Archive for Dying

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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Mr. Cantankerous Goes Home

You'll Accompany MeFinally, the husband and father came home.

With his family.

He had a “good death.”

His wife, who the patient said that he loved more than life itself, sat beside him until a breath became the final one.

Not yet fifty, he should have been fussing with his vintage Chevy, playing with his first grandkid, or renovating another house with his business partner. Instead, he was stuck in bed. Because he enjoyed rock-and-roll, a lot of music was played during his last days at home. In those precious moments, in those fading breaths, there was one particular song that . . .

But I’m getting ahead of his story. It’s a story with a sad ending because a man too young dies. It’s also a story with a good enough ending, because of those four opening sentences. How I wish everyone’s death (old or young, rich or poor) had some version of those simple, blessed opening sentences. That won’t happen. Some deaths are hard. Some deaths strip a person or family from any opportunity to prepare or plan. Sometimes we deny impending death and then find ourselves grieving not just the person, but our own blindness or stubbornness. Read More →

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