Archive for Brothers and Sisters

The Other Half of the Equation

My little sister

Yeah, that’s me on the left, without my beard.

After an afternoon of talking with the bereaved, I returned the phone to its cradle and wondered: What is the worst death to experience?

During a typical week of work (which is less typical now since I’m sheltering-in-place at home), I’ll contact a lot of folks struggling with the death of a loved one. There are deceased spouses, children who are too young, children who are adults but were still too young, grandchildren, grandparents, cousins, best friends, mentors and colleagues, aunts and uncles, significant others, and the dearly departed that don’t fit a convenient category other than his or her death wrecked your heart.

Or does the worst death involve the circumstance? Is a sudden death from cancer worse than a lengthy dying from heart disease? Wouldn’t most prefer an accident (“He never saw the car that hit him and died in an instant.”) rather than the endless, incremental wasting away from dementia?

One of the earliest conversations I had with my boss after starting work as a Bereavement Support Specialist was about one particular relationship’s death that was often overlooked or downplayed. 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.


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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Sacred Silence & Hospice

SilenceBefore meeting my new patient, I admired 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 I didn’t know for sure it was her car on that first visit, the frame’s message was a solid clue. Based on the medical charts I’d scanned, she was a flight attendant in her early forties.

This was years ago when I was a hospice chaplain. I recollect visiting her a half-dozen times. From our first awkward handshake to the final time I sat beside her hospital bed in her brother’s living room, our patient-chaplain relationship strengthened. I sensed that she learned to trust me. I certainly learned from her as she continued living and loving while cancer recklessly attacked 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.

In all of our time together, she never spoke one word to me. Read More →

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