This is It

A person who is terminally ill commonly passes through a series of stages marked by physical and emotional changes that are recognizable to health care professionals. One of the last stages may be referred to as “Actively Dying.” As its name implies, this stage can be physically and emotionally active and, for a caregiver, very difficult. Inviting in someone supportive who has been through this stage before can be helpful.

In contrast, the stage after Actively Dying is calm; eerily quiet, simple. For caregivers, it feels like a long exhale after hours or days of gasping for air. Our loved one is still alive, just resting now before embarking on what many believe is the final journey home.

“This is it,” the nurse tells us, in a tone so tender and kind, it belies the words she is saying. “He won’t wake up now, but he can hear you. You can still give him the comfort and love you have been providing all along.”

A shiver ran through the room, and she continued, “If you see two vertical lines on his forehead, a number eleven, you can give him pain medication sooner than scheduled. This is about comfort now. You did a good job. You are all doing such a good job.”

 

For a Moment

Jorox Canyonby Penny Moore

For a moment

When I sink into the knowing

I feel you breath with His breath

The wind lifting ribbons

We untie ourselves without knowing

I like to hold you passing through

The ribbons gently waving on

The palm of my hand joining

Our passing on One to another

A moment never changes

When you touch it that way

 

 

Owed to You

what does the world owe you?IMG_4869

sleepy one, restless under goose down and lavender

do you wish for a rainsoaked sportspage to protect your sleeping face?

hungry one, how will the gifting gods please you?

you, backing away from a holiday pheasant, roasted, plum sauce soaked

do you need a plum to cheer you, half eaten, discarded wrapped in napkins? would that satisfy?

you are offered every day, the light, the air, that red bird, that neighbor’s cat and more

you are offered every day, those branches, that water, a path to walk and shoes to make the walking better

you are offered, you decline, your nose tilts up, face arches away

it isn’t much, you say, you want to see the world

blind to the world before you

for all you are given, your heart burns for better, much, more

cherished one, be grateful

one day the wind will rise and the sun will die and the flowers will crumble away

even now, the great ball of burning slinks into the shadowing woods and a cold breath of autumn bears down

weighted like a rainsoaked woolen cloak draped over your soul

and you are missing all the gifts in the world, because you waited for the world

to give you more

Winter Birds

blue jay shutterstock_46837495

Loved ones lost are always near

Somehow they always find us here

A certain flower, make of car

A train at night, or falling star

They shake us from our winter frost

Reminding us of loved ones lost

These little signs that come so far

Flash like moments where we are

Though we toil on our own

They tell us we are not alone

— from Winter Birds, by Rob Moore

Go

Do you remember the first funeral you attended? Who died? How did you find out? Who accompanied you to the funeral?

When Rachel’s father died, she was an adult, and she had never been to a funeral. Anyone’s. Ever. “When is the wake?” I asked. “Tomorrow night,” said Rachel, adding, “I don’t think I’ll go.”

“To your dad’s wake? Really?” This wasn’t a broken family situation. Not going? It hardly seemed like an option. As her friend, I didn’t even think not going was an option for me. I was surprised and a little annoyed. “What are you talking about?”

“What do you do at a wake, anyway?”

I explained. She went. The world twirled on.

Deciding to attend services is a little more gray when the person being honored or celebrated is more distant, a neighbor, a co-worker, a friend’s parent. Before my father died, I had been to dozens, dozens! of funerals. We lived in a city where the wells (we later learned) were tainted. People of all ages died all the time in our neighborhood. Cancers mostly, all kinds. I remember coming home after a vacation and seeing a lady carrying a casserole (we called it hot dish) to the house next door. Mom said, “Uh oh. I think Mr. G must have died.” She recognized the gesture with the food. We saw that all the time.

To compound my rich experience in funeral-going, my grade school happened to be situated adjacent to a nursing home. Once a week or so, we were called upon to sing at the funeral of some person we didn’t know, kid-choir almost always outnumbering the guest list.

And even with all those funerals in my past, I didn’t always attend wakes and funerals as an adult. They won’t miss me, I thought. I don’t want to be in the way. It’s really for close friends, isn’t it? I’m sure it will be crowded. And I had these other plans…

And then my dad died. And a lot of people came. It was crowded. There were people from all his life stages. People we saw every day and relations we hadn’t seen in ages. Someone came alone, and then went back to fetch his parents. He said, “I knew they would want to be here.”

Every face, every story, every brief exchange mattered. Every person who attended was noticed. Every person who missed it was missed. And no one was in the way. And not everyone was a close friend. And yes, it was crowded. And everyone was appreciated. It mattered. It mattered.

So now, my siblings and I say, Go. If you’re part of the circle, go. If you’re anywhere near the circle, go. I recently missed the funeral of my friend Jenny’s dad. I was deep in my own issues then, and I missed it. In the past I might have just skipped it and moved on, but since my dad’s wake and funeral, I now know, it matters, and I wished I would have made it. Go. Show up. It matters.

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Mancala: Many Hands, Many Voices

This message sent 61 days ago:
Yesterday, buried my dad Too wrecked to go out Maybe tomorrow

The game begins against our will

tinted glass stones slip with clicks into shallow bowls  61 days ago?

smoothed into a bamboo board  So, 62 days ago

click, click  I stood frozen over my father’s casket

 63 days ago, we calculated prayer cards, coffee cups, and parking spaces

and whistled, he would have beenmancala 2

12 bowls, six and six, running  90 today

the length of the board

troughs on either end

12 days before that, a 700 mile countdown

across 5 states   and now we look up

one fist suspended above the board

stones willing themselves a race to spend

to fall 5 eternal days dividing 6 hour shifts

figuring 3 people per shift can sleep 4 hours each

measuring 2.5 every 2 hours  handfuls of gems

and something else every 6  shimmer in the light

we heard  click clink click clink

11 children

and  click click

married 56 years

counted spoonfuls of Popsicle, shirts cut up the back, beads on a rosary,

stitches across a quilt

parsed 80 words in a poem, studied 90 images in a video montage

counted breaths and arpeggios of time

between breaths  A stone falls away

from the board and we glance guiltily down

at the piles of colors, glance up to catch a bird

we counted on God  Flitting

and on each other  Outside the open window

under a vanishing sun

61 days? 70 days? 90 years?

click click clink click

our game ends gently

who won?

yesterday

Hallelujah

As I Listened

By Molly

As I listened to the notes of Hallelujah Hallelujahlift off the page I realized the symmetry in my story, in my experience, in my small existence and that of the spiritual journey. Christmas is coming! We begin “nesting” preparing for this grand birth of our lord’s son Jesus Christ. All the rooms are cleaned the lights are hung presents are prepared food is set beds are made. Just like the week before Teagan’s birth. Déjà vu but why is it that after 29 years of preparing for the birth of Christ is it only now that my mind has finally grasped the concept, the Joy of baring a son to the pain as he suffered the worst loss. People tell me it is the worst loss, the loss of a child. We prepare ourselves spiritually, we celebrate the birth annually. We move forward to prepare ourselves for the suffering and then burial of our savior. Only now do I notice the silent pain of the mother in the story. Only now do I too suffer with her.

10 months of preparation – one week of finalizing details. The birth story, five days- four nights- three nurses- 2 parents- one child; no partridge no pear tree. A humble celebration filled with sorrow and joy. A place we call home, sadness surrounds there are gatherings of people, food, and cots. The procession lay to rest my child. Eternal love, until we meet again in the heavens above. This is not goodbye, I promise to hold your place in my heart. Twelve Months One year, we begin again.

It is the story of our imperfect life with our perfect angel. Only now do I realize it is not our story, it is the spiritual journey of life.

Recommended Reading: A few new books about hospice, death, dying and living on

book journey book life and death book hospice isn't

An important part of the human experience is in sharing that experience with others. We hope that by sharing our stories, others will know more, perform more effectively, see the coming storm and protect themselves… and we know that when we open up a window into our past to help others, it helps us, the storytellers, to process our own experiences and to heal. Fairview Home Care and Hospice recently shared the titles of three books written by people whose loved ones received care through their organization.

Full disclosure, the third book is mine. You should read them all. If you want to read Hospice Isn’t a Place, just let me know and I’ll send you a copy.

Cynthia Heelan’s book, A Matter of Life and Death, is unique in the fact that she not only tells her story, she poses questions for the reader to reflect upon at the end of each chapter.  Her book begins at the time her husband Richard was diagnosed and ends with what grief support practices she has found helpful after his passing.    

Ruth Halvorson’s book, A journey of Grief, Gratitude and Grace, takes the reader through a day by day account of the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of her husband, Loren’s, experience of encountering end of life issues as well as the emotional and spiritual impact this experience has had on the entire family.  

Julie Desmond’s book, Hospice Isn’t a Place, It’s People, includes facts and instruction as much as story – hoping to help people realize they can do this. Julie was also a hospice volunteer for 6 years before caring for her father in our program. 

 

Ruth and Julie’s books can be purchased through www.amazon.com .  Cynthia and Ruth used Kirkhouse Publishing Company.  Orders can be placed through them as well.  www.kirkhouse.com. Julie’s book can also be found at www.createspace.com/4384727.