Don’t Ever Call Me Again

Since it’s my job, I don’t take it personally when phoning grievers and they don’t want to talk with me.

Which is a lie.

I do. Take it personally.

In a recent call, a spouse’s anguished voice telling me to never call again wasn’t only about me. Instead, this was a “No” to anyone at the hospice that had cared for his beloved. This griever was also saying “No” to receiving monthly letters that might help healing during the worst of grief. His “No” closed the door on a lot of resources.

This next part is fictionalized, because I know nothing about “Mr. No.” (Though it could describe many anguished wives and husbands.)

  1. His deceased wife was a soulmate for nearly forty years of marriage and they’d known each other since the first day of college.
  2. Like so many families, the kids were far-flung, with two working in other cities and another about to have a child. Their father didn’t like to bother them, in good or bad times.
  3. The family business was small and hugely dependent on 60+ hour weeks . . . and most work had been postponed for months during the time of dying.
  4. There weren’t many close friends (see #3 above) and the majority were really his wife’s friends. Would her death be the death of those relationships?

[Disclaimer.]

And, if you want to toss in a #5, anything that is a reminder of the death is devastating. He’s not the crying type and anyone asking How-are-you-doing? causes him to think about her and those damn tears might start spilling from his eyes. And that will make him angry, and he’s really not the angry type. No, he’s the type that sets goals, pays taxes, serves his customers, saves for the future, gives to charity, attends church, and generally everything in his life is good. He—they—sacrificed a lot to achieve this point.

Now good is gone.

His wife has died. Read More →

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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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