Archive for Questions

Is It Safe?

Hoffman

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 →

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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

Trees

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.

[Disclaimer]

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 . . .

Normal.

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

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