Archive for Questions

Madge Used 5 Words

Still alive?

“Why am I still alive?”

Madge repeated those five words, again and again.

Back then, as a twenty-something clergy and newly appointed associate pastor, visiting Madge and nearly everything else I did was a new experience. I fumbled through communion. I over-prepared for sermons. I felt like the youth group kids knew more than I did, and definitely outnumbered me.

The senior pastor, with decades of church work behind him, was a kind man and excellent mentor. He took me on visits, introduced me to the congregation. I entered homes, apartments, emergency rooms, hospitals, job sites, lunched at restaurants with church members, and . . . went to convalescent facilities.

The last was the worst. Well, maybe I should say toughest. No, both. The foul smells clashing with the stark odor of disinfectants, the rattle of wheelchairs and gurneys, the bored looks of underpaid, overworked staff, and the endless hallways paved with shiny linoleum.

And there was Madge. (Not her real name.) Read More →

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The Normal, Never-Normal Anguish of Grief


In grief, the seasons of life need to unfold…

She is crying. I reassure her it’s normal.

He hasn’t shed a tear. I reassure him that’s normal.

After several days of her loving adult children gathered to support her, the mother—now a widow, though she already dislikes the label whenever it appears on a form—tells me she wishes her kids would leave and give her a little private space. But she can’t muster the courage to tell them.

I tell her that’s normal.


The nurse who visited the Hmong-American family (or substitute Russian-American or Mexican-American) after the beloved patriarch died reported that some of the family were drunk, some wailed, some argued, some crowded in the house, and some remained outside. Most told the nurse they appreciated hospice’s care while a few blamed hospice for his death. In her report for the medical chart, the nurse wrote the family’s grief was . . .


But in hospice, and in grief, is there such a thing as normal? Read More →

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How Much Longer?

Always about time

One of the hospice home health aides (HHA) arrived at a patient’s home. Her to-do list would include bathing a patient with more than eighty candles on his cake. Let’s give our HHA a fictional name like Fran. (That is my mother’s name, so I’m openly providing a clue for my good thoughts about this part of the hospice team!)

Soon, the bath was underway.

“About how much longer do I have?” the patient asked. (And let’s say his name is Arturo.)

I don’t know if this was Arturo’s first bath, or if Fran had given him a number of baths over the prior weeks. In hospice, the aides are a critical part of a patient’s care. They do the grunt work of supporting the patient when he or she is most vulnerable: showering or bathing, brushing teeth, commode duties, and helping ensure there is safe movement from a wheelchair to a bed.

Maybe a patient is incontinent with bowel or bladder. Some patients complain often, others make every visit a delight. In certain homes, the patient’s spouse, adult child, or other family member is the primary caregiver and dreads making a mistake. The HHA will teach—a literal show and tell—the most efficient ways to accomplish the simple tasks for a loved one. The tasks of caregiving, however, are not simple. Any idealistic thoughts about how great it is to support a dying loved one at home can quickly change with the actual day-to-day demands. Caregiving is hard work. A good HHA will try to make the family’s “job” less stressful. Read More →

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