Category: caregiver

What People Talk About Before They Die

This article was written by Kerry Egan, Specail to CNN. Editor’s Note: Kerry Egan is a hospice chaplain in Massachusetts and the author of “Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal on the Camino de Santiago.” Sometimes things just need to be shared. And this is one of them. Thank you Kerry.

As a divinity school student, I had just started working as a student chaplain at a cancer hospital when my professor asked me about my work. I was 26 years old and still learning what a chaplain did.

“I talk to the patients,” I told him.

“You talk to patients? And tell me, what do people who are sick and dying talk to the student chaplain about?” he asked.

I had never considered the question before. “Well,” I responded slowly, “Mostly we talk about their families.”

“Do you talk about God?

“Umm, not usually.”

“Or their religion?”

“Not so much.”

“The meaning of their lives?”

“Sometimes.”

“And prayer? Do you lead them in prayer? Or ritual?”

“Well,” I hesitated. “Sometimes. But not usually, not really.”

I felt derision creeping into the professor’s voice. “So you just visit people and talk about their families?”

“Well, they talk. I mostly listen.”

“Huh.” He leaned back in his chair.

A week later, in the middle of a lecture in this professor’s packed class, he started to tell a story about a student he once met who was a chaplain intern at a hospital.

“And I asked her, ‘What exactly do you do as a chaplain?’ And she replied, ‘Well, I talk to people about their families.’” He paused for effect. “And that was this student’s understanding of faith! That was as deep as this person’s spiritual life went! Talking about other people’s families!”

The students laughed at the shallowness of the silly student. The professor was on a roll.

“And I thought to myself,” he continued, “that if I was ever sick in the hospital, if I was ever dying, that the last person I would ever want to see is some Harvard Divinity School student chaplain wanting to talk to me about my family.”

My body went numb with shame. At the time I thought that maybe, if I was a better chaplain, I would know how to talk to people about big spiritual questions. Maybe if dying people met with a good, experienced chaplain they would talk about God, I thought.

Today, 13 years later, I am a hospice chaplain. I visit people who are dying – in their homes, in hospitals, in nursing homes. And if you were to ask me the same question – What do people who are sick and dying talk about with the chaplain? – I, without hesitation or uncertainty, would give you the same answer. Mostly, they talk about their families: about their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters.

They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave. Often they talk about love they did not receive, or the love they did not know how to offer, the love they withheld, or maybe never felt for the ones they should have loved unconditionally.

They talk about how they learned what love is, and what it is not. And sometimes, when they are actively dying, fluid gurgling in their throats, they reach their hands out to things I cannot see and they call out to their parents: Mama, Daddy, Mother.

What I did not understand when I was a student then, and what I would explain to that professor now, is that people talk to the chaplain about their families because that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives. That is how we talk about the big spiritual questions of human existence.

We don’t live our lives in our heads, in theology and theories. We live our lives in our families: the families we are born into, the families we create, the families we make through the people we choose as friends.

This is where we create our lives, this is where we find meaning, this is where our purpose becomes clear.

Family is where we first experience love and where we first give it. It’s probably the first place we’ve been hurt by someone we love, and hopefully the place we learn that love can overcome even the most painful rejection.

This crucible of love is where we start to ask those big spiritual questions, and ultimately where they end.

I have seen such expressions of love: A husband gently washing his wife’s face with a cool washcloth, cupping the back of her bald head in his hand to get to the nape of her neck, because she is too weak to lift it from the pillow. A daughter spooning pudding into the mouth of her mother, a woman who has not recognized her for years.

A wife arranging the pillow under the head of her husband’s no-longer-breathing body as she helps the undertaker lift him onto the waiting stretcher.

We don’t learn the meaning of our lives by discussing it. It’s not to be found in books or lecture halls or even churches or synagogues or mosques. It’s discovered through these actions of love.

If God is love, and we believe that to be true, then we learn about God when we learn about love. The first, and usually the last, classroom of love is the family.

Sometimes that love is not only imperfect, it seems to be missing entirely. Monstrous things can happen in families. Too often, more often than I want to believe possible, patients tell me what it feels like when the person you love beats you or rapes you. They tell me what it feels like to know that you are utterly unwanted by your parents. They tell me what it feels like to be the target of someone’s rage. They tell me what it feels like to know that you abandoned your children, or that your drinking destroyed your family, or that you failed to care for those who needed you.

Even in these cases, I am amazed at the strength of the human soul. People who did not know love in their families know that they should have been loved. They somehow know what was missing, and what they deserved as children and adults.

When the love is imperfect, or a family is destructive, something else can be learned: forgiveness. The spiritual work of being human is learning how to love and how to forgive.

We don’t have to use words of theology to talk about God; people who are close to death almost never do. We should learn from those who are dying that the best way to teach our children about God is by loving each other wholly and forgiving each other fully – just as each of us longs to be loved and forgiven by our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kerry Egan.

The Editors – CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Death • My Faith

An unexpected Love Story

It was a favor really.  Just to fill in for the usual lady who did Fridays.  Would I sit with a lady in her 90’s who had extreme dementia amongst other issues for a morning?  Sure, I could do that.   I wasn’t to worry about her noisy breathing.  She was comfortable and it didn’t mean she was in distress.   It would be from 8am to 12.00.

It was a sunny morning, and I arrived as requested at 8am.  I was greeted by a energetic and friendly lady who met me at the door and welcomed me into her home.  “Let’s meet my Mom”.  We went straight upstairs.  I prepared myself.

We walked into a white room, with two windows ajar.  A warm summer breeze moved through the room and lace curtains stirred.  A radio gently played classical music.   There was no anticipated odor.   I took in an angelic scene.

A beautiful lady slept cocooned in white crisp linens covered in a soft blanket in a hospital bed in the middle of the room.  Her shining gray hair brushed to one side.  Her beautiful skin quite radiant.  We were introduced although there was no reaction.   She stroked her Mom’s head.  “Mom, this is Caroline, she is going to be downstairs while I go to work this morning”. 

And then the love story unfolded.   This lady had been in this state for eight years.  Looked after by her husband until he passed three years before.  Then the daughter moved into the home and has been caring for her Mother full time for 3 years.  Her Mom hasn’t uttered a word in those three years.  But there had been a finger squeeze.  Her eyes sometimes opened.

With not a glint of resentment, or exhaustion the lady told me about her routine of waking her mom, feeding her and changing her.  She worked five mornings a week and with the help of hospice and a sitter her Mom was well cared for during these hours.  “My Mom never wanted to go into a home.  And I know this is the very best care she can get.”  Not one bed sore in eight bedridden years….

I asked her what does she do for herself.  “Myself?  I’ve travelled, I’ve eaten in the best  restaurants,  I mean how many fancy meals can you eat?   She told me that every time she brushed her Moms hair, every time she bathed her or gave her apple sauce it was a way she could absolutely give her Mom pure love…. 

I’ll never forget that morning.   I’ve always felt that what life really comes down to is giving and receiving love….And as I go about my crazy days filled to the brim, this mother and daughter were living it right here and now.  Down my street.  Behind these doors.   That morning I learned about and saw true love.

A Cause to Celebrate by, Healing Baskets

HUGE BearYes, it might sound strange at first that a company called Healing Baskets would write about “A Cause to Celebrate.” After all, we hear a lot of very sad stories every day, as we create amazing gift baskets to support people through some of the most difficult events in their lives. (Like a line of products to support kids going through divorce, for instance http://www.healingbaskets.com/divorce-gifts-kids.htm.) Mom and Dad Divorce

Along with the difficult stories, however, we hear many, many stories of strength and joy. Why? Because life can often take on a deeper meaning when we’re faced with illness, or becoming someone’s caregiver – or watching our friends go through these challenges. Everyday life becomes a cause to celebrate: Thank you for caring is a celebration, having a pain free day is a celebration,  remembering a loved ones life and achievements can even be a celebration. 

I’m so lucky because all of those feelings and events – get to be translated by me, through Healing Baskets, every single day. I get to design and make specific gifts not available anywhere else that express what often our words cannot say. 

We watch the news and begin to believe we live in a bad world.  But I get to see that the cause to celebrate, when someone goes through the really hard times in life, is a world full of love and friendships around them. 

To love and friendship,
Caroline Cheshire
Founder of  Healing Baskets, Inc.

PS: To see some of the baskets in this article, go to http://www.healingbaskets.com/premade-home.htm

 

 

Giving Care to The Caregiver, by Healing Baskets

I think we all know that something very special is going on when someone describes themselves as a caregiver. I always try to pay just a little more attention once that phrase is spoken. You see “caregiver” is almost always attached to really tough situations in life – either the illness of a friend or close relative, or sometimes just helping someone who’s hit advanced aging. (When we’re more likely to become confused, miss medication, or can’t drive ourselves anymore.)

Caregivers do something magical. They hold space for another person to remain dignified through great hardship. And as we all know, that is not easy. Way too often, caregivers do this without asking for enough support themselves.

So what do we do in that case? How do we support that person that’s taken on the toughest job around? Sometimes it’s as simple as a phone call or an email.  But there are those days that you look in the person’s eyes, and you know it’s just too heavy. 

That’s part of why my company, Healing Baskets, is so important to me.  Every single day, I get to participate in bringing sunshine and joy to all kinds of tough situations and to provide special Caregiver Gifts and Caregiver Baskets to recognize those every-day heroes.  Through Healing Baskets I get to carry the messages of love and support to those who DO the supporting.  I get to create that little something extra in a Caregiver Basket that gives a boost to the one who’s got the whole world on his or her shoulders.  And that, my friends, is an amazing thing to be part of.  

To your peace and joy, Caroline Cheshire
Founder of Healing Baskets, Inc.

PS: To see some of the Sympathy Baskets referenced in this article, go to:
http://www.healingbaskets.com/premade-caregiver.htm

Healing Baskets: A Different Kind of Company

Courage Doesn't Always Roar BasketWe all know what the typical gift basket looks like – a lot of fussy bows and a grab bag of low cost, low quality fillers. At Healing Baskets, we work every day to build a very different type of basket – in fact, we’ve created our entire company around HEALING baskets. At Healing Baskets, we embraces those subjects we’re barely able to tiptoe around – illness, cancer, the loss of a loved one, miscarriage, depression, 12-step recovery gifts, and Caregivers. 

I feel so blessed that, through my business, I’m able to match my passion with my mission: to support those who are suffering. I try to create something amazing new with each basket.  For instance, when I discovered Mary Anne Radmacher’s book, “Courage Doesn’t Always Roar,” I contacted the author to talk about how inspiring it was and then designed a special Healing Basket with a custom-made Anne Radmacher Mug, created for, and available only through Healing Baskets, Inc.  Of course, we added special small touches to this basket, like warrior engraved soap, a ‘Courage’ Reiki Candle and holder made from essential oils, and a few other things, including the softest comfy socks! The Courage Does Not Always Roar basket reminds us that some days, ‘success’ is just getting out of bed. 

My favorite baskets are probably those born when the customer calls to ask me to help them create a customized, original Healing Basket. Where each item is specifically chosen from one friend to another to support, to heal, and to simply say, “I’m here for you.” Healing Baskets takes great pride in sending that message countless times every single day.  Http://www.HealingBaskets.com

To your peace and joy, Caroline Cheshire
Founder of Healing Baskets, Inc.

PS: To see the “Courage Doesn’t Always Roar” Basket, referenced in this article, go to:
http://www.healingbaskets.com/prod_B91313.htm