Archive for Visiting the Dying

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 →

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

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 →

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Before I Knew Her Name, I Knew She Was Dying

This* happened years ago . . .

Before I knew her name, I called her the Tattoo Lady. And also, before knowing her name, I knew she was dying.

I will protect her identity, and since no longer thinking of her as the Tattoo Lady, let me give her an imagined name: Mary. Mary is good enough. It reminds me of why I met her, why I sat beside her bed, and talked about life and death and life.

For Christians, the name Mary likely recalls two different women in the Bible. The obvious first was Jesus’ mother. The obvious second was Mary Magdalene, a woman whose life changed, and kept changing, because of her relationship with Jesus. (According to Luke 8:1-3 she once had seven “demons.”)

So, for the Tattoo Lady, Mary represented a good pseudonym for a mother’s name. After all, the first time I heard about Mary was through her daughter. Maybe desperate and certainly determined, Mary’s daughter called to interview me. She claimed to be searching for, “A liberal pastor that won’t be bothered by my mother’s tattoos.”

Tattoos. Okay.

“And,” the daughter continued, “I am a lesbian and not a Christian.” But her mother was Christian, even though she hadn’t darkened the door of any church for years.

“Mom doesn’t need someone telling her that she is, or I am, headed for hell. You won’t say that, will you? She’s dying from cancer and doesn’t need fire and brimstone crap from anybody. But she’d like to see a pastor and I promised that I’d find one. So, are you liberal?”

Am I? Read More →

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather