passing

needs to mean more to me than just having to make another program for a memorial service or open up discussion at a support group.

as we bade 2013 farewell and welcomed 2014, there was an astonishing amount of loss in our facility.  we lost many who have been with us for years and years.  some of these were unexpected, others not so much.  this is not new to us, but never have I made 4 programs in one month.

through it all i find that it is becoming very easy for me to comfort others effectively, and be someone to lean on, without feeling grief myself.

should this alarm me?  does it mean i don’t actually care about these patients?  many of my co-workers are desensitized to death and sickness.  death for us is not just death but also a professional event, carrying paperwork and room changes and family relations and many, many tasks in the physical realm to distract us from the spiritual and emotional.  it is easy for our work to become a just a job when we are concerned only for our paychecks or to finish things up so we can go home to tend to ourselves or our own loved ones.  

i have concluded from experience that keeping a professional distance from my patients is healthy and necessary, but can be spiritually crippling if i allow it to extinguish my capacity for compassion.

still, i have met many professionals in the field who still cry with families when breaking bad news, or with the community when we lose someone.  and i hope it’s not just histrionics.

in a field where the doors of life and death are perpetually swinging open and closed, i plead that the Lord would keep my heart soft and my spirit sensitive, that no matter my role, i may care in love and compassion and altruism.

now let’s take some notes from Jesus…

What does Jesus say about grieving and palliative care?

How does Jesus respond in times of grief? 

JOHN 11

When Lazarus died, Jesus reminded his devastated sisters to set their eyes on things above, and think of the eternal resurrection.  He exhorted Martha to look further than the finite and present reality of life and death:

21-23 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

After speaking this life-giving truth, Jesus empathizes with Mary and feels her burden internally:

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.

And then he grieves too:

34-35 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept.

Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

As always, what I like about Jesus is that he is full of love.  He isn’t afraid to speak the truth to those who are grieving to first root them in eternal hope.  I personally would be afraid to say what he said to Martha right off the bat— I would likely be barred by fear of appearing insensitive to her pain, which is very real.  But after Jesus “ignores” Martha’s present feelings to turn her eyes to an eternal glory, he is then completely present with her, feeling her burdens deep in his spirit, and mourning with her.  Then, because he loves Lazarus, he is moved to his own share of grief too, and weeps personally.

I can only pray that God would place His love in my heart for all the patients I work with.

(After this, Jesus prays and God raises Lazarus from the dead. WOOT!  I believe this is amazing and wonderful and possible and happens under certain circumstances, but that is another story for another reflection.)

PSALM 23:1-4

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

The shadow of death is perpetually present in my workplace.  Although I do not walk in its valley, I often hold the hands of those who do.  I am eager to help make this verse true, driving out fear and bringing in the comfort of the Lord’s shepherding whenever He gives me the privilege to do so.

JOB 19:25-27

25 I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!

Here, Job has lost everything, everyone hates him, and he expects to die soon.  I like Job’s words of a simple yearning to see God in his suffering and his time lying in the shadow of death.  I realize that the same yearning Job has on his deathbed is the one I have in wellness— for more of God.  I don’t share the same beliefs as every patient in my non-denominational workplace, and as a professional I can’t talk about it with everyone (although I am blessed with many acceptable opportunities to do so).  But one thing that helps on a personal level is that my belief that this is a common yearning that can unite me with the dying even though I do not stand in their valley.

post-script:

in the near future i intend to post an entry on death and grief in the context of working with the poor and underserved.  i am finding that here, death and sickness happen so often that they are treated simply as expected events of life.  my patients move on from losing their friends extremely easily, sometimes hardly batting an eye.  although i do think this is a blessing and a healthy paradigm of reality, i believe it is also an indicator of something missing— a hope for a greater and fuller life that is missing and should be longed for.  thoughts to follow!

diaphragm superhero

(warning: slightly graphic imagery ahead)

Yesterday, I forgot I was allergic to shellfish, and ate a crab.

A few itchy hives reminded me.  I noted that they were not too bad, and proceeded to eat another crab.  Last time I had a reaction, it was to soft-shell crab, and involved an hour of feeling like there was a fire in my stomach and putting my head down while waiting for my spin cycle in a laundromat.  Not too bad.  Besides, my Epi-Pen was in the next room (terrible logic).  Besides, it was my dad’s birthday.  Birthday crabs.

I soon learned that allergic reactions may increase in severity over time.  In retrospect, this makes sense: the body becomes increasingly ready to respond to an allergen after repeated exposure.

After about an hour of entertaining some fiery dance inside my stomach and combating nausea by watching Iron Chef Junior with my sister, I couldn’t take it and headed for the bathroom.  

Never have I seen my own vomit travel at such high velocity.  

The deed was quick and dirty.  In half a second, I felt a livid mass exit my stomach and hit the sink, about a meter away.  Back-of-the-envelope calculation: 2 m/s, or 5 mph, or 4 knots.

The contents did not seem to be digested; they looked and smelled just like what I had eaten for dinner.  I saw some tofu bits in there, fish cake slivered by my incisors, and of course, cilantro pieces.  I love cilantro.

In the few seconds before my next heave, I realized the food was solid and would not go down the sink.  I turned to the toilet bowl—SPLAT!  As I heaved again, I noticed the monstrous action occurring deep down inside of me.  It was as if there were a livid shot-putter living in my gut.  I felt my diaphragm contract with a force I never thought possible, to expel this glop.  (“WHAT THE F** IS THIS!  WE DON’T WANT IT! GET IT OUT OF HERE!”)

I was amazed.  

Speechless, I heaved once more, and that was the end of it.  Yup, everything came out in about 3 heaves.  I would estimate there were about 4 cups of food, or 2 16oz Pyrex measuring cups, or an hour’s worth of eating, or three hours worth of Mommy’s food prep.  Or ten hours of my sister’s carrying around an expensive pound of Chilean sea bass all day, which she purchased that morning from Chelsea Market for Daddy’s birthday dinner.  All that input undone by a swift 5 seconds of heaving into the toilet.

I felt much better, and didn’t even taste vomit—that diaphragm did a good job.  All I can say is that the human body is simply amazing.   Never have I known this tremendous power that exists in there.  I feel superhuman, in a new reverent awe of the power of my gut muscles. Apparently, I can thank the co-contractions of my diaphragm, external intercostal muscles, and abdominal muscles.

Another thing my body has is hands, very useful.  In my wonderment and daze, I proceeded to use those to scoop the first heave of regurgitated dinner from the sink basin into the toilet bowl.  It was so solid that it worked.

Crabs?  Never again.  But projectile vomit?  SO cool.

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Dawson Mehmet

Dawson had been propped up on the hospital bed.  “Adama yo como arawrrawr.”  Incomprehensible words came out of his throat, head tilted back on the raised nursing home bed, eyes towards the ceiling, eyelids shut.  At times he would grunt.  He lifted his hands into the air, and fumbled them around each other, as if pantomiming the itsy-bitsy spider song.  His breathing was steady but difficult, and his hands tugged at his untied hospital gown.  "He’s strippin’," the nurse in the hall had joked.

"Mr. Mehmet, can you hear me?"  I waited, but there was no response.  Only more itsy-bitsy spider.  

I didn’t know what to say.  I wracked my brain for models I could follow.  The voice of a previous mentor greeting an ICU patient came to my mind’s ear: “If you can hear me please raise your right hand.”  But this sounded silly and sterile; my visit was one of compassion, not clinical care.  I didn’t have clinical care to offer anyway.

With no medical protocol, DSLR camera, or violin to cling onto this time, my executive faculties were stumped.  I was alone in the room with two half-conscious men exchanging their musty carbon dioxide with the stuffy oxygen and drinking out of an IV drip with their brachial veins.  Still, I felt my inadequacy exposed like Mr. Mehmet’s amateur tattoos which were now laid bare, once hidden beneath his forlorn hospital gown.  Did I have nothing to give but my presence?  

Silently, my spirit prayed for guidance. 

And before I realized what was happening, I started to sing.  Out of somewhere came the only thing I had: my voice, and my prayer for Dawson Mehmet.  It came out as a humming melody, then a syllabic song, and then a tune with words.  It alternated between Spanish lyrics I knew and spontaneous phrases that came to me.  It declared hope and pleaded for comfort.

(names changed for privacy)

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quickbread-in-a-jar breakfast. mix & microwave. #lazycooking

quickbread-in-a-jar breakfast. mix & microwave. #lazycooking

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Super Better

After suffering physical and mental damage after a head trauma accident, a video game designer worked with researchers, medical professionals, etc, to put together this video game aiding personal recovery goals.

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IT’S MY JOY TO LOVE

Your burden it is easy and Your yoke it is light
You are meek and lowly, You are gentle, You are kind
Every one of Your commands, they lead my heart to life
When I obey, I find life

It’s my joy to love, it’s my joy to obey
You can have all my heart, You can have all my praise
I will give You my life, I will run hard this race
Reaching for the prize, I am Yours and You are mine

Teach me all Your ways, O God, please show me Your path
Come unite my heart to fear Your name
Let there be no sin in me that would keep me from this prize
It’s because I love I will obey

It’s my joy to love, it’s my joy to obey
You can have all my heart, You can have all my praise
I will give You my life, I will run hard this race
Reaching for the prize, I am Yours and You are mine

I will run in the path of Your commands
You will surely enlarge my heart
I will make Your law daily my delight
Let me not wander from Your ways
Let it be my delight to obey
There is no greater joy than knowing Your name

It’s my joy to love, it’s my joy to obey
You can have all my heart, You can have all my praise
I will give You my life, I will run hard this race
Reaching for the prize, I am Yours and You are mine

I’m beginning to see, these boundary lines
Were meant for me, so I could find
All of these treasures, hidden inside
A holy God

© 2010 Sarah Edwards

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物の哀れ - もののあわれ /  mono (s)no(w) aware

物の哀れ - もののあわれ / mono (s)no(w) aware

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made to live for so much #more. why settle for less??? (from Compelled by Love, Heidi Baker)

made to live for so much #more. why settle for less??? (from Compelled by Love, Heidi Baker)

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on God’s love as we love one another. From a book by Dr Stuart Townsend.

on God’s love as we love one another. From a book by Dr Stuart Townsend.

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Oh man. I made this in 7th grade art class. It’s still on my ceiling in NJ. (Taken with Instagram at Paramus, NJ)

Oh man. I made this in 7th grade art class. It’s still on my ceiling in NJ. (Taken with Instagram at Paramus, NJ)

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Fro Yo Bars
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on the importance of a good pair of soles. (Taken with Instagram at Quincy Market)

on the importance of a good pair of soles. (Taken with Instagram at Quincy Market)

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Sunshine & warm weather days are running out! Enjoy them while you can! #terraceseatingFTW (Taken with Instagram at Aroma Espresso Bar)

Sunshine & warm weather days are running out! Enjoy them while you can! #terraceseatingFTW (Taken with Instagram at Aroma Espresso Bar)

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I really do love #mornings (Taken with Instagram)

I really do love #mornings (Taken with Instagram)

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So true, had to learn this lesson the hard way in college/recently. From “What the Best College Students Do” by Ken Bain. (Taken with Instagram at Book Culture on Broadway)

So true, had to learn this lesson the hard way in college/recently. From “What the Best College Students Do” by Ken Bain. (Taken with Instagram at Book Culture on Broadway)

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