Monthly Archives: October 2014

Hospice Care: Three Little-Known Ways to Make the Most of Time with a Loved One

You might find this month’s “grab bag” post a bittersweet one: What are some ways to maximize the time left with a loved one who’s dying? It’s a difficult and monumental topic, but my goal for these brief suggestions is to infuse some hope and meaning into the challenging times.

photo: Robynlou Kavanagh

photo: Robynlou Kavanagh

I spent a few years as a hospice social worker. That meant that I helped the dying person and their loved ones address anything non-medical that was important to them at the time.  …This ranged from emotional, relational, and grief issues to financial matters and final wishes–and many topics in between. It proved both incredibly hard and incredibly rewarding.

Consistent threads wove themselves into the varied tapestry of these precious people. Every situation looked different yet similar in some ways. The three suggestions below stuck with me since they played a major role in nearly every hospice patient’s home.

1. Attempt to strengthen relationships. Let’s get the most complex suggestion on the table first. Far and away, broken relationships affect a dying person the most, usually even more than their own impending death. If discord, which usually began years earlier, exists between the person and a loved one (or more often, among that person’s loved ones, such as their kids), it likely hinders how peacefully a person passes away. Try to resolve this if at all possible. If it’s not, at least show the dying person that effort is being made. The regret that follows the person who didn’t try is often harder to swallow than the grief itself.

Now, please let me reassure you of a couple of things: First, all families deal with some amount of dysfunction. Every. Single. One. Even the most loving families have some sort of issue, even if it’s minor. No family is perfect, and that’s okay. Many people I served through hospice felt like their family was a rarity if they had troubles with each other. Not so. The true rarity is the family with no relational issues, so there’s no shame in admitting that things aren’t picture-perfect.

Second, some relationships can’t (or shouldn’t) be mended. Yes, I’m contradicting myself. However, there’s no denying that certain severe, serious circumstances make it necessary to leave things as they are. Don’t feel pressured to “fix” boundaries that exist for good reason. Unsure if your situation falls into this category? My suggestion is to leap forward a year in your mind’s eye, and imagine looking back on this time–before your loved one passes away. Use this lens to explore if an effort should be made or not.

2. Make memories and mementos. This can be a magical time, despite the circumstances. Use it to do special things together if at all possible. One of my patients voiced a simple request: one last all-out steak dinner. His strength wouldn’t allow a trip to his favorite restaurant, so we made the most of it at his house. He and his wife enjoyed a special, candle-lit meal together at their own table.

Or create a keepsake to help smooth the rough road ahead. A popular and easy token uses common polymer clay (more info is posted below). The idea is the capture the feel of your loved one’s unique fingerprint in a permanent treasure. I loved showing families how to do this. Make it into a pendant, a keychain–whatever you’d like. Its feel can comfort you for years to come, and it can be made with little to no discomfort to your loved one.

3. Keep talking. Words and music are powerful, especially in the last days and hours. Play your loved one’s favorite music in the background, and don’t be surprised if they react to it despite being “unconscious.” Humming, singing, or moving might happen.

And even if he or she seems non-responsive, keep talking to them. Research has shown that hearing is often the last sense to leave a person. So, chances are better than not that your words are being heard. This is your time to say what’s on your heart.

I hope at least one of these tools makes itself useful. Despite the specifics the underlying message is this: Whether or not your loved ones are journeying through final days, take hold of the time together…now. That’s the surest path to no regrets.

Want to know more about the fingerprint keepsake? Feel free to ask me questions, too.



Reviews: It’s All About YOU!

I reserve the third Monday of each month for book reviews. I love sharing and talking with you about my favorite books and stories. And when it comes to movies and TV, the Read & View (formerly Virtual Views) message board at The Republic of Pemberley has long been a favorite hangout. …Except during the fall season. Downton Abbey airs each autumn in the U.K. before it does here in the U.S., and I want no part of spoilers! [Rant over.]

photo by Christopher Cornelius

photo by Christopher Cornelius

This month I got to wondering…

What do you, my dear reader, want to talk about? If we were hanging out, cups of coffee, hot chocolate–or tea, if you like nasty stuff–warming our hands, what would we chat about? What would interest you most in this space each month?

Would you like to see discussion about:

  • Novels (if so, which genres)?
  • Non-fiction (any certain topics)?
  • Historical movies or TV series?
  • Something else?

Please, comment and share your thoughts. Thank you!

P.S.: And speaking of coffee, here’s a recent shot outside of one of my favorite coffee houses: Blue House


Life with God: Does it matter if I persevere?

Confession: I hate running. Okay, “hate” is a strong word. I severely dislike running. If you read this blog regularly, you may remember that I do run. I just don’t like it. The strain, the boredom, the nasty sweating, the out-of-breathness. No, thanks.

It’s the having run that’s the good stuff. Sticking with it and crossing the finish line. …Perseverance, in the rearview mirror.

photo: U.S. Navy

photo: U.S. Navy

What does the concept of perseverance mean to you? For me, it conjures a picture of pressing on in the face of opposition or resistance.  Like someone trudging forward through a howling blizzard or a ship weathering a fierce hurricane.

But why does it matter? So what if we hang in there, not just in tangible things like exercise, but during life’s difficulties? Wouldn’t it be easier just to throw in the towel sometimes? To give in to discouragement?

I’ve wrestled with this while going through long-term challenges. Prayer, digging into the Bible, and being around godly people have been lifesavers. And through this God reminds me of good reasons for sticking it out.

1. Persevering develops our trust muscles. Just like running strengthens my fledgling muscles, there’s nothing like hard times to grow our faith and trust in God. Do you feel like life just doesn’t make sense in certain situations? And where is God’s direction, His voice evaporating the fog of mystery surrounding these circumstances?

Sometimes it’s just not going to make sense, as much as we can’t stand that reality. Sometimes we must choose to trust and simply be with God–abiding in Him–and follow Him through the storm of confusion. And He won’t let us down.  Psalm 32:8 (NIV) promises the teachable person this: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”

2. Persevering reveals God’s strength in us. Does your own strength ever surprise you? Maybe you hike a steep hill or survive an unbelievably hectic season of life. You look back, amazed, and think, “Wow. I didn’t know I could do that.” Here’s a secret I’ll bet you know already: It’s not our strength, but God’s in us. If Jesus is your savior, then He empowers you to do everything He has planned.

But here’s the interesting (yet groan-worthy) part–often it’s the hard times that hold up a mirror to reflect God’s strength inside of us. In the middle of it weariness threatens to capsize us. Then we stagger onto the shores of the other side. Catching our breath, we turn around and see what God brought us through. And He supplies strength to help us not only now, but in future challenges. We carry that power as we march ahead.

3. Persevering gives hope This week I talked with an older woman who is precious to me. She’s had a rough year. Lots of change, lots of loss. It’s healthy for her to acknowledge her grief, and she doesn’t sweep it under the rug. But she’s practicing perseverance by counting her blessings. “I have a warm place to live, I’m fed, I have my family.” She added with emphasis, “And I have have God’s love. What more could I ask for?”

What a refreshing perspective! Her attitude and perseverance give me hope and challenge my own. The “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1-3 comes to mind. Countless Christians in heaven cheer us on. They pressed on, and they whisper, “You can, too. Keep going. Don’t stop. Persevere.”

I think I’ll keep those spiritual running shoes laced up.

What about you? What’s another benefit of persevering? On a different note, what’s something that you hate doing but like having done?

Time Travel: You want me to wear what?

So, you step onto the flight line, ready to take the helm of a peppy, nimble war machine. Piloting it requires precision and skill. You’ll need full range of motion starting now, through pre-flight checks and hopping into the plane, during your flight, and back again.

But, wait. Before you charge ahead someone hands you a getup like this:

WASP zoot suits

What do you do? If you hope to graduate and serve as a WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), you climb into the tent of a uniform. And there’s more. You must hobble around in this not only today but throughout the entire training process.

But like every other hoop you jump through to graduate, you make the most of it. Someone has nicknamed them “zoot suits,” though they’re really Army surplus mechanics’ suits. The Army didn’t make suits to fit the likes of dames.

So you roll up your sleeves, literally. You cinch your belt as tight as it will go.

And you get on with it. After all, there’s a war to win.

What about you?  Think about what you do during a normal week. How difficult would it be to go through you day wearing a zoot suit or something else ridiculously ill-fitting? If you could make someone else wear a uniform that’s totally wrong for what they do, what would it be?

Want to know more?

Article on WASP uniform changes from Avenger newspaper

Photo and WASP quote