Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving. It has been a long while since I have posted here - I could try to make some excuses, but that seems futile so let me just share a little of the past few months.

There are always stories to share from my hospice work. I think about someone that I visited in the hospital several weeks ago. This elderly man did not have any family in the area, and the hospital had been in contact with a nephew who lives in another state. He had not even seen or heard from his uncle for years, yet he was the only living relative. The uncle was barely verbal and not very responsive. The nurse told me that she believed that he was saying a prayer when she went to check on him.

I am always mindful and cautious of prayers that I might say at a bedside when I don't know the beliefs or the wishes of the patient. But, this time, I felt a strong desire to share with him. So I talked a little, and then I prayed for him. When I finished, he started to make noise like he was saying words. I waited, and waited. When he seemed to be done, not knowing at all what he said, I simply said, God, hear our prayers. And very clearly, he repeated, God, hear our prayers. So the next day, I took my IPOD and speaker with me when I visited. I played a couple of Christian old-time hymns and then I played, The Lord's prayer. As it played, he was saying every word. God heard his prayers...and I found out later, he died a few hours later.

The second story - I walked into the building today with a gentleman who looked very tired. I started a conversation and heard him say, "it's not a good day, my wife is dying." I was so struck by that - I have said that I didn't have a good day when I had a cold, it was raining outside, waited for the cable guy too long, or the service at a restaurant was slow.

Friday is National Day of Listening. It was started by StoryCorps in 2008. Each year, on the day after Thanksgiving, StoryCorps asks all Americans to take an hour to record an interview with a loved one. It's one of the least expensive, but most meaningful, gifts you can give your loved ones this holiday season! This year, the emphasis is on teachers, but it can be done for any loved one. You can find out more information at

The 2011 National Day of Listening takes place on Friday, November 25, 2011. Instead of getting lost in Black Friday's long shopping lines, get lost in a conversation with a loved one!

I think of the gift it would be if I had a recording from my mom, dad, and so many others. Working with hospice, I am acutely aware of the importance of sharing what gives your life meaning with those you love and those that love you.

A brief update of life in general: I was in Indiana in October for my niece, Jennifer's wedding. It was an outdoor wedding on a beautiful but very cold autumn day. The leaves had not changed much, but I loved the cool temperatures. Connie and I went back to Indiana in early November so I got a good taste of fall in the Midwest.

I continue to work on the weekends and make a lot of hospital visits, home and nursing home visits, and take calls when patients are dying. I have been working at the inpatient unit - my heart is there and I love being able to spend time there.

We have moved into the modern age and now have a DVR - so I have been finding things at all hours of the night and day to record. And I love the Fast Forward button...when I can remember to use it. I am still a Starbucks junkie and read all that I can. Life is good - I still have moments of missing the old and familiar life- and I still feel very blessed by the work that I do.

I am thankful for family, friends, warm beds, hot showers, food, shelter, employment, memories, email, sunsets, music, faith, books, freedom, hope, love, and a non-fat, pumpkin spice, extra-hot chai!

Happy Thanksgiving. Be thankful and share it!

Monday, August 29, 2011


As I have driven around Pinellas County seeing hospice patients today, I continue to listen to NPR-national radio. I am joined with remember 9/11/2001. And the question that I continue to hear and to get - where were you?

I was in Salt Lake City at a conference. I heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing patriotic songs in a concert that night and felt the horror in a hotel, so many miles from home. If I had to choose a place to get delayed, it would not be Salt Lake City, Utah...but...I was one among many all over the world that were trying to comprehend and to find a way to get home! I remember so vividly the flight to Cincinnati OH and when we landed, people clapped...clapped with vigor. Cincy was as close as we could get that day so 2 dear and committed people came from Fort Wayne IN to pick us up.

This blog is a place that I try to write about the journey of my life and the way hospice work is life-giving to me. I don't want it to be a place to talk politics or world events. But today, I remember, with all of you the way our lives changed 10 years ago. I hope that I do not take the small things for granted as much, that I live a life that is rich and full, and that I will do whatever I can to bring peace and love to my corner of the world.

Mattie Stepanek had important words to say on 9/11/2001 when he was only 11 years old and I want to write them here today.

We need to stop.
Just stop.
Stop for a moment.
Before anybody
Says or does anything
That may hurt anyone else.
We need to be silent.
Just silent.
Silent for a moment.
Before we forever lose
The blessing of songs
that grow in our hearts.
We need to notice
Just notice.
Notice for a moment
Before the future slips away
Into ashes and dust of humility.
Stop, be silent, and notice.
In so many ways, we are the same.
Our differences are unique treasures.
We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts.
To nurture, to offer, to accept.
We need to be.
Just be.
Be for a moment.
Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting.
Like children and lambs,
never judging or vengeful.
And now, let us pray,
Differently, yet together.
Before there is not earth, no life,
no chance for peace.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

August 19

Greetings to all!

I am always surprised that is has been so long since my last post - time flies. I was reminded today that it is time for an update. :)

The residency program came to a close last Friday. It was bittersweet moment as I have loved so much of what I have done and yet, the journey has been intense. I love the clinical work and I feel very blessed to work with some of the very best medical staff. Obviously, there is great importance for the medical staff yet they are gracious and know the importance of spiritual health. I always felt included in the care of all of our patients.

It was most interesting that I feel like I had bookends of deaths that started the year and one that ended the year. When I first arrived, I had a patient that was 25 years old and he touched my heart from the very start. When I would ask him how he was, he always said - even in the final days, fantastic! And the very cool thing was, he meant it. That was my first death. One of my last deaths will mark the end for me. A patient was 94, his spouse was also a patient and 96 years old. They had been married 72 years. As he died, her heart broke. The only thing that I had to say was that there hearts had been connected for 72 years and they would continue to be connected as they parted. Whew - Those two deaths will stay with me forever.

As time goes on, I will continue to do chaplain work in Florida. I will travel around the county and visit in homes, nursing homes, and hospitals so the work will be a little different but I am sure just as rewarding. The downside of it is that I will work on the weekends. Working every weekend wasn't my plan, but for now, that is what is available. I will work during the week as needed.

The days are hot here with rain that comes randomly. I am planning a trip back to IN in October for my niece's wedding so I am hopeful that the leaves will be colorful as that is my favorite time of year. A new life in Florida has been exciting, challenging, lonely at times, fulfilling, life-giving, draining, difficult, fun, an answer to a calling, a question to my comfort, and just plain hard sometimes. For now, I plan to stay...winter is coming so it is really nice here in the winter - who's coming to visit?

A blessing for you - May you have food in the bowl, to feed what is basic, and nourishment in the heart, to feed hungers more wild. (Jan Richardson)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 30, 2011

Can anyone believe that it is soon to be July 1? I moved to Florida in July, 2010 so one year later, here I am. Sallyanna, this post is for you!

If you read here much, you know that I love what I do. Today, reminded me of why I love it so much. I spent time with a family early in the day. It was a family that I met when mom came to us 12 days ago. She had stopped dialysis and was ready to die. She was 80+ years old and was very tired of pain and prodding and chemo and dialysis and wanted to just let go of the fight. I can't imagine really what it is like to have to one day just say, no more. But she had done that with grace.

I remember when she came in that she had the sweetest smile and a gentle spirit. She claimed that she came to die. She wanted no fanfare. Her sons were with her - one from Indiana. They were faithful in being there each day, laughing and crying, telling stories and beginning to grieve the anticipated loss. I spent time with them on a few occasions. Today, was the day she was going to die. And she did. She waited until one son left to take another son to the airport to fly back to Indiana. Her oldest son was in the room, with 2 daughter-in-laws. She knew that her oldest son could be there with strength and she knew the other sons would fall apart. So with the right people in the room and the right people out of the room, her breathing slowed, she opened her eyes, she had tears come down her cheeks, and then she smiled so much you could see her teeth, and then she died.

The family that was present witnessed a beautiful scene that they will not forget - a scene that brought them great comfort. We opened the window and let her spirit soar. Amazing stuff.

The second thing that happened today was - I received some poetry from a woman that I had spent alot of time with while a loved one died. It was a situation that felt foreign to me. The woman was married to someone else, and she also loved and lived with this patient. 2 men, 1 woman. Not as three really, but a woman being shared by two men. Do I understand that? No. But I listened to her story and to the pain of her life living out this relationship and the difficulty in being a widow with a husband. (Think about that!) The poetry that she shared with me was beautiful and rich and contemplative and necessary and important and brought some healing to her. I was privileged that she shared it with me.

The beauty of being a chaplain is I get to listen to all faith traditions, I get to listen to atheists, and polygamists, and broken souls. I get to walk with amazing people and stories and help them find forgiveness and meaning for their life. I see pain and joy every day and it is sacred space and holy ground.

One of my favorite sayings - I've heard it credited to a few different people - I don't know who said it, it wasn't me. "Be kind, for everyone is fighting some kind of battle." I think that is a good guide.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day, 2011

Wow - it has been quite some time since my last post. Much has happened! I moved from the dinky apartment to a small house. It's a fun house that feels like a Florida house with a screened-in porch. No pool - although I am sure that would have been fun. There are still boxes in the garage and I am now speculating that the house needs to be a bit bigger.

Much happens here every day at the Hospice House. Time sort of stops here for families. Their routines stop or change. Time definitely stops here for patients. People come here for 3 reasons, pain management - a time to evaluate medications and see if there are better ways to management the pain; End-of-life care, and respite - where the caregivers really need a break from the normal routine-whatever that might be. We have 30 rooms, individual rooms. Our average stay is 3-4 days so the census is constantly changing. The hardest part for the introvert in me is to meet new people every day, all day long. The easiest part is to hear the wonderful stories of the loved ones that die here and how their lives have left legacies for their family and friends.

One thing that I often do here is to remind staff to think of the things they are grateful for - somewhat of an easy task when you work here. I hope that I never take for granted the simple things. So I share with you items from the latest list - family, friends, good health, our senses-touch, taste, hear, see, smell, ability to love, ability to remember, my home which is personal sanctuary and refuge, ability to walk independently on my own two feet, the ability to do things for myself without pain, the beautiful sunrises and sunsets and fresh air to breathe, hot showers, warm beds, cool evening breezes, books, choices, diversity, language and the ability to communicate with others...

I am grateful that I will be going to Fort Wayne in June-I love what I do here, and I also really miss my Fort Wayne life and some really long-time wonderful friends.

So if you are in the Fort Wayne area, Sunday, June 26, from 3 - 6 p.m., potluck at The Heritage of Fort Wayne, Club House, 8200 St. Joe Road. Come visit!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 21

Greetings to all that read here.

Things are going well in Florida and I continue to love hospice work and feel fully blessed by it. I am missing Indiana at times - seems as though there is a flood of serious illness going on in the lives of friends and family. I hold Karen, Sue, Uncle Mel, Aunt Vera, my own Uncle Bobby and his family, Betz, her momma and many others in my thoughts and prayers.

I miss seeing dear friends at a shared meal. I miss "my" starbucks or as my friend Jon called it, "suebucks". I miss the Firefly chats and looking forward to the Bike the Drive in Chicago over Memorial Day. But, my new life is good!

I have talked alot with a patient that was a professor at Taylor University in the late 1950's! I have a patient now that is a Buddhist that is teaching me so much about the Eastern religions. Recently, a family told me that they were not spiritual - they believed in luck. And they explained how luck gave them comfort...until the luck ran out. And then, they told me a story of how they envision the patient going down a chute after death into the arms of loved ones. It seemed to me that wasn't about luck - but about something being bigger than they were. Call it what you want.

I always love being with patients that are non-responsive and something makes them respond. Today, and every day for the last 3, I have sat for 10 minutes or more with a non-responsive patient and said a Gaelic blessing to them. Deep peace of the running wave to you, deep peace of the flowing air to you, deep peace of the quiet earth to you, deep peace of the shining stars to you. Every time, her expression changes and she moves with the flow of the words. She hears. No doubt.

I am off of work for 3 days - yea! I love what I do and I love being off! And so I celebrate life and work and new beginnings and new thoughts and new friends and I will always be thankful for those that have touched my life and journey along with me. Happy Easter.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

March 27

Greetings to all! It has been quite some time since I have written here. Let me catch you up a bit!

Hospice work still inspires me and is life-giving to me. I always have experiences that remind me of the fragility of life but yet the power and strength that are available.

I spent time recently with a momma that was watching her 45 year old son die. She had lost a son at the age of two from illness and her only other child was now in front of her taking his last breaths. He had been a drug addict most of his life and here was a momma that had stood beside him. Many of her friends and many in her family thought she was foolish to keep allowing him to be supported by her, financially and emotionally. I don't have kids and I don't know what that feels like but I do know that this woman was heart broken by the challenges that he had in his life. He fought demons all of his life after he was the one that found his little brother, age 2, dead.

She sobbed as he took his last breath. I know that for me, as the chaplain, I don't have to make any judgments on her actions, the actions of the ones who die, but I can just be there with them as they mourn their losses.

Yesterday I sat with a family who were actually afraid of what they were seeing. Their mother was crying out, saying "help me." She was not responsive in any way to stimulation...but yet she cried out. This is a woman who had told me she was ready to die and wanted to die...she had enough of the illness. So as she was transitioning to the next life, I wondered if she was crying out to someone she was seeing on the other side of this life and wanted help to take the final steps. Who knows but I believe that God was with her and that was the best help she was going to find.

My brother Terry, his wife Beth, and my nephew Trent visited during spring break. How fun to have them here in Florida. Many fun things - beach, shopping, Museum of Science and Industry (although not near as nice as Chicago's!) Disney, basketball, ice cream, cooking out on the grill, 80+ degree weather, sun every day, sitting outside at restaurants, and watching a 9 year old have fun. All of that was...priceless.

So life continues to be good - what is not to like? great weather, love my work, and having visitors from Indiana. It is all good. Blessings to you all that read. :)

Friday, March 4, 2011

Greetings to all. I know that all that read this know how important hospice work is to me. I know I'm in Florida and you are all around the country! But if by chance you feel inspired to support the work that we do here, please check out the fundraising page by copying and pasting the link.

Monday, February 28, 2011

February 28

Greetings dear ones. My oh my, how time flies. Life is good in Florida...the weather has been beautiful.

A patient of mine reminded me the other day that as he prepares to die, he notices the beauty of everything. So don't wait, notice the little things now. I learn many lessons from those that are living their last days.

I took a class recently, taught by a hospice volunteer, about aromatherapy. We use that alot for patients as there are many proven positive characteristics of the essential oils. Some to relax, some for pain relief, some that simply trigger wonderful memories. I wish I were more of an expert but I am learning. I would never have guessed that essential oils were used in hospices. I also am impressed with the massage therapists that have hands that are gifts to others. Bodies that are just about to give out can feel relief from tension and pain with simple touch.

Last week I was with a patient that was a Buddhist. He was so delightful and we had a wonderful conversation. We found out that we both enjoy writings from Thomas Merton so he wanted to give me all of his 20 books by Merton. It was a wonderful gesture although I cannot take the gift. So he will donate the books to a Chaplain Library and I will take his favorite book as a special gift. Before we were done talking, he asked me if I would join him in a Buddhist prayer. I was relieved when he told me what to do, and he sang the beautiful prayer.

I love being an interfaith chaplain - although I don't always know what that really means. I have learned about Jewish and Islam traditions, I have shared with a Buddhist, a Wiccan, an atheist, many spiritualists, scientologists, and of course, across many, many denominations in the Christian traditions. The amazing lesson is that no matter what faith you have or don't have, at the end of life, you just want someone to show you that they care. My goal is to be able to do that during life as well.

Peace to all...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

8) Somewhere Out There -- An American Tail Soundtrack

When I was very young, my dad would give my mom a big heart filled with chocolates and I would get a smaller one. I would offer my brothers some of my candy, but then I'd go and fill my heart box with chocolates from my mom's candy. It was a great lesson to encourage me to share, but then I also learned that there's always a supply of chocolate!

As with everything Americans do, we have made Valentine's Day into a $15 billion Hallmark holiday. Really?

We can show love in all kinds of ways and in simple ways. Sorry, I can't buy you all chocolates and flowers but I do believe in the spirit of the day. Love. So these are the ways I celebrate Valentine's Day in 2011 - Sent some cards, bought a fun pair of Valentine designed socks for a patient that loves socks, chocolate kisses for staff and families, and to gaze at the stars and be thankful for loved ones around the country.

Monday, February 7, 2011

February 8

Greetings to all that read this blog. It is really strange to know that it is February and it was in the 70's today. I have never lived anywhere but Indiana -so 70 in February is not normal!

Hospice work is still good - really good. I hear stories that break my heart and other stories that give me new energy for humankind. One thing I notice now is that I am not so interested in world news. I see dying every day up close and personal - I don't need to read about the crazy things people do.

Family dynamics can be so messy. I see all kinds of things - survivors wanting to take jewelry off at the time of death so siblings can't get them. Patients that die that are in affairs. Patients that have abused their kids or significant other and then to watch those kids or significant others stay at the bedside so they don't die alone.

Not long ago there was a 37 year old woman that had cystic fibrosis and was ready to die. The mother wrapped her arms around her daughter and rocked her until she died. I had a buddy that died not long ago - he had been in to stay for a few days to manage pain and then he was to go home. When he left, he told me that he was hoping for remission and he wanted to come back and help me. I hoped that for him as well but it didn't work out that way.

Something that I have noticed is that I am loving movies! I have always enjoyed watching movies but now, it is my release from my work - it is my release from the continuous deaths and sadness that families experience. I usually rent them from the Red Box - cheap entertainment - but I also just recently went to see King's Speech and The Fighter. I loved King's Speech - The Fighter - not so much. So if you have a favorite movie that is a must see, let me know!

I am very excited that we are getting visitors soon. You all know who you are but I am so very excited to have friends and family come and visit!

Peace...shalom...paz. I'm sending some warm thoughts to the midwest!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 20, 2011

Greetings from Florida! This is a great time of the year to live in Florida if you don't like the cold and snow and ice. Our temperatures can be cool in the mornings but by afternoon, it is usually in the 60's. I'll take 60!

Hospice work has been busy. Lots of activity from deaths to admissions. Last week, we had 30 deaths in one week. It is hard on the staff to have people die in a room and then immediately have another patient come to that room. So the new plan is to open the windows while the housekeepers are cleaning, spray a little sage oil, and anoint the door. It may sound peculiar to you but I am convinced along with others that the energy needs to be moved after a death.

Today, I was able to sit with another one of my favorite patients. She was in the hospice house 3-4 weeks ago to get symptoms managed. She was so thankful to go back home and I was happy for her. I was surprised that she was back so soon for end-of-life care. She loves Christian music so I hooked up my IPOD to a portable speaker and took it to her room. She is unresponsive now but the belief is that hearing is the last thing to go and we believe that she could hear. So I played her favorite music and just sat with her for a bit. When I have patients that I have gotten close to, I actually want to be there when they take their last breath. It helps me.

Yesterday, another one of my favorite patients left to go home but I called her today to see how her first 24 hours went and she is already struggling. I expect to see her soon. She has been a beautiful woman and has taken care of everyone her whole life. So, she struggles to know her value. I wish that ministers would preach and teach that God is not a God that makes good and bad things happen. People that believe that have a really hard struggle when they die of an illness.

I am around death all of the time and just today I told a hospice worker that had just lost her grandmother that it still is hard when it is personal. A good, dear, friend of mine died on Monday. She was 87 years old and her smile could light up a room. I will miss that smile! Rest in Peace, dear Phyllis.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

January 4, 2011

Happy New Year to all. I can't believe that there is another year behind us. Seemed like a year to two ago when I was testing systems for Y2K at Lincoln Financial Group in FW. But here we are, 2011.

Christmas time is a difficult time at hospice - nobody wants a loved one to die at Christmas. We had a 48 year old mom with two daughters, 11 and 9. The girls had one thing on their Christmas list - for mom to come home for the day. Everyone hoped for it. The doctor and nurses were doing all they could to "buy" her a few more days. On 12/23, things really changed. We all believed she would die. I was with the family all day, the social worker was called in, the child counselor was called in, family members were called in to say goodbye, the girls came. We waited. I watched a Christmas miracle as she bounced back enough to go home on Christmas eve for 18 hours. What gratitude for the gift of a day! She did come back and was with us until this morning. So, my miracle friend, rest in peace.

I often offer blessings at the end of life - one is for the living - to be in peace, to let go and know they are loved. Recently, I provided the blessing and 5 minutes later, he died. Yesterday, the patient died while I was giving the blessing. The doctor told me I rocked, some wanted me to give blessings to patients that were so close but wouldn't let go, and others were afraid to be around me! You have to have a sense of humor to work in hospice so I was glad to provide the humor for the staff. But it is quite a holy moment to be blessing someone as they take their last breath.

This time of year is a great time to be in Florida. They weather is beautiful and it is nice to not have the gray, cold days during the winter in IN. But I miss my friends, family, and chats at Starbucks with several of you. So have a tall, non-fat, extra hot, raspberry chai and think of me! I'll do the same!