Assumptions and Great Aunt Betty

Don't Assume

Great Aunt Betty had died. Though not her real name, Betty was the second most popular name for girls born in the United States in 1929. Just over ninety, Betty had lived the proverbial long, good life. Her thirty-something great nephew was listed in the hospice medical charts as the “primary caregiver” and “HCPOA” (health care power of attorney).

I called him a few weeks after his great aunt’s death to see how he was doing.

Fine, he said.

And then he told the truth. He felt lousy. Unsettled. He was also trying to ignore those feelings. He hadn’t cried yet (which bothered him), was tackling the estate business after her death, and was trying to balance his usual schedule of kids-and-work.

Aunt Betty’s death was a huge blow, but he didn’t have time to grieve.

This is what I learned* from the sparse notes in Betty’s chart and through my conversation with him: he was a busy guy. His wife was teaching elementary school while attending classes to get her master’s degree in administration. He taught at a community college and his more flexible schedule allowed him more time to care for their two kids.

What about Betty?

Was she merely a deceased great great aunt? Read More →

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Hospice and (Not Calling) 9-1-1

Helicopter rescue

Not long after, a helicopter plucked me from the wilderness…

What should you do when the awful and unfortunate happens? For example:

  1. Heart attack.
  2. Car accident.
  3. Criminal activity.
  4. Lost child.
  5. House on fire.
  6. An associate pastor leading a youth group backpack in an isolated mountain location tumbles down a snowy slope and breaks several bones.

Hurry! Call 9-1-1!

Yeah, you guessed it, #6 happened to yours truly. I busted my leg on a backpack in the 1980s. Several in my group returned to the trailhead—a six-mile slog—and found a phone. They, of course, called 9-1-1. Not long after, a helicopter plucked me from the wilderness and flew me to a hospital in Lake Tahoe.

If something bad happens, punch in 9-1-1. Except if you’re a hospice caregiver or patient: please don’t use those three life-saving numbers. Read More →

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Do You Have a Moment?

Salt & Pepper shakers

Can I have a minute of your time?

According to a recent Center for Disease Control publication, the life expectancy for an “average” American was 78 years. Doing the math means the annual total of 525,600 minutes mutiplies to 40,996,800 lifetime minutes.

In a minute, everything can change.

In hospice, every moment is precious.

How many minutes are wasted on worries that prove meaningless, speaking hurtful words we regret, or making decisions causing less time with loved ones and more time with, well . . . guilt?

Now closer to seventy than sixty years old, I cherish moments that once seemed insignificant. For example, a Cub Scout merit badge involved planting a bulb. I knelt by my mother as we dug into moist soil. I remember Mom her bent knees beside mine. I remember the aroma of overturned dirt. I remember her smile. I remember her reassurance that flowers would eventually bloom in the future. Such a trivial moment when my age could be counted on the fingers of both hands. Yet somehow, across the decades, it resonates as a treasure between mother and child. For as long as I remember the mighty and modest events of my life, I’ll picture the dirt in Mom’s fingernails, the cool air and damp earth, and being with someone who loved me with every beat of her heart.

What is a “trivial” moment you treasure? Read More →

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