Archive for Dying

The Last Gift

the gift

Cancer as . . . a gift?

“My cancer is a gift from God . . .” is what a patient said to their hospice nurse.

What is your first reaction to that comment? How about, You’ve got to be kidding! Or, Does that patient have a terminal and mental illness? Or you’d be speechless and roll your eyes . . . or shake your head and mutter several tsk-tsks . . . or clamp your jaw shut because your mother told you if you didn’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

Or would you nod your head in reluctant agreement?

Can you imagine that last reaction—nodding and agreeing—to the patient’s pronouncement? I can, though it helped to hear the nurse’s report of the patient’s complete sentence: “My cancer is a gift from God because it has brought my children closer.”

So far, in my aging baby boomer life, I’ve had several modest traumatic events that became change agents for my attitude toward self, others, and the world. One happened in the year I turned thirty. My left leg met a rocky outcropping during a tumble down a snowy mountain slope. Gravity and granite were against me, and multiple bones were broken. I ended up in a cast for months, dependent upon other people for most of that time. Before that literal and metaphoric break, a divorce from five years before had been festering in my soul. I often doubted and even loathed myself, careening between thinking today was bad but tomorrow could be worse. It wasn’t just the divorce; there were other negatives that burdened me. Nonetheless, I figured to “tough it out” on my own. But the break broke me. I became dependent. I saw people and the world (and me) with different, more forgiving eyes. Read More →

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Do You Have a Moment?

Salt & Pepper shakers

Can I have a minute of your time?

According to a recent Center for Disease Control publication, the life expectancy for an “average” American was 78 years. Doing the math means the annual total of 525,600 minutes mutiplies to 40,996,800 lifetime minutes.

In a minute, everything can change.

In hospice, every moment is precious.

How many minutes are wasted on worries that prove meaningless, speaking hurtful words we regret, or making decisions causing less time with loved ones and more time with, well . . . guilt?

Now closer to seventy than sixty years old, I cherish moments that once seemed insignificant. For example, a Cub Scout merit badge involved planting a bulb. I knelt by my mother as we dug into moist soil. I remember Mom her bent knees beside mine. I remember the aroma of overturned dirt. I remember her smile. I remember her reassurance that flowers would eventually bloom in the future. Such a trivial moment when my age could be counted on the fingers of both hands. Yet somehow, across the decades, it resonates as a treasure between mother and child. For as long as I remember the mighty and modest events of my life, I’ll picture the dirt in Mom’s fingernails, the cool air and damp earth, and being with someone who loved me with every beat of her heart.

What is a “trivial” moment you treasure? Read More →

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The Universal Language of Hospice

Lines at airport

I do not speak Japanese.

And yet, while waiting for a flight home in Seattle, I overheard and possibly understood a conversation between two Japanese tourists.

Our flight was hours away. My wife and I had settled into seats above the endless passengers winding through the TSA lines. Not far from Sea-Tac’s “meditation room” (who knew airports had places like that), she graded papers from her university students while I people-watched. Those passing by were slower in pace. Catching snippets of conversation was easy in the quieter hallway.

Mothers corrected children.

A married couple complained about a flight delay.

A plane’s crew shared stories as they entered a room designated for breaks between flights.

A solitary soldier chatting on his phone bee-lined for the USO location a few doors away.

Two well-dressed men, both Japanese, moved by me. Their hands gripped rolling suitcases, with one talking rapidly to his companion. Everything said was beyond my comprehension, until one word was clearly expressed:

“Hospice.”

The solitary word hung in the air.

The man beside him, his pace matching his companion’s steps, immediately sighed loudly.

“Ooohhhhh.”

Did I really need a translation? Read More →

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