Archive for Anger

Both are 5 Letter Words

angerWith his voice as cold as black ice on a winter road, the nephew kept repeating, “That type of thing should never happen. It wasn’t fair to my aunt.”

I agreed with him.

Every time.

The nephew’s aunt—who’d raised him since his single-parent mother had died before he entered kindergarten—was the most important person in his life. Her final days in hospice, as far as he was concerned, became her worst days.

Based on the brief chart notes I’d scanned about this sixty-something woman, I hadn’t expected any anger about hospice. When I phoned not long after her death to ask how he and the rest of the family were doing, his anger shadowed our entire conversation.

Here, though, I must pause.

[Disclaimer]

There was no nephew. I am making most of this up, based on my thousands of calls to people grieving in the first days after the death of a loved one. And there was no aunt. The “type of thing” that “should never happen” could include many different possibilities:

  • A social worker made a promise to bring a list of local companies for caregiving options, but never followed through.
  • A home health aide didn’t properly dry off the patient after a bath.
  • A hospice physician had scheduled a visit with the family in the morning, but didn’t arrive until late afternoon.
  • A chaplain said a prayer that was explicitly Christian, but the patient was Buddhist.

I could keep adding to this list of disappointments. All of them are possible, but none of what I mentioned happened to this fictional family with a “nephew” desperately hoping his beloved “aunt” would have a calm, easy, gentle death. Read More →

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What If Greed is More Important than Grief?

When a young pastor, I recall leaving a graveside service. Outwardly, I seemed calm and serious. Inwardly, I was berating myself for forgetting parts of the Lord’s Prayer.

I hardly knew the son and daughter of the recently deceased. They’d called my church, searching for a minister to help them in their “hour of need.” Now, with the simple service finished, the two siblings walked behind me. Without glancing back, I slowed to eavesdrop on their conversation. Were they exchanging snide criticisms about the stupid pastor who didn’t know the words to Christianity’s most famous prayer?

No. They were not.

They were arguing about their mother’s will and her possessions.

I had forgotten the Lord’s Prayer’s final sentences. How embarrassing! At the open grave of a stranger, with a handful of her family that I’d only met in one meeting prior to the service, I’d shut my Book of Worship, and then invited the mourners to pray with me. It was just the Lord’s Prayer. They were words I’d memorized as a kid in Sunday school and had recited every Sunday (and more) throughout my life. But it was one of my first graveside services. I was nervous. I blanked. Faking a few final mumbled words, I hurried to the “Amen.”

The family didn’t know me. They also likely didn’t know any formal prayers, including the “one Jesus taught his disciples to say.” Like most pastors, I occasionally received calls from “strangers” asking for help with a funeral or wedding. I met twice with this family: once to plan the service (“Mother just wanted a few words and a prayer, pastor.”) and once at the grave.

I learned a couple of things that day. Read More →

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A is for Anger in Hospice

anger-1Entering into hospice care reveals the best and worst of us. Responses and relationships seem on edge: raw, exposed, and vulnerable.

Anger is alphabetically and dramatically near the top of an emotional volcano when a doctor announces there are only six months or less to live. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross famously identified anger as one of the five stages of dying. (And though her efforts have often been misconstrued—for example, the “stages” aren’t sequential and predictable—Kubler-Ross’ insights into dying, death, and grief are essential reading.)

But instead of anger as one of five “stages,” I wonder about four ways that I’ve witnessed anger erupt when a loved one faces death.

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1. Anger at God

People from any religion that worships a supreme being can have anger towards God for “causing” a loved one’s illness. Regardless of how much or how little faith matters to a believer, how could God do this to me, or to my beloved? I have witnessed similar rage towards God from eighty-something husbands learning about a wife’s stage four cancer and from parents whose pre-teen daughter has just been diagnosed with a life-limiting illness.

Age doesn’t matter. Don’t comfort anyone by saying a parent or spouse has “lived a long, good life.” Everyone wants another day, month, and year(s). Don’t try to reassure a parent watching a child slip away by claiming God has a plan or that the child is “needed” in heaven. Read More →

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