Archive for Decisions

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?

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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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The Best Time to Consider Hospice is ______

When is the right time to ask about hospice?

Isn’t that the hardest of questions? For a potential hospice patient, the “right” or “best” time answer seems like a grim brew of unsettling and unfair choices.

Some would prefer their doctors provide the answer. Though there are exceptions, most doctors have spent scant time in training about “end of life” concerns. The lengthy education for a medical degree doesn’t leave much room in the schedule for learning about the dying and death of patients. Doctors, regardless of her or his specialty, are oriented toward healings, hopes, cures, and the next best option to try. It’s nearly impossible for physicians to view hospice as anything other than “giving up.” Who wants a doctor that will “give up” on you?

There are patients that secretly—or not so secretly—want a family member to make decisions about hospice. Do you truly want the people who blindly love you, who want you to “live forever,” and who frequently don’t understand the medical situation (with its strange terminology and complex treatments) to make your decisions? It’s nearly impossible for many family and friends to view hospice as anything other than a personal version of the “end of the world.” In presidential politics, we laugh about (and are deadly serious about) which candidate we want in the Oval Office in the awful event of nuclear war. Who, in any family, wants to trigger the “apocalypse” for a loved one?

But I will give you an answer. Read More →

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