Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Hospice’

So, I have another birthday coming up. This yearly event stopped meaning anything special to me years ago – somewhere after 40.  This birthday will mark my last year in the decade of the 40’s.  Next year I hit the big 5-0; that will be a much bigger deal to me.  There’s just something inauspicious about hitting and moving beyond 50.  Of course, those who have moved way beyond that mile-marker will tell me otherwise.

Believe it or not, the biggest decade markers that were downers for me were the younger ones. Turning twenty was traumatic.  Somehow, in my mind, it meant leaving “youth” and entering into “age.”  Not old-age per se, just an age where the responsibility stakes went up ten-fold in my mind.  It was, in my thinking, leaving the care-free stage of life and entering the care-burdened age.

This is one reason why I always warn my children not to worry about growing up so fast and “getting out on their own.” So far, none of them have listened to me.  I suppose it is the optimism of youth that helps us to launch into our independence.  Of course, complete and total ignorance of what really lays ahead helps too.

The other decade marker that was a downer was thirty. I was depressed for a week.  This seemed to mark me as the entrance into “old.”  All youth is gone and spent, now all that was left was aging and more burdened responsibilities.  In retrospect, however, I do have to say that my thirties were quite fun and fulfilling.  I had some real rough years closing out the decade, but for the most part they were enjoyable times.

Turning forty did not faze me all that much, for some odd-ball reason. I had some friends who made the event a lot of fun (at my expense, of course).  At the same time, there was a positive stride into the decade of the 40’s with a certain sense of maturity, wisdom and life-experience.  These have been good years with lots of good experiences.  It has held enough life adventures to keep it interesting.  So far, I think I am well on my way to fulfilling my life’s mission of “finishing strong and finishing laughing.”

This life goal or mission helps me to focus on what is important: finishing strong in my relationships with God and my family and friends and to do it all with great joy and no regrets. It is that last point that is the sticky one.  It is truly hard to finish life without any regrets so that one can end life with great joy – laughing.  Perhaps approaching the age of fifty has made me more retrospect than ever (as if I could be any more retrospect…I’m wired to be an internalizer, meditator and processor).  I had a friend tell me one time, “Boy, Ron.  The stream of thought sure runs slow through you.  But I have to say, it does run deep!”  We still laugh over that observation as there have been many funny applications to it over the years.

Tubing On Quilcene Bay, Washington, Summer 2007

Tubing On Quilcene Bay, Washington, Summer 2007

I have been witness to many people who, at the end of their life because of disease or death, spend a few moments replaying their regrets.  There seems to be a need to attempt to correct any mistakes before one leaves this life.  Sometimes, this is not always possible.  According to Bronnie Ware, an Ezinearticles.com contributor and palliative care worker, when questioned about any regrets, the dying had five common themes that surfaced again and again:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

These all strike me as having to do with my life goal to “finish strong and finish laughing.” A life well-lived and full of joy up to the end of it strikes me as something the Creator would take great pleasure in as He witnessed our leaving this world and entering the new creation He has awaiting for us.  Each of these five things recalled by Bronnie Ware reminds me that life is full of risks that present opportunities and pitfalls.  One cannot live life sheltered in hopes of coming through with no scrapes or bruises.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard a message on risk-taking. It was inspiring as well as challenging.  What would we be doing differently right now or attempting to do if we knew that we could not fail?  There lies the stuff of dreams and visions.  In the message a quote was shared:

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing!”

What a daring statement! Like me when I heard it, you are probably wondering what brave soul, perhaps famous, made such a declaration.  Our speaker pointed out some of the risk action ideas in this quote: danger, exposure, adventure or nothing!  The quote is from Helen Keller.  What a statement from a deaf, mute and blind hero for whom getting out of bed everyday was an adventure and a risk!  The speaker pointed out that, willing to do so, she changed her world as an author, activist and even lecturer!  Suddenly, I find myself in short comparison to someone born with so many “handicaps.”  Certainly, I in accompaniment with my full faculties have a long ways to go to catch up with her.

I suppose that there is no way to completely avoid end-of-life regrets. Clarity of vision seems to be the privilege of only those at the terminus of their life’s journey.  We could all stand to learn more from them.  The words of Jesus could also help to prod us: “Playing it safe and guarding your self will not help you in the end.  Only risk-taking and self-sacrifice will help you discover who you were made to be and the reward that will await you at life’s end” (my own paraphrase of Luke 9:14).

So, to “finish strong and finish laughing” is going to require more work on my part it seems. Every day as well as every decade will be an adventure.  It reminds me of Frodo‘s recollection to Samwise of Bilbo‘s wise words in The Lord of the Rings: “Remember what Bilbo used to say: ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to‘.”  Who knows what’s around the corner of 50 – or 60 or 70 for that matter.  Might as well finish them strong and laughing with no regrets.  If anything, it will leave the devil frustrated over me and my friends wondering.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I live in an area where there are a lot of well-to-do people, especially retired well-to-do people. It is interesting watching many of them in the twilight years of their lives.  Some find really purpose and meaning with their lives.  I know many that volunteer at the local food banks.  I was talking to one lady last night who had spent most of the day reading to elementary school aged children and was going to do so again today.

One of the big questions in our American culture as one nears retirement is the question of “quality of life.” Retirement communities sell their time-shares boasting the quality of life they offer to potential members.  Everything from senior travel excursions to activities at the local senior centers offer to improve one’s quality of life.  This is selling short, I believe, the whole idea of “quality of life.”  It is selling out to the idea that the American twin-gods of Comfort and Convenience are the altar at which we should be worshiping when we approach the end of our lives.

There is a potential for larger impact in one’s retirement years than one may expect. The freedom of time and the possibility of disposable income could increase one’s footprint upon bettering society and leaving a more promising future for the next generation.  Whether it involvement in a Creation Care organization or project, volunteering at a local school or after-school program, helping at a homeless shelter, clothing or food bank, or giving time and energy to one’s place of worship, there is a lot of life left in life; too much life to only give away to golf courses, cruise ships, bingo and shuffle boards.

Yellow Flower, June 2007

Yellow Flower, June 2007 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

As I was driving through one of the retirement neighborhoods in my area, I could not help but notice the well-kept yards and gardens. Personally, I think this is a great way to get out-of-doors and exercise.  Then, something caught my attention that jerked me into reality.  An elder lady had a shop-vac out and was vacuuming her driveway!  Of course, I had to slow down and do the looky-loo thing.

Sure enough, she was cleaning her driveway with a shop-vac! I suppose it beats sweeping.  However, in this part of the state of Washington, in the Spring-time one only needs to wait for the next windstorm to come through and clean up the place (or pile it against the back fence, which in itself is also a convenience as it puts all the neighborhood garbage and desert tumble weeds in one easy-to-get-to location).  In any case, it is a pointless effort.  Then, the reality of what I saw dawned upon me.

I can only surmise that this particular retired person was bored. Why else would one waste their time vacuuming a driveway (and it wasn’t a small one, I might add).  There was nothing more important to do with her life or her time!  She and her husband, who was standing nearby watching (probably waiting his turn), needed a place more important to give their time and energies than cleaning their driveway with a vacuum.  The well-manicured lawn and gardens revealed that they were taken care of already.

Of course, witnessing this geriatric exercise in futility touched my funny-bone deeply. I’m suddenly wondering to myself if that is something I will find myself doing in another 25 years.  Lord, please, I hope not.  I hope my neighbors get annoyed with me because my yard and gardens never quite look right.  I hope that my drive way goes unswept; let alone unvacuumed.  Why?  Because I hope that I’ll be too busy giving my life to more important things that will last beyond my lifetime and into eternity.  Otherwise, if in another twenty-five years you happen to pass my house and see me out vacuuming my driveway?  Please call hospice.  It’s time to put me asleep.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Read Full Post »

Poor Job. The biblical person who suffered ever increasing tragedy until nothing was left to him but a bitter wife has come down to us as an example of human suffering and the questions that go along with it.  He lost his wealth, his children and their families, all he owned, and was plagued with disease.  As he sat in an heap of ashes allowing dogs to lick his wounds, his wife’s only counsel was to “curse God and die“.  Obviously, according to her, Job must have done something to bring down the wrath of the Almighty.

When Job’s friends hear about his plight, they mount a support group to be with Job and offer him comfort. Unfortunately, they, too, offer words that are more damning than helpful.  Their miserable efforts at help and comfort end up bringing more suffering to Job instead of relief.  In the end, Job wishes they had never come to “help”.  He would like all of them to just go back home.

We still use Job’s friends as an example for us today. Whenever people offer comfort that ends up being no real comfort at all we call these individuals “Job’s comforters”.  Instead of bringing relief, they bring only more emotional turmoil and suffering along with a sense of guilt that whatever happened was somehow the sufferers’ fault.

Broken Sand Dollar on the Beach, Gleneden Beach, Oregon

Broken Sand Dollar on the Beach, Gleneden Beach, Oregon ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2009)

I have been to too many funerals and memorial services where well-meaning individuals have turned out to be a “Job’s comforter”. Their badly derived words of wisdom and attempts at comfort only bring greater sorrow and despair.  I cannot number the times that I have wished someone would just shut their mouth.  In fact, I have come to believe that the best thing that can be said by family and friends and well-wishers at a funeral, memorial, or graveside service is nothing!  Simply being present is a gift enough.

I have shuddered as I have heard people say:

  • “God must have needed him/her in heaven more than we did.” – to parents after the death of a child
  • “Good thing you are still young and can have more kids.” – to a young couple whose baby died of SIDS
  • “Now you have even more reason to cherish the children you still have at home.” – to a grieving mom
  • “It just wasn’t meant to be.” – to a mom whose baby died shortly after child birth!
  • “Remember, God will never give you more than you can handle.”
  • “You just keep a stiff upper lip.  You’ll be okay.” – to a grieving widow
  • “God must have a lesson for you and your family in all of this.” – after a tragic accidental death
  • “God must have known that he/she wouldn’t have been healthy.”
  • “God must have known that he/she would have trouble later and needed to go to heaven now.”
  • “Try and be strong for the other children.” – to a young teen grieving over the death of his father.
  • “He/She is in a better place.” – to a young husband whose wife died of cancer.
  • “It will get better/easier with time.” – to a grieving widow.
  • “God must have needed another angel in heaven.” – to grieving parents over the death of a young daughter
  • “You are so strong.  I know you can handle this.”
  • “I know how you feel.”
  • “Be grateful for the time you had with him/her.”
  • “At least he/she is not suffering any more.”
  • “You know that he/she would not have wanted you to feel so sad this way.”
  • “Time heals all wounds.  You will be over this someday.”
  • “Things will be back to normal before you know it.”
  • “Maybe we should have prayed more, then God would have healed him/her.”
  • “Remember, ‘all things work together for good’.”
  • “Try not to cry so much.  It upsets the kids.”

This is about the time I would like to throw out all of Job’s comforters! It seems to be a human propensity to feel the need to say something unfitting in times of mourning.  Unfortunately, the best that most can come up with is some cheesy spiritual platitude, misplaced Scriptural reference, or miserable attempt to instruct the one grieving.  This is not the time to compare tragedies, instruct in the stages of grieving, or offer spiritual counsel.  It is a time to share in the grieving – to “mourn with those who mourn“.

Mourning with those who mourn is best done by simply being present with the one grieving. This does not require words!  It can involve a loving touch on the arm or shoulder.  It may even involve a tender hug.  For the grieving person, just knowing that there are friends and family present and that they are not alone in their grieving is relief enough.

If words must be used, short statements that identify with the grief of the one mourning is the most appropriate:

  • “I am so sorry for your loss.”
  • “I do not know what to say right now except that I love you and hurt for you.”
  • “My thoughts and prayers are with you.”
  • “I sure am going to miss him/her.  I remember when he/she…” – it is okay to share short memories or impressions of the deceased if it is appropriate.
  • “I just want to be here for you right now.”
  • “My heart aches for your loss.”
  • “I cannot imagine what you are going through right now, but I want you to know I am here for you.”
  • “It is okay to cry and grieve.  He/she was loved so much and will be missed.”
  • “You do not need to say anything right now if you do not want to.  I just want to be with you.”

This does not just apply to the time immediate following a death or tragic loss. It also applies months, even years, later when the fresh wound of grief is opened by a memory.  Such a person’s loss is never fully healed.  The pain of it will always be present.  To avoid becoming a Job’s comforter, one must help the one mourning identify the pain and grieve the loss.  Rather than prolonging grieving, as some may suspect, it actually helps the person heal.  Rather than attempting to suppress the emotions associated with the pain, they are embraced as a part of living.

Rather than become a Job’s comforter, the challenge is to become a true friend who “mourns with those who mourn”. If everyone became better at that perhaps all of Job’s comforters would be thrown out or at least drowned out by the love and kind words of those who are present to comfort those who mourn.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: