Archive for Death

Sauntering Along the Hospice Path

It was the pause.

The silence.

I won’t reveal details, but when I called a woman grieving her husband’s death, we talked about several things. Some were trivial. Some involved how her adult children were doing. Some concerned upcoming decisions that she faced.

Then I asked her a question.

And that pause came.

One of my responsibilities at the hospice where I work is to phone grievers after a loved one’s death. Many don’t want to talk for long, though they seem to appreciate the contact. Occasionally, the ones I call drive me batty! They answer and immediately say they can’t talk. Why? They’re at work or shopping or there’s a thousand good reasons . . . so why’d they even answer!?

However.

Could it be they simply (and understandably) don’t want to talk to the guy from hospice? They don’t want more tears falling or throat constricting. They’d rather avoid the memories that might rush in, unbidden and with the force of a typhoon. Read More →

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My First Deaths

What was your first memorable death?

As a baby boomer raised in the American suburbs, mine was a dog named Ginger. One day, my age still counted in single digits, and mostly unaware the family puppy that I named was ill, my father took Ginger to the vet. Dad returned alone.

During high school, Mom’s mother died. I loved Grandma. She and Grandpa owned a ranch, giving me—a kid raised with sidewalks and city parks—access to a magical, wonderful realm. My most vivid childhood memories included cattle roaming vast fields, skipping rocks in the year-round creek meandering through their land, and exploring an immense walnut orchard that seemed equally mysterious and dangerous.

Following a surgery—as I inaccurately recall—health worsened for my sweet, energetic Grandma. My mother (and her siblings) would drive the two hours to the ranch, taking care of their mother. They witnessed Grandma’s decline. I did not. In the peculiar, fractured way of memories, Grandma went from happily digging in her purse for coins to buy the mud pies my older sister and I made (yup, literally dirt and water mixed in a borrowed pie tin) . . . to being dead. I don’t recall her dying. I have a hazy recollection of trooping across a cemetery, flanked by my parents, to and from Grandma’s grave.

Back then I was a shy high school nerd. How could I know that my mother’s world was rocked to the core? Read More →

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Entering a Home in the Wee Small Hours

Had it been that long since they were able to take a walk?

The phone rang at one in the morning.

I sleep deeply and wake fast. Moments after the call, I was dressed. In less than fifteen minutes, I arrived at their home and stood beside their bed.

The husband wept. I’d never seen him cry before.

She lay beneath the sheets. In repose, eyes closed, and you could (almost) pretend she was blissfully slumbering through the night. But she was dead.

Later I’d recall Charles Dickens’ familiar opening in his Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .” Aren’t those extremes how you react to the after-midnight calls? Why else would the phone ring in the wee small hours, except to convey the best news about a child’s birth or a beloved’s safe arrival from a far-flung war zone?

Or to share the worst news.

The odds of a jangling phone conveying the “worst” message was high. Back then, I was the on-call chaplain for a hospice. Most nights remained calm, but all could be disrupted.

And death always seems a disruption. Read More →

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