Alert & Oriented, with Dying and Grieving

Alert and oriented might be my earliest hospice memory for describing a patient.

If a patient is alert and oriented, she’ll be able to tell you who she is, her location (“Community Hospital”), the date and time (“It’s Tuesday morning in June of 2018”), and the current president (“President Trump was elected around 2016”). While there could be additional questions, like a birthday or naming children in the patient’s family, those four are relevant and will be revealing about his/her situation.

If someone is confronted with a serious illness, would it really be fair to ask about last year’s Academy Award for best picture? Sure, film geeks may immediately recall The Shape of Water nabbed the 2017 Oscar, but even high-profile entertainment news slips and slides unnoticed into the 24/7 information overload all of us—well or sick—may easily forget. Read More →

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A Companion for the Hospice Journey

Introduction: Who This Book Is For

The book on hospice is for no one.

[See my note at end, please]

No one wants to die.

No one wants a loved one to die.

No one wants to grieve a death.

No one wants to talk about hospice.

Are you no one? If you’re reading this, I’ll assume you’ve taken a reluctant step toward admitting that it’s time to consider dying, death, or grief.

You didn’t plan to get cancer, but once you learned about the diagnosis, you planned to battle and beat it. Now your oncologist has suggested hospice, to shift from curing the disease to creating quality of life in the final season of life. No one plans for that suggestion.

Since your spouse never smoked, and usually made the right choices about eating and exercise, it’s unfair that she has had to deal with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Nonetheless, for years she successfully managed her illness with medication. Until now. And now both of you are waiting for the person from hospice to arrive to explain the benefits. Read More →

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I Hope You Don’t Feel Like You’re a Burden?

Whenever I entered a patient’s home as a hospice chaplain, much seemed the same. The patient might be rich or poor, young or old, but they were invariably surrounded by the benchmarks of a life-threatening illness: hospital beds, oxygen tanks, commodes, medication bottles.

Still, with eyes and heart open, I knew everyone, and ever situation, was unique.

How can one patient, facing death, glow with kindness? How can another, also confronted by death, appear mired in bitterness? Of course, it’s like that with everyone, in all seasons and places. One child laughs, another child sulks. One employee bounces through the Monday morning office door, while the next slouches in with a grim, don’t-tread-on-me expression. Voices and fingerprints and more confirm that we are the lonely or lovely stars of our one-person road show.

And so, I sit beside a patient’s hospital bed. Read More →

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