Archive for Visiting the Dying

He Was Angry!

According to the nurse, he was angry.

According to the chaplain, he was angry.

According to the social worker, he was angry.

These three hospice colleagues separately visited the same patient and husband over the course of several days. While each met with the patient for different reasons—from the nurse determining the most appropriate medications for the patient’s needs to the social worker assisting with Medicare forms—they all experienced the wrath of a husband.

His wife had entered hospice care a few days before. Her cancer and Alzheimer’s had combined to wear her, and her husband, down. They dreaded the next midnight run to the emergency room or another lengthy stay in the hospital. Her oncologist had announced chemo or radiation therapies would no longer work. The neurologist, once upbeat about drug trials for her dementia, had exhausted all options as her disease slowly worsened. Many of the doctors and nurses they’d seen in recent weeks had mentioned hospice.

And so, his wife became a hospice patient. Read More →

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To See What Matters

When Senator John McCain announced his cancer was glioblastoma in 2017, I knew his death would come quickly. It is a brutal cancer.

And I suspected, based on his public persona—though we never know what others are truly like—that the former prisoner of war would make the most of his living until he died. In his book, Character is Destiny, McCain wrote,

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.”

The Arizona senator’s death in this last week transported me to a day in hospice when I visited three patients, back-to-back-to-back, and observed glimpses of people who tried to “beautify all things.” Read More →

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I Hope You Don’t Feel Like You’re a Burden?

Whenever I entered a patient’s home as a hospice chaplain, much seemed the same. The patient might be rich or poor, young or old, but they were invariably surrounded by the benchmarks of a life-threatening illness: hospital beds, oxygen tanks, commodes, medication bottles.

Still, with eyes and heart open, I knew everyone, and ever situation, was unique.

How can one patient, facing death, glow with kindness? How can another, also confronted by death, appear mired in bitterness? Of course, it’s like that with everyone, in all seasons and places. One child laughs, another child sulks. One employee bounces through the Monday morning office door, while the next slouches in with a grim, don’t-tread-on-me expression. Voices and fingerprints and more confirm that we are the lonely or lovely stars of our one-person road show.

And so, I sit beside a patient’s hospital bed. Read More →

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