Archive for Visiting the Dying

Death Doesn’t Do Schedules

Late night call

A nurse phoned on the night I came home, letting me know Mom had just died . . .

My father died in early February of 2012. I had visited him five days before, but was not there when Dad died, alone in his bed.

About eighteen months later, in 2013, I was with Mom early in the morning of a hot August day while she lay dying in a convalescent facility. Having been with her for almost a week, I returned home—150 miles south on California’s Highway 99—later on that summer day. I was not with her when she died that night, alone in her bed.

Though my head understands why I was absent when my beloved parents took their last breaths, these are the regrets of my heart.

Dad’s dementia had been going on for years. Even past his ninetieth birthday, his heart was strong. His random, belligerent, disease-inspired actions still intimidated the caregivers at the facility where he lived. Whether a week or a month before he died, no one anticipated his death. Given my mother’s understandable anxiety about finances, we had calculated how much Dad’s care would cost if he lived to 100 years or more. While he didn’t achieve the century mark, we were prepared. How could anyone know that he would die on that mild winter day in California?

Still, regrets. Read More →

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A Sacred Silence

Woman on the beach

“She loved the ocean more than flying,” he had once said to me.

Before meeting my new patient, I spotted her Ford Mustang. The well-kept red convertible was parked on the street, by her brother’s driveway.

The license plate frame declared: Fly Away!

While unsure it was her car on that first visit, the frame’s message was a solid clue. Based on the medical chart notes, she was a flight attendant in her early forties.

This was years ago when I worked as a hospice chaplain. Most of our patients lived in their homes. I recollect visiting her a half-dozen times. From our first awkward handshake to the final moment I sat beside her hospital bed in her brother’s living room, our patient-chaplain relationship had grown stronger. She learned to trust me. I certainly learned from her as she continued living and loving while cancer relentlessly destroyed her body. Even at my last visit, her short gray-blonde hair was stylish. Her make-up, aided by her sister-in-law, was impeccable.

She never spoke one word to me.

Though the cancer spread across her once-athletic body, it had started in her throat. Long before entering hospice, she’d the lost the ability to speak. Read More →

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Hospice’s Two for One

two for oneBack when working as a hospice chaplain, one of the newer social worker suggested that we visit together. We shared various patients as part of their hospice “team.” I recall that two of those patients lived a long and winding drive from our office. Carpooling was a good use of resources. Additionally, the families wouldn’t be interrupted by multiple phone calls from multiple staff trying to schedule multiple visits.

Everyone loves more phones calls and visits, right?

On the way there, I said, “You know, this does defeat part of our impact.”

“What do you mean?” the social worker asked.

“We won’t get much of a chance for one-on-one encounters. A lot of what we do is based on being with the patient or family member. Having another person around changes that.”

“Oh,” was mostly what she replied. She was young. She was new. On we drove, excellent stewards of hospice resources. Read More →

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