Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Gift of Last Words

Twilight

Twenty-four hours before his transition, weak, and sedated for comfort in his home hospice bed, Raymond called me over and said softly, "I may not be able to talk tomorrow; there are some things I'd like you to write down."  I took the notebook I'd been using to log medication doses, opened to a new page and replied, "I'm ready, Ray. I'll write down anything you wish."

Over the prior three days, once we had found the right drugs to support his comfort, Ray had spent many hours in a twilight of sleep. Disease symptoms still broke through occasionally, but there were longer intervals of peace. I believe, as do most hospice professionals, that end-of-life sleeping is often a time of life processing, healing of psyche, and soul invigoration. 

Detaching

Raymond Chappa
Author Image
While he loved gentle walks in sunny Arizona, my late husband was also a spiritual contemplative, spending innumerable hours reading and meditating: going inward. Detaching is a phase in dying, and can occur even months before releasing the body. It is the phase of acceptance and peacemaking; it may involve time with others, exchanging goodbyes and expressions of gratitude. For many though, detaching from the worldly, social realm is a choice to "listen" to another realm:  the heart space, the space of Spirit, the space of loved ones on 'the other side.' This is well documented and in my own hospice vigiling, I have witnessed seemingly one-sided conversations, or nodded when a glazed-eyed woman pointed to the window and said happily, "Look at the angels!"

Sacred Space

Author Image
Readers of this blog may have read my posts about Sacred Dying. The philosophy encourages creating an environment that recognizes death as a sacred mystery rather than a medical event. Ray and I agreed that in his final days, I would care for his comfort and honor his wish for privacy and peace. He wanted his unencumbered Consciousness free to do its work, free from emotional visitors or phone calls. Yes, it was frustrating for distant family who demanded he take a call, but I was committed to be his guardian angel, bearing a fiery sword if necessary.

Last Words

And so, in a lucid interval, Ray dictated messages as I scribbled. Profoundly aware that he had harvested these words from a very deep place, I cherished each pen stroke.

1. Ray expressed a sentence of thanks to a person who had provided support during a life-changing difficulty many years prior. He asked me to pass the message on.
2. There was a brief message to his brother, with a final wish for a pending inheritance.
3. Finally, he simply shared: 
"There is no one among you
 that I do not love.
Thank you.
No other words are necessary."

Now, two years after his transition, as my own spiritual studies guide me to new awareness, I remember that I was handed an essential Truth by someone very dear, as he stood in the doorway of eternity. It is a Truth we have read in the world's great sacred books. It is a gift.

Thank you for sharing and caring!

Friday, December 16, 2022

Surprise: I Thought I Was Past Grieving

Surprise: I thought I was past grieving

Author Image

There are some sounds, objects, places, dates and and times that trigger a melancholy moment or two. Surprise. He played soothing piano. She was an avid reader. We hiked in that canyon, got together for cards, ate tacos at that bar, watched that show on Saturday afternoon... and it has now been two or four or seven or fifteen years since their death but... your heart twists a little in those moments. Is it grief? Is it just enduring love? Is it okay?

It is all of the above.

I too, questioned---and even chastised---myself that:
  • I rushed my grief work and now it was bubbling up because I hadn't "finished."
  • I didn't know what grief really was.
  • I didn't feel this kind of out-of-the-blue sadness after my grandparents passed; what was wrong with me?
  • Maybe all the healthcare decisions (like starting hospice) weren't the right ones, and now I'll never find peace.
Maybe this, maybe that. Stop. 

Here are some facts about grief.


  1. It is okay to move forward in life. 
Readers may remember my posts Grief Recovery: Grinding Up The Old Road, Paving The New and Be Brave With Your Life. Life is going to unfold--CHANGE--no matter what.  Maybe we learn how to adjust to little changes like a new class, a new healthcare routine, a new neighbor---as a form of training for the big stuff.  It is very important to give yourself a big hug every time a you take a brave step forward or find yourself in a brave "looking back" moment. 

        2.  Remember to stir some GRATITUDE into the deluge of feelings. 

Author image

When I first put on a CD of piano music, which sent me into a panicked moment of grief, a person close to me scolded "don't do that!" But perhaps rather than fearing grief triggers by avoidance, it is helpful
to go ahead and feel it. Be honest in that moment and add a 'thank you' for the love behind the feeling. Another strategy is to ask a trusted individual to be with you for your early experiences of returning to an "old" activity.
Let me interject that, if your loss has resulted in a post-traumatic stress disorder for which you are following a care plan of treatment, please adhere to your plan. Healing and feeling secure are within your reach when you surround yourself with unconditionally loving support. At times, professional support is essential.
    


       3.    Do not judge yourself.

I cited just a few self-judging thoughts, above, and want to simply say: let it be! Judging, blame, regret are high on the list of thoughts that have low-to-no value... except that they guarantee an expansion of misery. Self acceptance, self love are as important as they are challenging, but try. Counter each self-blaming remark with a self-love statement. I frequently sign off condolence notes with 'be gentle with yourself' which is a nice way of saying LET YOURSELF OFF THE HOOK!

       4.    You are always growing.

I believe all of our circumstances are useful for our personal growth. Most world religions and spiritual teachings, including A Course In Miracles, recognize that a life path has stages of expansion and contraction, gain and loss, relinquishment and the discovery of new gifts. I have had dramatic shifts in circumstances where I simply had to trust in the discovery of new opportunities, gifts. They always show up. Patience, deep listening, visualization and supportive friends are useful. It is human to experience those unsettling moments of despair or frustration. Impulsive actions may look attractive simply because something is happening, but take a breath.  Action in response to a strong inner prompt for forward motion isn't bad: it is a fuel mix of hope and self-care, but that doesn't mean you should stomp on the accelerator. How about a relaxed survey of options, like a dress rehearsal?

When I sought a change of residence after being widowed, I wasn't certain where I wanted to move so I made a wish list. It included being closer to the friends and activities I enjoyed. So I got in my car and drove an hour+ to the communities that fit; I discovered that some places I thought would work were not ideal for impromptu coffee get togethers; I took another look at my wish list and refined what I needed to meet those goals. This dress rehearsal prevented me from an impulsive, poorly devised housing decision. Listen to your gut but use your head: spend time with your wish list and consider the pros and cons of those options. I believe you will know the difference between 😝IMPULSE and INSPIRATION 😇.

        5.    Griefbursts and time.

Author image
I like to bake muffins and always set the kitchen timer. I set alarms reminders so I'm not late for Zoom meetings, and give myself plenty of travel time to arrive early for my volunteer work. But readers of this blog know that I constantly advise:  DON'T PUSH A GRIEVING PERSON!  Dr. Alan D.Wolfelt's The Mourner's Bill of Rights emphasizes individuality. It also refers to experiencing "griefbursts." Think of a time when you got caught in a rain shower:  it wasn't in the forecast and you didn't bring a jacket or umbrella but here it is, so you get wet but you'll wait ten minutes, and it will pass. Be patient with a griefburst. Recognize it as an aspect of having treasured memories and, as you know, memories can last a lifetime! I am making a new vow to receive surprise moments of grief with gratitude and love. 

Thank you for sharing and caring!

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

The Practice of Caring

Who Cares?

While driving recently, I saw a service truck with a door panel that read: ChasRoberts *A/C  *Plumbing   *Caring. Huh? Stopped at a light, I looked twice, carefully reading what I thought I'd read the first time:  Yep, it said Caring. Skeptics might say, "sure, it sounds good, but does it mean anything?" I have never used the company, and in truth, rendering care is something done by a person not an entire company. The takeaway for me, though, was simply c-a-r-e. 

Source
We live in a rushed, multi-tasking, highly-app'd society where impersonal efficiency is only softened by mandated courtesy. But there really are people who break through the sterile to care. The Wall Street Journal published a story of a businessman who had taken on the practice of tipping the unheralded among service workers. His focus are workers who do not share in a tip jar and usually have no direct interaction with shoppers and customers-- grocery baggers, cart wipers. ticket takers... He wants no praise, in fact, his style is to quickly hand the folded twenty and rush out. He leaves gaping, grateful surprise in his wake.

Caring. Hiking this morning after a rainy night, I saw heart rocks revealed from their bed of washed soil; I saw a heart shaped puddle in the surface depression of a large rock; I saw tangles of vine twisted by wind into a heart shape. We are constantly in positions to care, to recognize the opportunity in a moment's sweet surge of gratitude or compassion. 

Compassion is a state of heart

Let's take a look at compassion in this world of challenges. I've had an experience of hiring a man to fix peeling paint on a wall surrounding my yard. We agreed on a price and the timeframe of the job. Day one was about two hours of effective preparation work; the wall was powerwashed and some patching and caulking was applied. I was asked for another cash advance because of a mismatch on the purchased paint. Did I trust this man? I overcame some hesitation by believing in a higher good, but four days went by without work and his six-word texts paired equipment problems with promises. Had I been scammed? I held my thought on the highest good for both of us: my wall and whatever chaos made JR's life and work appear unreliable was turned over to a Higher Power. Three days later, he texted, said he'd been ill, and the job would resume.

I value the writing of Jack Kornfield, and have referred to him in other posts on mindfulness practices. In a meditation titled Family Peace: A Reconciliation Meditation, Kornfield writes:

Compassion is a state of heart, not co-dependence. In true compassion we do not lose our own self-respect or sacrifice ourselves blindly for others. Compassion is a circle that encompasses all beings, including ourselves. It blossoms only when we ask, “Is this compassionate for ourselves as well as others?” When these two sides are in harmony true reconciliation can happen.

Self-Caring

There are a few areas on my ceramic tile floor that, if tapped, have a hollow sound. The thinset mortar has shrunk creating inner spaces, fragile pockets of emptiness.

There are times when I tap at my heart, and find hollows in the resonance of my well being and life balance. My first aid kit at these times (in no particular order) are reliable practices to restore personal harmony:

  • meditation and faith practices
  • fresh air and outdoor exercise
  • caring and service opportunities
  • upbeat time with a good friend
Loving kindness is often noted in Buddhism, and modern teachers like Jack Kornfield remind us to always include ourselves. Self criticism and judgement, negative self talk are huge drains because our egos strut their intimidating false authority. It requires rigorous, nearly continual practice to view all negative thought as false. We must catch ourselves and abruptly counter a negative with a loving kindness positive. For example, "I'm a needy person," is lovingly restated as "I always know what I need and want to feel well."

Does It Really Matter?

See for yourself. Conduct a weeklong trial of care vs. don't care. On the CARE side, do any number of these things:  greet cashiers and ask how their day is going; when problem solving with a clerk over the phone or in person, say you know their job can't be easy and you appreciate their service; let pedestrians cross in front of your car---even if they are super slow; let another driver have a sweet parking spot; clean something for a family member/someone you live with; bring a coworker a fresh iced water or hot coffee...

Author image
Then, On the DON'T CARE side, take opportunities to put yourself first, be impatient with busy service workers, or even complain loudy about slowness; leave your fast food wrappers on the restaurant table, don't walk your shopping cart to the cart corral--just leave it in the middle of an empty parking place. In a medical office with masking requirements, hassle the receptionist that you're sick and tired of the rule... 
Pay attention to your mood during and after those choices:  it is going to be obvious that yes, caring really does matter---for your own wellbeing and for the juicy joy that shimmers in your wake. And, in fairness, if doing the "I don't care" stuff lets you feel things are A-OK, then maybe this blog isn't for you.

Did I say it was always going to be easy? No. Will you have lapses of impatience and anger? It's likely. As the brilliant minister at my church likes to say: Let yourself off the hook! Tomorrow will dawn with a new opportunity.

Thank you for caring and sharing!


 


Thursday, July 14, 2022

TB or not TB: Volunteering for a hospice

Author image

Courage? Not Necessarily. Encourage? Yes!

 I have been volunteering with hospices for thirty+ years. Last year, I prepared a resume of my experience and was gratified by not only the enduring commitment to this work, but how far I've come in understanding its nuances. It is such rewarding work because it courageously embraces the most powerful reality of life:  our human form will reach an end point or as some term it-- a passage of transition to being without a body. Just being present to someone in the terminal phase of life and then, their active dying phase, feels sacred.

 

Passive and Active Encouragement

Honestly, I don't think 'courage' is required to be a hospice volunteer; instead, your gift is serving as a presence (listening, holding a hand, vigiling,)  and while these are forms of passive encouragement, you may recognize a need for active encouragement. Both forms of encouragement can occur whether the patient is conscious or unconscious.  When appropriate (determined by your skills of observation and intuition,) I believe a hospice volunteer is truly effective to:

Actively Encourage the person who is dying that...

  • their life has been unfolding exactly as it needed to.
  • they did the best they could with what they had.
  • their legacy is principally about love and kindness; money and stuff are secondary.
  • they can make peace with unresolved issues by simply doing so in their heart.
  • it is now time to let go of this world, but they are not alone as they do so.
  • the 'other side' awaits them.

Your Role with Family

A hospice volunteer often has contact with family--be it a spouse, partner, or adult child. Here again, your gift is serving as a presence: providing a respite, listening non judgmentally, quietly companioning during a vigil. Sometimes you will recognize the family member's need for active encouragement and then, keep it caring but simple. You may coach them on what is happening in the dying process with their loved one, but you are not there to counsel or give life advise. Let your heart, spirit and experience lead the way. 
Author Image
Here are ways I believe a hospice volunteer is truly effective in active encouraging:

Encourage the survivors that...

Even when we don't understand its timing, the circle of life ends.

Even if it sometimes appeared terribly difficult, their loved one lived the best they could with what they had.

During the dying process they can find peace with spoken words or a hand held; later, choosing heartfelt peace unfolds with forgiveness, acceptance, letting go.

The 'other side' awaits their loved one.


If you hear of specific concerns for a survivor's future--be it funeral arrangements, family or life matters, please pass that observation on to the hospice chaplain, social worker or bereavement support coordinator. Just say: "I think one of our hospice staff can help with that; I'll let them know."

Encouragement when you work in bereavement support

  • death under tragic circumstances changes all survivors: give yourself time to grow into and past the crippling pain by reaching out for strength. It's available through support groups, counseling, clergy and spiritual care, online forums and activist groups.
  • the legacy of a loved one has already been given; in time, you will find it in your heart.
  • grieving is a personal journey--a nonlinear and fluctuating process of your own making and timing.
  • allow yourself space, time, privacy to feel the power of this shared love, grieve its physical conclusion, and trust that in time, life will find a new equilibrium.

Before you begin service as a hospice volunteer

Be assured that you are needed! Volunteers fill essential roles and bring a unique dedication, often with a personal history and sensitivity to needs. It is suggested that you be at least one year beyond a significant personal loss before placing yourself in this type of volunteer role; the volunteer coordinator will probably ask about this. Volunteering in almost any human services setting may require annual testing for tuberculosis (TB) with a simple skin test. The Mayo Clinic notes:
 "Tuberculosis (TB) is a potentially serious infectious disease that mainly affects the lungs. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis are spread from person to person through tiny droplets released into the air via coughs and sneezes."  
So it is a mutual safeguard, along the lines of other Universal Precautions (such as thorough and frequent hand washing, use of mask and gloves at times,) necessary in patient care settings. 

Expect paperwork! 

A reputable organization will require an application, background check, and/or
 references. With the reality of Covid 19, your vaccination status and documentation will be requested. Annual flu shots may be recommended but may not be mandatory for the organization. You'll be asked for a recent photo so that a photo identification badge can be made. 

Expect your own questioning, a sense of wonder, surprise, and even fear. Accept that dying and death are cloaked in profound mystery, almost beyond comprehension; but hold faith in its universality and the fact that humans crave love and companionship-- even when we vehemently express the opposite! To find a volunteer role with hospice, simply search "hospices near me", click on sites' volunteer tab, and consider calling the volunteer coordinator to learn more about the work. 

Thank you for sharing and caring!

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

When You Are A Witness

 I have witnessed many people leave their bodies at death. Technically, I do not see souls--or any special effects of spirit--other than the body releasing its grip on this thing we call life. But I believe in its exit. Consistent with Unity teaching, Unity minister, Ellen Debenport, described our four essential layers of existence as being like 'Russian nesting dolls,':  (the smallest) the body+the ego+the soul+Spirit (our God essence.) The physical body and the mental ego are left behind at death, as our individualized, eternal conciousness continues its journey. 

Respectfully, I realize this set of beliefs is not universally accepted, but I hope you will continue reading. Readers may wish to further explore this topic of 'nonlocal consciousness' (the continuity of consciousness after physical death) in The Immortal Mind: Science and the Continuity of Consciousness beyond the Brain by Ervin Laszlo, with Anthony Peake.

Author Image

Perhaps you have read accounts of NDE (Near Death Experience) and can envision with me, the shift that occurs in consciousness when it is free of the body. Raymond Moody brought this to wider awareness in his 1975 book, Life After Life. It is through NDE accounts that we can even glean what occurs at death and yet, someday, each of us will have this ultimate mortal experience. 

Midday on March 19, 2022, my husband and I were driving to an event in Tucson and came upon an accident scene. Despite my professional experience, it shook me up. Now, one month later, I have found some peace and understanding. The circumstances remain very sad and more should be done to ensure cycling is a safe recreational experience. 

Witness

I am lying on the side of the road at least 

my body is. 

Is that my wife too

A few yards west

Lying on the side of the road?

There is my beautiful

full carbon Vitesse EVO

with its sexy stiffness

Its four grand float fantasy frame

Oddly crumpled near the sheriff’s suv.


I am lying on the side of the road at least

My body is.

And yes my beautiful young wife

Lies beneath a tarp 

As do I and yet

 she now takes my hand saying:

Cookie

Looks like our ride is over.

My beautiful wife

My beautiful cycle

oh my oh my oh my

Everything, simply everything

Is beautiful.


And what do you know

I feel no concern that

the dog is waiting for her midday treat or

I’ll be a no-show at choir rehearsal or

The gas bill still needs a stamp or

I wore yesterday’s underwear again today.


‘Aha!’ hardly begins to explain

What I feel see hear know

This joy-peace without emotion

This radiance without glare

This vibrance without clamor

This knowing without quest or question

All this all this all this.

+++

In memory of Kenneth and Gretchen Cook

Cyclists killed March 19, 2022, Tucson AZ 

+++

Thank you for caring and sharing...and please:
Share the road!

 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Gratitude Bowl

I am reading a wonderful ebook called The Book of (Even More) AWESOME by Neil Pasricha. I am probably the last to know that this is a sequel to his books, The Book of Awesome, You Are Awesome, and at least seven more books. And, hallelujah, Neil also has an award winning blog, 1000AwesomeThings.com  

I eat this stuff up! It is wonderful, inspiring, and I’ll even say, sanity-serenity saving! Just reading a couple dozen of Neil’s AWESOMEs has me setting up a new Gratitude Bowl. 

I began using a Gratitude Bowl after I was widowed; it was an important exercise to look for the good, and trust that it is there to be found, in abundance, no matter what! In fact, I even felt a little constrained when I made a rule of only-one-gratitude-slip-per-day. Don’t know why I did that but this time, there will be no rules. I want to run and fill out slips for as many things as I can. I want to rush home to my pile of blank slips and catch up on all the good I collided with while out.

Life transitions--even if they are a blizzard of good things, are like new buds-- vulnerable to the Goliath of old defenses, ego, and fear. Those party poopers just love to crank out bummer-inducing pink slips; it’s hell in the middle of the night and laughable after head clearing morning coffee and exercise. 

I recently detected that an attitude intervention was needed. My usual body-mind-spirit self-care activities wore off too quickly, and even the abundant love in my wonderful remarriage was serving me like a loose BandAid. Neil’s AWESOME book arrived at just the right time and now, my new Gratitude Bowl will be part of the attitude intervention. 

Author image

RECIPE FOR A GRATITUDE BOWL:  

Choose a bowl, any kind of bowl!

Cut slips of paper-- any kind of paper!

Place a pen or marker nearby. 

Thank you for caring and sharing!