Archive for Family

Dementia and Other Terrible Dragons We Can’t Slay

What caused Dad’s death?

I don’t think I will ever know for sure.

Nonetheless, it’s a question that randomly nudges me during my hospice’s Interdisciplinary Group (IDG) as we discuss our patient’s recent deaths.

I know when my father died: the sixth day of February, in 2012. I know where he died: at the care facility where he spent his final two years. Or the where of his death could be identified as a particular town within Sacramento’s metropolitan area. I once knew his street address and room number. I still know the zip code of where he died, since it was the same one he’d had when living at his suburban home of forty-plus years.

How did he die? His death certificate had a heart-related cause of death. How could Dad’s death not involve his heart? At ninety-plus, the hard-working muscle in the middle of his chest must have been exhausted after all those decades. But on dreary days in long meetings, I wonder if dementia murdered him. Yep, I wrote murder. How foolish and melodramatic! But with dementia’s reputation for cruelty and relentlessness, didn’t it destroy Dad’s life as if wielding a thousand, or hundred thousand, paper cuts? At first dementia’s intent and weapons were overlooked, but each cruel, insubstantial slice lead to his demise.

Dad had an ample supply of stubborn in his DNA. He avoided doctors like black cats or sidewalk cracks. Only one neurologist examined him. That brief, awkward visit occurred well after dementia (along with a cranky knee, hearing loss, prostate problems, and a legion of other lesser ills) had its hooks into him. With little enthusiasm, the physician prescribed additional medication and appeared relieved when we departed. Read More →

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In Grief, Everything Changes

During a conversation this week* with a husband whose sixty-something wife had died from cancer, the surviving spouse said, “I thought I was prepared for her death, but nothing prepared me for my feelings now.”

Several of his relatives had experienced their spouses’ deaths. Each offered advice and support and he appreciated it. So far, it hadn’t helped.

The hospice staff serving his wife had honestly discussed her dying. They’d also gently suggested reactions he might have after her death. Everything said was thoughtful and kind. So far, it hadn’t helped.

[Disclaimer.]

He’d bought and read recommended books on grief while attending to his wife’s changing needs as she neared death. After all, the two of them had always been planners. He sought to be ready for the inevitable. So far, it hadn’t helped.

Grief is unique . . . for every single one of us.

No one can prepare for how to handle (and not handle) grief.

Unavoidably and inevitably, we will all grieve.

In another conversation, I called* a griever about six weeks after her spouse’s death. It was the second time I’d phoned, but—a month before—I’d only been able to leave a supportive message. Now she answered. Read More →

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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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