Archive for Death – Page 2

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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Death is (Not) the Enemy

Hospice always fails you. With few exceptions, our patients . . . die.

Death is a defeat, often perceived as a human failure.

Death is to be battled, and everyone schemes to beat it.

Death is a problem to be solved. On the moon-bound and suddenly crippled Apollo 13, Commander James Lovell famously said, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.” The prospect of death, between earth and the moon, between our first wail as a newborn and before whatever last breath is taken, should be confronted and conquered.

Avoid death!

Anyone working in hospice has joined the grim reaper gang. We mingle with the life insurance sellers and funeral directors, the coroners and the grave diggers. We are purveyors and surveyors of the forbidden topic. While the rest of society runs from the dying, we stay.

A hospice nurse, training similar to her counterparts in the hospital corridors and emergency rooms, begins the day with a list of patients to visit. While her colleagues are calming a mother about to give birth or prepping for surgery, and will give their all to bring and extend life, the hospice RN has other thoughts . . .

  • Will my patient die today?
  • How can I help her or him die peacefully?
  • How can I honestly answer the family’s request to know when death will come?

Read More →

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