Sunday, December 05, 2010

Hospice Memorial Service December 5, 2010

On December 23rd, 1996, my father died. It was two days before Christmas and the day of our 29th wedding anniversary. At the end of his life a plethora of things happened that I can’t forget. The meaning of Christmas was changed forever, we almost completely stopped celebrating our anniversary and I became very angry with him for dying. Some people would be surprised, if not shocked, to hear that many of us in this room know exactly what I mean. But within that feeling of anger is a whole collection of feelings like a set of Russian Nesting Dolls. They fit one inside the other until the last one is almost too tiny to play with.

First, I was angry about how he died. He died of strep throat. He refused to go to the doctor until it was too late. His body was so infected the doctors couldn’t stop it. A simple round of antibiotics would have averted the whole thing. Nested in that piece of anger was that he was my hero. I was always learning something from him. He could wire a house, thread pipe, teach Sunday School, do Geometry in his head, manage one of the country’s largest water departments, fight fire, dig a perfect ditch with a shovel and pick, run a crane, fire a rifle with expert marksmanship and make jokes that would have me rolling on the floor. I don’t think I ever tapped the bottom of the man’s genius. All that talent was gone. The day I walked across the stage to get my doctorate, a symbol of my own abilities, he was absent – forever.

Over the years, I excavated the nesting dolls of anger pulling them out one after the other, each one getting smaller but more intimate. One in particular was that I didn’t have him to push against anymore. I couldn’t hold him, argue with him, and compare my strengths with his. I could no longer see him handle aging so that I could feel his strength in my own maturation process. Suddenly, My father was as thin as photographs and as wispy as memory.
In the book, Ten Poems to Set You Free, Naomi Shihab Nye writes:

It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
A wound to tend with lotion and cloth.

When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to
Pick up,
Something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs
or change

But in the last few years, I’ve been working to get the last tiny doll out of the nest. It’s so tiny that it’s difficult to hold on to and so intimate that I barely want to describe it. I really want to keep it to myself and hide it. I prefer to look at the other nesting dolls of anger. The smallest doll in the nest is not anger but the seed of anger - fear. Anger is often the product of fear. There, at the heart of frustration and anger is a little, tiny doll – a seed that we keep hidden so that we don’t have to admit that really, we’re afraid. This little doll often calls to me and demands attention until I deal with it or bury it again in the nest of anger but it never seems to go away. I must take it out of its hiding place, put it out with the rest of the dolls and examine it, talk about it and make it a part of the story of who my father was and who I am.

When Dad died, I was there with the rest of the family. We had to take him off the vent. When the respiratory therapist turned the air down and he breathed his last breath, I saw so many things but the one that scared me was that I saw myself in his body. I knew that I too would be in his place someday and I was afraid. I’m still afraid though I face death every day in many different ways.

The New Testament says in one place, “God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.” Marie Curie said, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” If we have those little seeds of fear that are feeding our anger and we reach in our souls and pull them out to be examined in the light of day with the understanding of sound minds, they begin to lose the power to control us. From there we reshape them into the power to create. They then become energy that results in something positive rather than destructive anger.

As a hospice chaplain, when I see the fear in the face of my patients, I remember my own fear and I say to them, “You can rest assured, we are not going to let you suffer.” Then I reveal to them the secret of hospice workers everywhere. “After all, that’s what I want for myself.” The fear that we both feel about our end becomes common ground and both the patient the chaplain and the rest of the hospice team jells as a unit with the single goal of bringing comfort – not fear. That’s the wonder of being a hospice worker; we join you to bring comfort. We don’t remain above you with the authority of sterile halls and white coats. We don’t remain beyond you with technical language foreign to you ears. We don’t want you to be afraid we want you to be confident that you can handle the dramatic turns and twists that you’ll face as disease progresses and the end over takes. Now we want you to work out your fear and anger by remembering and honoring the incredible work of love you did to comfort and care for the people who needed you at the most difficult time of their lives. If only you could see yourselves as we see you – so strong – so loving so determined to see it through. I know, I know, most of you have told us how much you appreciate us and we thrive on that but to be with you is usually awe inspiring for us and we often learn to love you as if you were our own. Thank you for letting us walk with you to bring comfort and care.

Anyone in this gathering today would say that what we’ve gone through together is God’s work. Let me share a poem that I found in the book, Love Poems From God. St. Francis of Assisi wrote in his poem, “God Would Kneel Down,”

…Once (God) asked me to join Him on a walk
Through this world,

And we gazed into every heart on this earth,
And I noticed He lingered a bit longer
Before any face that was

And before any eyes that were

And sometimes when we passed
A soul in worship

God too would kneel

I have come to learn: God
Adores His

I don’t know why God allowed you or your loved one to go through what you went through but I know where He was; He was kneeling beside you. He’s with you in your tears and in your laughter. He’s also with you in your fear and anger.

This is the perfect season to take that last little doll out of the nest, set it on the table and use it to remember the incredible work each of you did to care for your family in spite of your fear. It’s a good time to remember the lives that inspired you so and taught you the value of comforting and caring regardless of the difficulties you face. Use the energy of your fear and anger to bring life, care and comfort to the frightened people around you.


At Sunday, 05 December, 2010 , Anonymous Wanda Matthews said...

This brought tears to my eyes I have also lost my father and can understand where you are coming from and I'm so glad to be apart of the Hospice family Wanda Matthews


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