Archive for Home

Is It Safe?


It won’t be the first thing hospice asks you, but it’s important.

“Is it safe?”

The above was not a query from hospice, but the riveting question posed in the 1976 film Marathon Man. During a grim, crucial scene, Laurence Olivier’s menacing character demanded—as he wielded dental equipment in the worst way—to know if his scheme could be safely accomplished.

Dustin Hoffman’s “innocent man” paid an excruciating price for every hesitation, every uncertainty.

I sometimes thought of the Olivier-Hoffman confrontation when one of the hospice’s social workers announced a patient’s house was “safe.” During the discussion about a new patient entering hospice care, the “safe question” must be asked and answered.

Which is to say . . .

Read More →Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Mr. Cantankerous Goes Home

You'll Accompany MeFinally, the husband and father came home.

With his family.

He had a “good death.”

His wife, who the patient said that he loved more than life itself, sat beside him until a breath became the final one.

Not yet fifty, he should have been fussing with his vintage Chevy, playing with his first grandkid, or renovating another house with his business partner. Instead, he was stuck in bed. Because he enjoyed rock-and-roll, a lot of music was played during his last days at home. In those precious moments, in those fading breaths, there was one particular song that . . .

But I’m getting ahead of his story. It’s a story with a sad ending because a man too young dies. It’s also a story with a good enough ending, because of those four opening sentences. How I wish everyone’s death (old or young, rich or poor) had some version of those simple, blessed opening sentences. That won’t happen. Some deaths are hard. Some deaths strip a person or family from any opportunity to prepare or plan. Sometimes we deny impending death and then find ourselves grieving not just the person, but our own blindness or stubbornness. Read More →Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Home Was Also Here

When I was a hospice chaplain . . .

The city hall in Cernovcy, Ukraine

The city hall in Cernovcy, Ukraine

I wanted to know where my patient was from so I brought a world atlas. He spoke only Russian; I spoke only English. Both of us were ministers. With his daughters translating, and an atlas to point fingers at, I hoped we could find the Ukrainian town where he’d been born and raised.

And we did. There, in the map’s tiny black print, we spotted Cernovcy. At the southern edge of the Carpathian Mountains and above the Romanian border, Cernovcy appeared to be halfway between Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, and Budapest, the capital of Hungary. Two years ago, he had left that dot on the map to come to Fresno. He had left home, but home was also here. Here, where his daughters laughed as I spoke my only Russian word: “Da!” Here, where his wife silently smiled at my questions.

Here, where he was dying from cancer.

Here, where he was, even more, living with cancer. Read More →Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather