Motivation: #Walk2EndAlz

This year’s walking crew representing JSSA Hospice staff, volunteers and families. We’re missing a few faces in this picture, but THANKS to everyone who participated! 

I participated in my fourth Alzheimer’s Walk today. I almost didn’t go because I have a banged up knee that is not responding to the current treatment plan of exercise/rest/ice/meds/ignore/repeat. (Yes. I’m going to the doctor next week.) I went anyway because it’s a great time with my colleagues. It’s impressive to see the size of the crowd that shows up on the National Mall. It reminds me how devastating this disease is, and how many are affected. Today I noted that there were healthcare providers like our hospice, facility staff members, family members and… patients.

This year, there were residents of an dementia unit participating in the mini-walk. One woman was carrying her baby doll, her caregivers beside her. A man was determinedly trudging down the sidewalk using his walker. Countless others were pushed in wheelchairs.

You can bet I sucked it up and walked. I walked for my patients and their caregivers. I walked for the families who have had a relative die due to complications of Alzheimer’s. I walked for my coworkers who go above and beyond every day.

I also walked because our healthcare system is inadequate and puts an undue burden on families of patients with this disease. It was ironic to be in sight of the US Capitol building, where attacks on affordable healthcare and cuts to Medicare and Medicaid are on the agenda. But I am privy to the day-to-day heartache of watching their family member lose capacity, forgetting faces and names. I hear their concerns about “running out of money” because of the costs involved (which are not reimbursed!) I walked to honor the lives of my patients.

It’s simple. Research dollars help find treatments and a cure. Donations support caregivers and provide needed resources. And staff members and volunteers are reminded that their work with dementia patients and their families makes a difference.

So thank you to all who were among my sponsors. Thank you to the families and patients I represent. Thank you to my coworkers. Let’s keep walking.

P.S. it’s not necessary but you can still donate here!

Ally in motion

It is a long night in Terminal C tonight. Once the airline’s gate agent announced a 2+ hour delay, many of the ticketed passengers either bailed to another flight, or went to find a place to eat dinner. I found a quiet corner, plugged in my headphones and started reading.

I looked up at one point, and seated across from me were two lovely black women. We made eye contact and smiled, and I was about to resume reading when I realized they were talking to me. I unplugged and we started chatting.

“We couldn’t help but notice… your buttons…”

From that cautious statement, the conversation flowed. Where we were traveling, who we were seeing, what we do for a living, how we hated fight delays… and then one of the woman said haltingly, “My dad has cancer. He didn’t come to our wedding… and now he’s in hospice.”

And suddenly, my worlds as an ally and a hospice chaplain collided. It’s the sad, familiar, heartbreaking story I’ve heard over and over… Finding the love of your life. Losing your faith community. Facing your family’s disapproval. My heart broke a little more with each word of their story.

We prayed. There were tears. And while there wasn’t much I could say to help them see their way forward, we parted ways with a little more hope quietly shining in a rainy corner of the world.

That’s really all we’re asked to do, you know. Give a little encouragement and BE the Love, BeLoved.

A heart to heart talk

2hands

I asked my patient,
“How are you, my friend?”
As his tired hand rested in mine.
We have a history of many visits,
Many hours,
Many thoughtful words…

“I’m dying, you know,” he said softly,
His voice rough with the years
Of hard work and prayer.
“But it’s Ok. It’s Ok.”

We sat in a quiet and friendly silence
As we listened to the birds outside,
The hum of the electric fan oscillating back and forth
In a buzzy counterpoint.

I hummed a quiet hymn or two,
Letting my voice wrap him in the sounds of his faith.
He dozed in the soft, fading light,
Then stirred and asked,
“Can you read to me from the Good Book?
Where we left off?”
And so I did, holding his hand,
Reading in Matthew 5
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…”

“My daughter,” he said,
Her spirits is pretty poor.
She’s closer to Heaven than I am.”

I looked at him, emaciated, wheezing slightly,
Leaning back in his easy chair,
Content and at peace.

“Aren’t we all needing Heaven the most
When our hearts are hurting and our spirits are low?”

He nodded sagely, smiled at me, and closed his eyes.
Then he drifted off, both of us contented and comforted
From our heart to heart talk.

 

 

Photo credit: Photo Credit: “I Do!”, © 2010 Yogendra Joshi, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Bunnies and Coloring and Hymns of the Heart

Knitted bunnies made for our hospice patients

 

Last Sunday, I preached from the book of Amos, and talked about the unlikely messengers who bring us hard words from God. I reminded the congregation that if we only dwelled in the message bearer, we could miss God’s Words to us.

In a fit of honestly, I admitted I often look at the appearance of someone first… and then I decide if I will listen to them. And that if we are all honest, we all do this. I challenged my church to look for God’s unexpected messengers this week…

And this week, I heard God speak to me through knitted toy bunnies, coloring, and singing the same hymn over and over and over. It wasn’t what could or couldn’t be said to me. It was seeing the faithful, caregivers, the kind responses to the same questions, the calm words of reassurance, all to bring comfort to a patient.

That’s God talking. I pray that I listened well.

Healthcare: Who will pay?

mhBLxSaOver at RevGalBlogPals I wrote a thing… you can find it here (but here’s a sample…)

Without subsidies, they will not be able to afford to keep him at home. His daughter shrugged and said that it will end up costing the government more to put him in a nursing home, because he has no financial resources. “What’s the sense in that?” she asks me. “If we keep him at home, it will cost one-third to a half of the monthly cost of a facility.”

I appreciate your taking the time to read and reflect on this with me.

Friday

I sat in this room alone for a bit at noon today. It was the only space in the facility where I was seeing patients that the television was not blasting the inaugural festivities for #45. 

Feeling a bit nauseous, I retreated. I. Could. Not. Watch. Props to you if you did. I couldn’t. 

A coworker joined me in solidarity for a few moments. We shared in the silence. The frustration. The WTF-ness of it all. 

I went back to my patients. For to the dying, the whereabouts and pontificating of a bunch of billionaires mean nothing. 

I counted breaths. Held hands. Found tissues. Read words of eternal Hope. 

And that was a fitting focus of my efforts. 
Tomorrow… we march!!

Book Review: The End of the Island

IMG_9952In a chaplain’s world, theodicy is that delicate and difficult balance of the gut-wrenching work of understanding why the Divine allows evil and human suffering. Human as we are, there is such a temptation to distill the work of theodicy into neat little pieces. As if pain, suffering, loss and grief would EVER be done “neatly.”

Many books attempt to express this through allegory or rigid theological systems. Instead of a systematic expression, however, Tucker places his allegory in a kind of contextual theology. Thus I approached this book with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Jeffrey Tucker takes as his muse “The Happy Prince,” a children’s short story written by Oscar Wilde. (You can read it on-line here…)  In the postscript of his book he delves into some of the influences of that story in his work as a chaplain. It’s worth reading first before you delve into the topics his work contains. I would have liked him to develop his own perspective on why he thinks he might be the Prince. It would have given his story a better foundation, for this reader, anyway.

The book is organized around the narrative of an old man traveling “to the end of the island” – a journey he feels he must make as his “time is short.” The “journey” is expressed via short vignettes, spread out over several chapters, each addressing a different question as it relates to human suffering. The questions include:

  • Where is my Suffering?
  • Where am I in my Suffering?
  • Where is the Divine in my Suffering?
  • Where is my Human Support?
  • Where are my Hope and my Deliverance?
  • Re-Defining Forward Movement
  • Finding the End of the Island

On the journey, the old man meets several individuals who help him re-examine what he is experiencing, where he is going, what he hopes to find, and what other lessons might be part of his journey. I particularly liked the author’s reflections in chapter 4 on “Where is the Divine in my Suffering?” His analogy of God being in both the tidal wave and the tidal marsh were poignant and personally meaningful to me.

At first, this structure is somewhat confusing and disjointed. (Perhaps a better “How to Use This Book” section is needed?) However, because of the nature of the questions which Tucker addresses, having “space” in between the sections of the old man’s story is helpful for allowing the reader to engage and reflect. This is not a book to read at one sitting. In fact, if you rush through it, you will miss the beauty of the struggle in this journey we are all on – of life and death, of hope and discouragement, of suffering and release.

Tucker’s premise is that our life’s journeys are not about “solving” the problem of pain. It is not meant to provide simple strategies or pointers. There aren’t Bible verses to read and write down your reflections with Jesus as your Best Friend in suffering and God always bringing healing and relief. (In fairness, there were many places where I found it was easy enough to be drawn back into Scripture and journal. It just was more raw than pretty, honest than victorious.)

This book is also going to make the more conservative readers among us a tad uncomfortable, for the author invites us to dwell with the wider views of spirituality, and to engage in mindfulness practices around the journey we are all struggling through. However, you will be invited to explore fresh and new ways of walking through your own personal, painful, rough patches. And that, in itself, is enough. For God is enough.

As the author says, “The totality of all our questions will never be resolved completely. For remember, I am talking here about movement – not a neat, linear journey.”

Here’s to the messiness and the reality that God is there in the mix. Always.

*****

The End of the Island by Jeffrey C. Tucker. © 2016 Eugene, OR. Resource Publications (Wipf and Stock): Paperback, 156 pages.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I was provided this book without cost from the publisher and was not required to give a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”