1-3 she once had seven “demons.”)

So, for the Tattoo Lady, Mary represented a good pseudonym for a mother’s name. After all, the first time I heard about Mary was through her daughter. Maybe desperate and certainly determined, Mary’s daughter called to interview me. She claimed to be searching for, “A liberal pastor that won’t be bothered by my mother’s tattoos.”

Tattoos. Okay.

“And,” the daughter continued, “I am a lesbian and not a Christian.” But her mother was Christian, even though she hadn’t darkened the door of any church for years.

“Mom doesn’t need someone telling her that she is, or I am, headed for hell. You won’t say that, will you? She’s dying from cancer and doesn’t need fire and brimstone crap from anybody. But she’d like to see a pastor and I promised that I’d find one. So, are you liberal?”

Am I? Read More →

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How Much Time is Left?

One of the hospice home health aides (HHA) went to a patient’s home. Among other things, she gave him a bath. Let’s call our HHA by the name of Jane.

“About how much longer will this take?” the patient—let’s call him Arturo—asked.

I don’t know if this was the first bath for Arturo, or if Jane had given him a number of baths over the prior weeks. In hospice, the aides are a critical part of a patient’s care. They do the grunt work of supporting the patient when he or she is most vulnerable: showering or bathing, brushing teeth, commode duties, and helping ensure there is safe movement from a wheelchair to a bed.

Maybe a patient is incontinent with bowel or bladder. Some patients complain often, others make every visit a delight. In certain homes, the caregiver—perhaps the patient’s spouse or daughter—fears making a mistake and the HHA will teach—a literal show and tell—some of the better ways to help with the “simple” tasks for a loved one.

When a patient takes a bath, naked as a newborn, he is vulnerable. When a patient begins to trust the HHA with her failing, fragile body, she’ll reveal fears about living or dying. He might share childhood tales or family memories. She might talk about an ancient guilt or a recent regret.

And many times, patients will ask questions . . . Read More →

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I Just Wanted Her for One More Day

Several years ago, our hospice team gathered to discuss the day’s work. Not long after we began, a veteran nurse wept when sharing about the death of one of her assigned patients . . . a child, not yet school age. The nurse had cared for and supported her tiny patient since birth.

How can any infant or child (and their families) be burdened with the phrase, “hospice appropriate,” and yet they are.

Family, friends, doctors and nurses knew this day would come. Born with a life-limiting illness, and given the best possible medical care and an abundance of love, there was no hope for the child to reach the teen years, let alone a “normal” life. However, I’m confident prayers for a miracle were whispered. Bargains were made with God. Any optimistic hint from a doctor’s comments, or rumors of new experimental treatments, was enthusiastically grasped.

The child died. And that nurse cried.

Everyone in the meeting seemed staggered by the death. We knew it would happen. We were not fools. If it didn’t happen last year, it could be this year. If it didn’t happen last month, the child’s death might happen the next day. But death came on this day, and a child’s moments on earth ended, still young enough so that anyone could easily count the literal number of days lived. Read More →

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