Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Rock Solid

He had gotten progressively weaker, and the hospice nurse told the family gently that it wouldn't be much longer. He asked his wife not to leave him alone. He wanted her next to him for all the time he had left. She climbed into bed with him on Friday, and, except for a few potty runs, she stayed there until he was pronounced on Monday afternoon. They had kept their promises to one another their whole lives, she said, and she was glad to be able to keep this one.

That's the thing about this job.    You expect it to be sad.  You just don't expect it to be so beautiful that it knocks the breath out of you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Start At The Beginning

Recently I talked to the loveliest family about the journey of loss they were experiencing. They told me how precious their mom was, how much they valued these last days with her and how all the petty grievances of their childhood – toward her and toward one another – had melted away. They explained that they were going through a lot of sadness, but so much beauty, too, as they re-discovered one another. They mentioned over and over the beauty and preciousness they'd discovered and regretted that they hadn't better appreciated it sooner.   

I promised them that each of them had that same beauty and preciousness as their mom, and that maybe this time with their her could help them recognize and value their own unique light, and how loved and loveable they each were.   Maybe they could embrace the truth of that now, while they were healthy and likely had years ahead of them. They all cried and hugged one another, full of grief and joy, that rare combination that I am privileged to see so often in this work. 

As I walked away, my inner voice spoke up and chided; hey there, missy, what about the preciousness of you? Maybe it's time for you, too, to give some value to your own gifts and your own needs.   Maybe it's time to decide that you might be loveable, too.  And after another long day of standing witness to the end of life, I acknowledged that my inner voice might be onto something.

Month One of 2013 is coming to an end. So far, pretty much nothing is going as well as I hoped or as badly as I sometimes feared.   Clearly this is going to be the Best Year Ever.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Making Space In My Life

I have a friend in California who I haven't seen in years, but I got a letter from her the other day.   Hearing from her triggered the memory of how she used to tell me that you couldn't pretend to yourself that you were ready to let a man back into your life until you could empty out half your closet space. Her theory was that, if you can't make physical space for someone, you certainly can't make the necessary emotional space.    [She couldn't, and ended up in a relationship with a woman instead where, according to her, the rules were different.   I have no idea how they worked it out, but they've been together for a decade or so.]

I thought about her idea this weekend when I was looking for something and realized that all three closets in all three of my bedrooms are stuffed full of my stuff. And so is my basement, and all my storage areas, and my garage, and my shed, and every nook and cranny of every nook and cranny.    Full of things I don't want and don't need and don't use.  

But let's focus on the closets for now.    There are clothes that date back to other times in my life, times no longer relevant today.   There are countless stretched out $8 t-shirts that my sister begs me not to wear.    I am convinced that a stranger could come in and take it all away and I wouldn't miss a thing, but for me to commit to get rid of it is another thing altogether.

There is no one who wants or needs my physical (or emotional) space at the moment, but that's my project this month, to see if I can reduce my stuff to one closet's worth, just as a sort of nudge to the Universe.    As they say in my meditation practice, I'll put my intention out there, and leave it to the Universe to work out the details.

Center Courts

We have a local basketball court, which happens to be on Center Road, called Center Courts. Above the courts is a sort of balcony that goes all the way around, which is used as an indoor walking/jogging track. Nine and a half laps equals a mile. It's convenient, it's safe, and it's free, and I've been walking there for a couple of months now. I love it; it's for sure the best deal in town.
I crank up my playlist and wiggle-walk around and around.  I walk alone and, in the beginning, barely noticed anything around me.   Now that I'm walking enough to need several 'cool down' laps, I've finally begun to look around.  All sorts of people go there.  A lot of the time the court is mostly used by single women: some of them walk slowly, while some – like me – are clearly there to releave stress, and the tension shows in our bodies when we begin.   We show up in everything from shorts and tees to business suits.  But other times the track is dominated by single men, or older people using canes, or young kids, or couples.   If there is a pattern of use, I haven't found it yet.
Lately I am really noticing the couples.   There are young couples who run laps around each other, and middle-aged couples where the women join other women and the men walk with the men.  But most touching to me are the older couples, the ones who seem to know that there isn't much time left. One or the other adjusts their gait so that they stay side by side as the walk, and there is no impatience evident in either the more able bodied or the more frail of the two.  They rarely touch in this public arena, and often they don't even talk, but the clarity of their bond and intimacy sometimes takes my breath away.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Stop Hurting

Ernie was the saddest man I'd ever met. When I called to see how he was doing after his wife died, he would often report that he hadn't gotten out of bed in days. When I set up a visit, I always asked if it would interfere with his lunch and he would laugh grimly and remind me that he no longer had any appetite. He told me that, over a year after he'd lost her, he still slept with her urn cradled in his arms, and that his last prayer every night was that he would die in his sleep and rejoin her. I listened, I talked, I counseled. He kept wanting me to come back, but nothing helped. One day when I was cajoling him to try walking, going to the target range, going to visit his brother, anything – promising him that it might make him feel a little bit better, even for just a moment or two, and that would be a start. He looked up at me, eyes clear and sincere. I don't want to feel better, he said flatly. I don't ever want to forget my wife. I never did convince him that finding peace would not erase her from his mind, and that he didn't have to punish himself to keep her memory alive. But no wonder; how often do I hurt myself by living in a past I cannot change, or a future I cannot control? There is so much pain in this world, but sometimes I wonder how much of it we cause ourselves.

Monday, January 21, 2013


The office was busy and I had no one who wanted a visit that day, so I offered to drop off a bundle of adult diapers. When I drove up to the house I struggled with a sense of envy. It was not just a beautiful house, it was a fabulously beautiful house. The kind of house that makes me dream of lots of family and laughter, a happy marriage, and wonderful celebrations. I went inside and everything was beautiful there, too. Fresh muffins, and lovely furniture, warm and inviting. I made a little small talk and prepared to leave, and then something made me pause and ask if there was anything else I could do. The woman, caregiver to her bedridden parent, began to cry. She talked first about difficulties in her family. When she learned that some of her stories were familiar to my own life, she opened up even more. In a torrent of words, she told me of the sadness, the dysfunction, the betrayal and the pain that had lived in every room of that house. She told me stories about generations of loss and mental illness. So much hurt.   As is often the case, although some of it was just the way the chips sometimes fall, so much else was avoidable, preventable.    And she told me how much she hated this house, this prison, this stronghold of unhappy memories.     I listened and listened and listened, absorbing as much of her pain as I could. I gave her a few ideas for going forward, and she clung to them like lifelines. She hugged and hugged and hugged me. When I left nearly two hours later, the house looked very different. And I was happy to get home to my own.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hanging Onto The Best

This was a tough week for me with the deaths at my hospice job, and I don't really know why.    The two deaths that I was involved in were not, except for the families,  remarkable in any way, but they differed dramatically in how they affected me.    I believe I was able to offer the support the families needed, but I was emotionally more shaken than is usual for me.     This is part of my learning curve, and some of the the things I witness seem heavy with lessons that I need to unpack.    Something about this week made me feel needy and fragmented, and  I think I will be unpacking these experiences for some time to come.

My annual fly tying class started ten days ago.    I lost my voice the same day as the first class, which took a lot of pressure off me to do anything but tie, and that was not all bad.   But it seems like a friendlier-than-usual class of guys this year,  and should be fun.

I went target shooting a couple of times last week with my new shooting buddies and had a Ridiculous Amount of Fun, which is my new benchmark for what I need more of in my life.    Unfortunately, I also got beat - pretty bad -- so a lot more practice time is in order.   The big boys might have beat me, but I don't intend to be kept beat for long!    They have years of shooting experience on me but I'm a decent shot and I've beat some of them in the past with my .22.    Problem is, when we get to the 9mm round, they tend to blow me out of the water.     It's just a question of practice and that's harder to get since I don't have the larger caliber gun and only shoot one when we compete.   No worries.  I think I can win a few rounds if I can just focus, focus, focus.   

I also had a Ridiculous Amount of Fun last week in a silly game of dominoes.    I had never played before -- when we play, we just line them up and push them down! --  and it's a lot more simple than most of the games I play with my grands, but I plan to add it to my home repertoire for those (many) time when I don't want to think that hard.  

And I've been trying to walk at our local indoor track.   I don't get there every day, but I make it about five days a week, and walk a little more than a mile each time.    The big draw is the playlist on my iPhone, which I don't listen to any other time, and I'm enjoying the music and the stress release a lot.

On the crafting scene, I've definitely showed down.   I have some clutches cut and ready to put together but there was no time for sewing this week.   I might be stalling because I'm worried that I'll mess it up.   I need to start something for a friend who is having a baby in march, and I haven't even decided what to make her yet.      I did make and gift a cute little project but I forgot to take a photo, so I'll save that post until I can visit it again and snap a picture.   I DID gather up the piles of fabric that I'd strewn all over my sewing room and put them into bins, hoping that a neater work space would lead to a more organized mind -- no evidence of that so far!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Just The Guys

Joey was alone, his life-partner had died several years before.    But he was openly, gleefully gay, and loved to share stories of the parties they'd had, the fun they'd had, the joy they'd had.   He went from room to room, meeting everyone, trying to be friendly with everyone.

Jim styled himself as a tough guy.   Former military, a little homophobic, a man of few words and even fewer revelations.    He stayed in his room.    Kept to himself.   He called me ma'am and told me thank you, but he didn't need my prayers.   He did not need a friend.    What he really needed was to get out of this place and back with his girlfriend.

They had nothing in common.    Except that they were both dying.    And they both smoked.

At first, they ran into each other out on the back deck, the only place they were allowed to light up.

Joey started stopping by Jim's room when he was on his way out, to see if Jim was ready for a smoke break.   Eventually, Jim started stopping by to pick Joey up, too.

I never heard their conversations, if there were any.   But as Joey began to decline, I watched from a distance as Jim bundled him up, carefully wrapping a blanket around him and dressing him in his woolen hat, before pushing his wheelchair outside.  

We may not always realize it at the time, but all paths lead us to one another.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013. And So It Begins

I love this tree.    It's full of bumps and bruises, shows evidence of a variety of wrong turns, but keeps reaching upward.    I pass it on my way to work, and slow down to absorb its lessons.

This week I sat by the bed of a dying man.    I know, you say.   We've heard this story before.     But no, I think, it is different every time.

The family wanted the chaplain.   It was nothing personal, although it happens that the chaplain is me.    They called me back to work after I had gone home, made me change out of my jeans and sweats to return to this bedside.    They wanted the chaplain there, but I'm not sure they knew why.    They did not want to talk to me.    And they did not want to sit with this dying man.    I was not sure what they wanted, but I thought that maybe I was there as testament to fulfilled duty.   

With some patients I know what to do.   And I do it.   And that is good.    When there's nothing I can do to help, I look to see what there is for me to learn.    So I sat with this man and thought about what I would do, what I would feel, if he were mine.     I sat vigil until the family was ready to face the room again.    I don't know their story since they didn't want to talk; maybe they loved him deeply and were just worn out.    Maybe they were ready for this to be over, for him to die.    Or maybe I needed to be reminded that eventual loss is the inevitable result, whether or not I give myself room to grow, whether or not I try new things, whether or not I let someone into my life again.   

Such a cheerful mind I live in.    So I shook it off, went to the target range, and went to the indoor track and walked a mile.      This is still going to be the Best.  Year.  Ever.    I'm counting on it.