Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Hanging On

I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting the last couple of weeks as I’ve attempted (with my family) to help Dad navigate the beginning of a different life – the next life. A life without Parkinson’s and all the other malarkey here.

As I write, he is hanging on. He’s been hanging on for several days. He’s given me a lesson in humility as I keep realizing that no matter how much education or experience I have, no amount of prediction is full proof. After my fourth or fifth “this is it” was completely wrong, I stopped trying to guess.

My doctor asked¬† me today if I was ready for this to happen. I told her that he and I have been talking about this for well over a year. I want this for him, because he has wanted it so much. What I was not prepared for, was how difficult this has been. Dad did all of this “right.” He filled out his forms, got all his ducks in a row and his affairs in order. I told him the beauty of palliative care is that it would be painless when the time came.

Boy was I wrong. I already knew that palliative care that is apart from Hospice is a new concept. I knew that accepting mortality is a tough idea for people to grapple with. I just didn’t anticipate how ginormous the gap actually is. At one point, I had his primary doctor tell me that medicine is not practiced “that way” in America. He truly thinks I have some wacky idea that doesn’t even exist.

The place where he lives is also way out of tune. I approached them back in January and warned them this would be coming. Of course, they ignored that conversation over the last eight months. The result has been devastating.

I pointed out that Dad is only the beginning for them. As this idea catches on, there will be more and more people. Someone finally asked why amazing, compassionate health care is only found at the end of life. Someone finally realized that patients should be driving their own treatment, not medical staff. Now the movement has begun but it is even more difficult than I could have imagined.

That has been the hard part for me. If Dad has to go, I wanted to help him have it on his own terms. A hard-working war veteran should have the right to end his life the way he wants. And he definitely should not have to suffer because of that decision.

We finally have Hospice, but it was the battle of all battles to get it for him. There is no do-over, no second chances with end of life stuff. I just have to hope he knows how hard I fought for him. We eventually succeeded, but he suffered longer than he should have before he got “comfortable.” Damn it to hell!

Please pray for him. He is tired and ready. He seems to have a hard time letting go. I want so much for him to be able to relax into what lies ahead for him. It’s almost over, Dad. You just have to let yourself embrace it. You so deserve the rest and healing that is waiting for you.

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Grief at it’s Best

Jill Duffield wrote an article for a Presbyterian magazine in the context of pastors. I thought it applied equally as well to counselors. “An honest seminary professor had warned me about grief, but no warning is sufficient. He had said it is painful to keep burying people you love. He was, and is, right. But death only represents a small part of the large, complicated puzzle of sadness that accompanies pastoral ministry.

“One of the hardest aspects of ministerial grief is this reality: As the pastor you know far more than anyone else the extent of grief in the room, the depth and breadth and variety of suffering present at any given moment. Add to that the fact that you can’t share it, except with Jesus and your therapist, and this mixes loneliness to the pain of hurting with people you care deeply about. It has the capacity to disturb your soul.”

I have the double whammy of being a counselor and being an author/lecture on the topic of death/dying and grief/loss. Those are my choices, although part of me believes that the professions have chosen me. For me, being a counselor is being present in the room fully with my clients, no matter the breadth of their pain. I work hard to be unafraid of it.

Yesterday I had a lecture at a college. It was not for a particular class, but was advertised to the college campus in general. The college had just had a memorial service earlier in the week for the one year marker of a student’s death by completed suicide. Plus it’s the holidays. I knew the audience was ripe for strong emotion. There was only about ten in the group. Sometimes smaller groups are great because they are much more intimate and allows for a more meaningful experience.

The lecture went well. That is, it was well received and clearly touched the people who listened. But it was also hard. I had to focus more than usual to keep on track. There was one gentleman there. He was likely in his 50’s. About half way through, he started weeping quietly. He was in the front so no one else could see him. I could though, and he was clearly suffering.

There was a young college student, and she wept through most of the hour. I was able to meet her after and give her a hug. She told me she has lost three grandparents in the last year. She was also mentally tortured as she was unable to be there for one of them. We talked at length and I was glad to know she was connected with a counselor.

I am used to making audiences laugh and then sniffle. That’s part of the power of the message and the heart of bitter and sweet. But yesterday was a bit more difficult. It was mostly painful for people and I had to keep going through it, knowing they we were hurting so badly.

When I got home, I was exhausted. I laid on the couch for a while instead of doing the big list of things I had to do (like write my blog!). It seems obvious, but I didn’t even put it together until eating dinner at night. I couldn’t figure out why I was so wiped out and then I was like, duh! That was pretty intense. And things like that can definitely “disturb my soul.”

Ms. Duffield’s article ends with this paragraph: “Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden light, but the lead apron of grief is heavy and sometimes we need help taking it off, if only for a while. I am grateful for the people of faith who have helped me, quieting my soul so that I could once again wear a garment of praise instead of mourning. May God gift you with those people when you need them most.”

If you read my blog regularly, you know I am fortunate enough to have a nice, healthy number of amazing people in my life who quiet my soul. My hope and prayer is that those people I met yesterday will be surrounded by the same kinds of people as they are processing whatever grief is taking hold of their life. While it was hard, I am grateful they took the time to come and hear a talk that hopefully helped them with their healing. Blessings!


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Engaging in Life

Sometimes engaging life means being willing to engage in pain and loss. If you are going to be genuinely connected to others, that is going to mean being willing to face their difficult challenges as well.

I’m sure that life is full of happiness and wonder and surprises and goodness. And sometimes life just seems full of unfairness, injustice, inequity, suffering and agony.

A dear person in my life went through a difficult miscarriage. Then she went through a year of difficult infertility. Then she finally got pregnant with twins. Her pregnancy was turning out to be quite difficult with incredible sickness. There were days she wanted to rip her hair out but then she would tell herself with every vomiting spell that the babies were alive and well.

And then she delivered twin sons at 16 weeks and lost them both. She and her husband were able to hold them, name them, cry with them, and say goodbye to their sweet babies. Talk about gut wrenching loss.

An older friend of mine was in tears on the phone yesterday as she talked about two of her grandchildren getting a life education about loss at their young ages. Her 15-year-old grandson lost a friend and teammate when he went on a hike with his family and fell to his death heading to the Eternal Flame. Her nine-year-old granddaughter lost a dear friend who was driving with her family and was hit by a drunk driver. Stories aren’t matching up. He may not have been drunk but on some kind of medication. Either way, he is in jail, and the family weeps over their loss. And young kids try to make sense of loss the same way my Frankie did when he was eight and his father died.

Cripes.

I had a quiet night with a couple of friends sitting by a fire. I commented that I love fires, and I’m having one in my beautiful yard outside of my beautiful house. I was sitting with friends. So why the heck aren’t I happy? I get so terribly frustrated with myself that I can’t be happy, content, or whatever. I just feel empty most of the time. And angry more and more often. One of the people sitting with me is a neighbor who I haven’t seen in quite a while. She has buried TWO husbands in her lifetime. She told me again, that in her experience and her reading, her guess is that it takes about ten years after you lose a spouse to really, truly feel like you are living again.

Cripes.

I told her we are approaching five years. When I talk to others about grief and loss, I always preach about there not being any time tables. That everyone is different. You know the drill. But when it comes to myself, I think that five years sounds like an eternity. Every year that passes I think I should be further along than I am.

I guess partly it is hard for me because it doesn’t always feel directly related to my loss. It often feels connected to being alone, but sometimes it’s not even that. But what other reason do I have to feel so lost and angry and empty and unhappy and unfulfilled and cranky?

I will keep being there to be a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, and I will even weep with others. I’m not afraid of anyone’s pain or suffering. I just wish there were more moments of the other end of the spectrum to balance things out more often.

Maybe tomorrow.