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Posts Tagged ‘living’


JanShell1This month’s shell is pristine enough to be sold in a beach souvenir shop instead of where I found it, lying among other scattered shell fragments on a beach somewhere in Florida.  Shelling is a favorite past-time for tourists in Florida, for locals too I think.  It’s what I seem to do when walking the beach with my eyes glued to the sand to avoid stepping on sharp things.  I can’t help but pick up pretty shells to later put in one of the decorative bowls in my house.

FullBowlShellsThis one came from a specific bowl that I filled with 12 shells, each one signifying one month of life.  My intention is to stay aware of each month so I can appreciate the relationship of time and my life.  With this one gone, there are eight months left to this particular year.  When looked at that way, it becomes rather glaring that my days of life continue to tick away.  My how a year goes by quickly.  And what do I do with that time?

 January, was occupied by friends, mostly, and if not being with them then thinking about them.  Maybe that’s because of the underlying thread of death and dying that confronted me this month.  Of course there was my ongoing hospice work, but also a very dear man I know dropped dead suddenly, and a different very important friend is facing health challenges that threaten her longevity.  During times of losing someone or potentially losing someone the importance of relationships take center stage.  Or rather, threatening times make you realize how important relationships really are.  When facing death people don’t wish they’d worked harder or longer hours.  They tend to lament the amount of time spent with people they love.  So I’m taking time with good friends while I still live in blissful ignorance of my eventual demise.

Marilyn&MeFor starters there was Marilyn, a friend who dates back to early childhood.  Was I five when we first played together?  She lived two houses down from us and her family was my second family.  I showed up every Christmas morning, as early as my mother would allow, sometimes in my pjs to catch everyone opening their presents.  There was always one for me and later I’d asked if I could stay for dinner.  Never knew about proper etiquette back then.  Actually, I practically lived at Marilyn’s house – spent several school day afternoons each week there, summer vacations at the beach with her family (mine never took vacations), family picnics, many family dinners and countless overnights whispering the nights away together.  Her house was my escape hatch when family wars in mine became overbearing.  Now Marilyn says we’re better than sisters.  I have to agree, and it started … 50 years ago?  Oy vey!

rainbow01Marilyn is facing a serious health challenge now; it might be the fight of her life – for her life.  She lives in Florida and though I’m in Tennessee the distance is not keeping us from our necessary friendship.  She needs me and I need her; I’ve always needed her.  And we’ll get through this together, one way or another.  The first week of this month was spent at her house just when we received her mind numbing diagnosis.  Serendipity?

And then I came home to a text message from a former colleague and friend with the news about Jerry, how his wife discovered him the next morning and surmised he died in his sleep.  59 years old.  Friends, family and colleagues were stupefied by the news.  Say what?  Really?  How the hell … ?  And now Facebook is littered with photos of him and memories galore.  His wife, shell shocked.  And yet – what a way to go, huh?  One day you’re here living your life – and he lived his with gusto – and the next day it’s all over.  No pain, no suffering, no dreadful diagnosis that makes you evaluate your life.  If I got to choose, I’d make sure I enjoyed the living while the living was good – then checked out, Jerry’s way.

Well I do get to choose – at least the first half of the equation.  I do have the power to enjoy my life, love my friends and family and live with no regrets.  And so far – I’m right on target…

best_friends_sketch_by_0ouo0-d45uu73Which brings me to Judie.  She and I worked together many years ago in Pittsburgh during our radio days.  She was a reporter I was a producer and we were tight friends.  35 years later we still are – though we’ve lived separately in a few different cities since then.  Still do – she in California, me in Tennessee.  But when we catch up it’s as though our last conversation was yesterday.  Thanks to Facebook we stay in touch and just had one of our catch up phone calls the other day.  We talked about needing to get together soon and play because … you just never know, now do you?

I have a couple very dear friends here at home that I haven’t seen in a while – they moved recently and have become caught  up in their lives like I have in mine.  But that’s not a good excuse especially since we now live five minutes apart.

OK then – February will bring time together with them.

What have you done with your life in January?

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People are usually wowed by my revelation that I’m a hospice volunteer, more than likely following that reaction with “boy I could never do that.”   They ascribe all sorts of saintly attributes to me which is uncomfortable, because they’re not true (ask my husband).  What is true is the following list … in no particular order … at this time of lists.

I receive much more than I give.

Time and receptivity is all that’s required and in return I learn about life and what it means to be human.  There is no other time in a person’s life when the need for true connection is greater.  To be invited into someone’s ultimate personal journey is a gift not to be taken lightly.  It holds great responsibility for truthfulness and vulnerability with its attending need for confidentiality.  Life’s lessons can be transmitted in just a few final months and I’m awed by the opportunity.

Hospice care givers are selfless heroes.

After a certain point a person in hospice care can no longer go and do.  All that’s available is to Be.  It’s the caregiver who is their loved one’s wheels, hands, utensils, hygienist, eyes, ears and task accomplishers.  They become housebound, leaving only when someone’s there to sit vigilance in their stead.  Life can exist that way for months, depending on the nature of the illness.  And it’s they who experience the deterioration of the person they knew and loved who’s no longer the person they remember.  They give selflessly without complaint – the greatest gift of love.  They lead invisible lives until theirs can once again resume.

Live life the way you’d like to be remembered.

This lesson can be sobering for someone on a deathbed.  One of my patients was postponing her death as long as possible even though its extension caused her suffering to be prolonged.  When we learned that she was afraid to die because of her shame about the pain she had caused others in her life, and her subsequent fear of retribution after death,  we called in her pastor to pray with her, allowing her to ask for the forgiveness she believed she needed.  And that included a necessary plea to her husband.  The next day she died.  No-one wants to be haunted on their deathbed.

Two friends

Authentic relationships are the only kind to have.

Once I experienced a true human connection I realized that it’s the only type I want.  Life is so short, putting on airs and pretending to be someone you’re not is foolhardy and a waste of precious time.  Being invited to peer into someone’s soul can be profound.

Friendship

It’s gratifying and enriching to be of service.

My time, until now, has been paid for by a number of companies who determined the value I brought to their organizations.  Doing what I did had market value and its commensurate performance standards. So most of my waking hours were spent performing to expectations – theirs and mine, tying my definition of value to size of paycheck.  Today I know differently and it’s had a profound effect on my life.

Day Hospice

Love comes in many flavors…

and romantic love might be the most shallow.  Relying on a family member to perform hygiene needs can force the final release of dignity.  And yet it’s part of the dying process.  Attending to people during their greatest time of need requires true unconditional love.

Friendship, Göteborg, Sweden

Image via Wikipedia

Shedding a facade makes room for intimate connection.

There are no more airs during the dying process, only naked humanity.  When I walk through the doors of a patient’s home I leave my defensive walls behind and open my heart to anything that might transpire for the next few hours.  I was privileged to attend to one elderly patient during her active dying phase with her equally elderly husband by her side, over wrought with grief.  With fever raging and her husband helplessly watching, I applied cool, damp wash cloths to her head, chest and arms, speaking soothing words as her breathing changed.  I witnessed her husband’s tears and last words of love and kiss goodbye – an unparalleled moment of intimacy that I’ll never forget.  Even her children didn’t experience this exchange between their parents; by the time they arrived she’d lost consciousness.

Change is the only constant.

Spending time with the dying certainly drives this point home.  Photo albums, pictures on the walls, stories from family members – those are the only ties to who this person was – his likes, her dislikes, their careers, their passions. This new person only shares the same name.  Most of the time I’ve never met the person they describe.  Life represents one changing moment after the next.  Might as well embrace it and enjoy it.

Patient

Trust defines our human-ness.

When you’re dying all there is is trust.  Trust that those who are there will do what’s right and take no advantage.  The dying slowly lose all control over their lives, leaving it in the hands of those around them, trusting that their wishes will be honored.  It’s heartwarming to watch adult children assume the role of parents and caretakers.  And the process reveals the true character of people.

Original caption: Ne ties a friendship bracele...

Image via Wikipedia

Listening without judgement is vital.

My role as a hospice volunteer is to do whatever the patient needs at the time.  Some like to be read to, others enjoy playing games.  One patient just wanted to watch old movies.  And one gentleman waited until his wife left to break down and grieve that he wouldn’t be around to counsel his grandson into manhood.  This man’s son died the year before and now his son’s son wouldn’t have a grandfather.  It was more than he could bear and it took all his energy to stand strong in front of his family.  Many patients need the ears and hearts of people who come with no family baggage.  Holding hands and simply nodding provides comfort.

Hospice

Friends show their true colors in time of need.

And many walk away, never to be heard from again.  It’s easy to be friends when life is humming along; it requires much more mettle when there’s nothing to be gained in return.

Mother and Child watching each other

Image via Wikipedia

Recognizing mortality energizes living.

Working in hospice is not depressing.  It’s not morose.  It’s not morbid.  It ends in sadness but inspires vitality.  When we recognize that life will end – for all of us – then we’re compelled by an urgency to appreciate each day and be aware of it.  Awareness of the present is a Buddhist tenet and that lesson stands front and center in hospice.

Hospice

Hospice is a gift.

It offers the dying a chance to end their days in comfort.  Without pain.  Without tubes attached.  Outside the beeping noise of an ICU with its antiseptic smell and sterile walls.   And it teaches the greatest lesson to accept that which you can’t control.

Yes, hospice inspires living.  May be we all be so inspired.

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