Archive for Secrets & Lies

Please Don’t Wear Your Hospice Nametags

It feels odd when the hospice staff is asked to NOT wear nametags on home visits.

A spouse or grandparent nears death, but the family doesn’t want the person to know she or he is dying. And so, a scheme unfolds. Perhaps telltale mail is hidden or discarded. If there are any family conversations about dying or death—or other “bad” words—incomplete sentences become the norm if the “wrong” person enters the room. Friends join the hush-hush efforts, though the more talkative or gossipy ones may be left out of any “information loop.”

Often a doctor that’s concluded there’s no longer the possibility of a cure joins the conspiracy. Whether it’s the inevitable health complications of aging or an opportunistic, grim cancer, the physicians and nurses that were tending to the person’s needs remain silent about the prognosis. (Or at least, silent enough.)

And so, when a hospice admitting nurse knocks on the front door (because the person’s physician has formally requested hospice) and a family member opens the door (he or she has likely been peering through windows, anxiously awaiting the visit), the nurse is first greeted with . . . Read More →

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Remove Your Hospice Nametag!

no-nameAn admitting nurse from hospice meets with a family in the eldest daughter’s home. He is giving information and answering questions. Three of the four siblings occupy chairs in different parts of the living room. They listen to the nurse while thumbing through hospice pamphlets and glancing at forms that require signatures.

Only a handful of steps away in the “spare bedroom,” the fourth sibling—the youngest brother—sits with their father.

The father is dying.

(Disclaimer.)

The bedroom will likely be the final place the father lives after a long life of military service, marriage, career, raising kids, retirement, and burying his wife a few years before. From long-ago conversations, his adult children know that he “can’t stomach those damn hospitals” and will “die on the streets before being dragged into a hospital.” Since he can no longer safely be alone in his apartment, the siblings are honoring his hatred of hospitals by caring for him in the eldest daughter’s home.

One of the kids, a fifty-something community college administrator, clears her throat and says, “We don’t want our father to know you’re from hospice.” She gestures toward the nurse’s nametag, dangling around his neck on a blood red cloth lanyard. “Could you take your nametag off before you see him? And we also don’t want any of your staff to wear their tags.

No one speaks. The muffled sound of snoring is heard from the spare bedroom. Read More →

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Suicide in the Deep Darkness of an April Night

Grandpa, working on his beloved ranch . . .

Grandpa, working on his beloved ranch . . .

Though not a family secret, we rarely mentioned it.

In the years before Mom’s death in 2013, I don’t recall talking with her about it. Dad, who dearly loved his father-in-law, never once discussed it with me. I suppose it spawned too many harsh memories and, inevitably, an immense sadness.

What is it? Suicide.

With my family, the memory is hyphenated: murder-suicide.

In April of 1978, likely before midnight on a cool spring evening in the California town of Merced, my grandfather slept alone in his bed. His wife of a few years—not my grandmother—entered the room. She gripped a pistol. She shot Grandpa at point blank range in the head. Several times.

Murder.

She exited their bedroom, retreated along a hallway, crossed through several rooms, and finally settled onto a chair in a different part of the house. Seconds or moments or maybe even a half-hour later, she pulled the trigger again.

Suicide.

The woman who murdered Grandpa and then took her own life entered my grandfather’s life after Grandma’s untimely death. Mutual friends introduced them. Did Grandpa fall in love with her? As a widower, was he was lonely and vulnerable? Maybe she schemed to wrap him around her finger? Or did their ill-fated relationship just happen as so many relationships do? But at some point, something changed. To me, way back then, in a time focused on seminary and starting a career in ministry, she seemed like an okay person. Nearly everyone seems normal until they are not.

Why did she squeeze that trigger multiple times in the deep darkness of an April night? Read More →

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