Posts Tagged ‘dying

08
Nov
22

Practicing Peace

[Trigger warning: today’s blog post deals with death. You might want to give it a pass if that topic unsettles you. No judgment here.]

I do some volunteer work here in Fort Collins, Colorado with the local hospice organization. (Did you know, in fact, that November is national hospice and palliative care month? It’s true!)

The organization I volunteer with is called Pathways. They offer hospice care, palliative care, and grief and loss counseling to families facing end of life or serious illness. 

Pathways’ work takes place in several facilities scattered around northern Colorado. However, in the last month, they opened the doors on an amazing new 12-bed hospice facility of their very own. More about that later. Here is a link to their website if you want to find out more about Pathways.

You might be wondering; of all the truly worthwhile places to volunteer – from the Food Bank to the League of Women Voters, to the Zoo, to the Society for the Protection of Feral Cats – why would anyone voluntarily choose to be around people who are DYING? You might ask, isn’t that kind of sad and depressing?

And I would have to answer you by saying, “Yes. Sometimes it is.”

But as I found during my time in professional ministry, the space around a person’s death can also be one of the holiest spaces you will ever encounter. 

It reminds me very much of the sense of holiness and the involuntary rush of awe I experienced at the birth of each of my children. 

Entering a room with someone on the last stages of their journey, you are suddenly in a place where the air is charged with a pulsing kind of electricity. Where your senses all come alive. Where you tiptoe. Where every word, every glance, every breath overflows with meaning. Where you listen a lot and speak very little. Where God is palpably present.

To be honest, the death bed can also be a place where you see some weird and truly cringe-worthy family dynamics. Grieving spouses colliding with angry or sullen offspring… uncomfortable cousins fulfilling an obligation… bored grandchildren fiddling with the TV remote… you know.

And then, seamlessly weaving their way through the middle of it all are the professionals… the nurses, doctors, social workers, aides, and chaplains. I have yet to meet one of these people who don’t regard their work as more of a CALLING than a job. They are invariably gentle, kind, quiet, and efficient as they come, do their work, and go.

Sometimes I sit and visit folks on my own. Sometimes I bring Patrick the dog with me. Patrick has been trained and certified as a therapy dog by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.

At first, Patrick was a little intimidated by all the wheelchairs, IV poles, beeping machinery, and plastic tubing. But I have to say… he has now acclimated very well and is perfectly at home with all manner of medical gear. 

All of which brings me to the real point of today’s post. That point is: IN SPITE of the fact that I am seriously ensconced in Old Age… IN SPITE of the fact that I regularly hear about friends, family members, and strangers dying… IN SPITE of the fact that my brain knows that life is 100% terminal… IN SPITE of the fact that new and different parts of my body seem to break down every week… IN SPITE of all of this tidal wave of evidence to the contrary, I somehow continue to believe I am immortal. That death will visit everybody EXCEPT me. 

Frankly, visiting folks in hospice is an attempt at a self-induced reality check. It is my effort (one of them, at least), to remind myself of the truth of Felix Adler’s words. In his book, Life and Destiny, Adler said, “Let us learn from the lips of death the lessons of life.” I could also – I suppose – choose to heed the voice of the psalmist, who cheerfully reminded us, “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” (Psalm 103:15-16, NRSVU). 

Both writers speak the truth. 

As do those I visit there in the hospice beds. Some of them are confused. Some of them are frightened and lonely. Some are entirely unresponsive. 

Some, however, are perfectly at peace. They know the end is near and they aren’t fighting it. They politely poo-poo the advice of Dylan Thomas, electing instead to; YESABSOLUTELY! I plan to go gentle into that good night.”

I suspect they are at peace because they have been practicing. They’ve likely spent years reminding themselves that every moment, every relationship, every joy, every frustration, every tear, every giggle, and every new breath they take is a pure gift.

And THAT, I say to myself, is who I want to be when I grow up.  

Abundant blessings;




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