Grief and Grieving

Living with Uncertainty in Washing Machines and Life

Posted in Grief and Grieving, Self Care on September 22nd, 2010 by Jim Hughes – Comments Off

We live in a world where washing machines overflow and flood houses. According to my repair man, they all work the same way and are all prone to the same problem, the one that causes them to overflow.

He blames it on the detergents. And the fabric softeners. Over time, he says, they plug the Tygon tubing that connects to the switch that senses when to shut off the water. And when that happens, the floor gets flooded.

His recommendation? Use less detergent, and use a different type. And NEVER run the washing machine when you are not there to watch it and make sure it doesn’t overflow and flood your house.

The washing machines of our world are imperfect. We think they should be better. In fact, they could be better. One could easily design them with an additional sensor that would shut them off it they started to overflow. Or maybe the detergent makers could make better detergent products. But the extra protection from an infrequent overflow would cost more, and because our washers don’t overflow every day, we wouldn’t want to pay the difference. Unless maybe our house had just been flooded.

So because no one makes that washer that will never overflow, we live with ones that might. And because our easy chairs or our desks aren’t in the laundry room, we don’t sit and watch washers to make sure they’re not going to overflow. We just live with the uncertainty, learning to allow it to be pushed from the fronts of our minds by other things.

More importantly, we want a life that we can control, a life that is surprise-free, a life that isn’t disrupted by unexpected incidents. No one makes that life, just like no one makes the washing machine that could never overflow. Things happen, some of them tragic, some of them painful, some of them even fatal. That’s the way life works.

So we learn to live with uncertainty, and the prospect of not only flooded floors, but disrupted lives. Because we have no other choice.

DNR: Not the Result We Prayed For

Posted in cancer, Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, Grief and Grieving, hospital visits on March 9th, 2010 by Jim Hughes – 1 Comment

Yesterday as I was making my chaplaincy visits, I visited a man and his wife whom I’ve grown to respect greatly. He was in the process of signing his out-of-hospital DNR for entering hospice care. He has battled a very rare type of cancer valiantly, but the cancer is winning in this life. His words were few. “It’s time,” he said, speaking of entering hospice care.

This is not the result any of us wanted.

We have prayed with great faith for healing, knowing it was against the odds of nature all along. If pure willpower could win this fight, this man would have won. If being greatly loved by so many people could make a difference, it would have.

After he signed the paper and the witness and the hospice representative left the room, we didn’t have words to give each other in conversation that would make any of us feel better or deal better. So we prayed to the One who understands how we feel, the One who can carry us through these difficult times.

The prayer I spoke was one of lament, telling God that this was not the result we wanted, admitting our pain, our frustration. But I also found words to express our love and faith to God in spite of not getting what we wanted, our total trust in Him to provide for our best good. And I also uttered a number of requests — for His care and protection and love for this family as they continue down a most difficult road.

As people of faith, we frequently pray for healing even in the face of long odds. We are praying for a miracle, for an outcome that flies in the face of logic, of reason, of grim statistics of nature.

Sometimes, admittedly infrequently, God grants our deep desire. I rejoice, and my resolve to keep praying for divine intervention is strengthened.

More often, He doesn’t. Then I express my lament, my sadness at the pain of this life. My resolve to continue praying for divine intervention is not lessened, but I am reminded that I, like Job of old, don’t know the answers.

I was reminded of Job yesterday, that in spite of pain and frustration, that he didn’t lose his integrity.

And that it was time to give that helpful book a fresh read.

Hospice: Things can be unpredictable!

Posted in Caregiving, Grief and Grieving, Personal on January 24th, 2010 by Jim Hughes – 2 Comments

Dog Visit in Hospice

Tomorrow it will be four weeks since we got the call that Steve had been sent to the hospital in an ambulance, followed a few days later by a diagnosis of end-stage liver disease and a prognosis of three weeks to three months to live.

The next week he was moved to a residential hospice. Two weeks ago tonight, we had a call that he was not expected to live through the night. But he did.

A week ago we were back down visiting him, fixing him a pie, and taking his dogs to visit him. He didn’t move from the bed. In fact, he didn’t even sit up. We had a few one sentence conversations.

The hospice doctor felt that his condition had stabilized however, and plans were underway for Steve to move to a residential hospice facility for less critically ill patients.

Tuesday, after we were back home, Steve called me and we had a very lucid ten-minute conversation — something that hadn’t happened at all during our visits. And he has continued making phone calls, and having long conversations, all week.

Friday he was able to get up and walk with assistance. Saturday he was able to walk with one cane and go to a nearby BBQ place for lunch with his brother.

It’s been a strange, stressful, roller coaster ride so far. We’re thankful Steve is enjoying some better days, sort of an unexpected bonus for him. But even that adds to the stress, trying to manage contingencies, handling location changes, dealing with his changing needs.

It’s a reminder that dying is an unpredictable and individual thing.

We can’t know what things will happen next, only that they’re unpredictable. So we take one day at a time, all too aware that we’re not in control.

Thanks so much for those who have provided words of encouragement and support and especially prayers. It helps keep us going.

Visiting the Hospice

Posted in Caregiving, Grief and Grieving, Personal on January 16th, 2010 by Jim Hughes – 4 Comments

© Jim Hughes 2010

We’re back in Florida to visit Eloise’s brother Steve who’s in hospice.

When we made the reservations over a week ago, we didn’t really know if he’d still be alive. And in fact, last Sunday night, the hospice folks really didn’t think he’d make it through the night. But he’s rallied, and we got to spend some good time with him today.

What I noticed most was how aware he was of our presence, and that he heard everything we said, even when we thought he was asleep. He’s having a hard time putting words to his thoughts, and it’s very difficult to understand him, but we managed to have some short conversations.

I was reminded how important presence is — whether there is a conversation or not. Steve mostly slept this afternoon, and Eloise and I would read or just sit. But every so often, Steve would open his eyes and look at us, and every once in a while he’d say something or try to answer a question.

I could tell he’s glad we’re here to spend some time with him. And I’m glad too.

We’re in Crisis Mode

Posted in Caregiving, Grief and Grieving on January 6th, 2010 by Jim Hughes – 1 Comment
foot bridge

© Jim Hughes 2009

Our family is in the midst of crisis. I really don’t know any other way of starting to write about all of this.

My wife’s brother Steve is dying. He has end-stage liver disease, the result of alcoholism.

The crisis began Monday a week ago at 9:00 am. We received a call from his friends who he had called to come pick him up so that he could move in with them. They quickly figured out that he was too sick for them to care for, put him in an ambulance to be taken to the local hospital, and in spite of his instructions not to call us, did.

Steve has been essentially estranged from the rest of the family for lots of years by his choice. We all last saw him three years ago when he came to his mother’s 80th birthday celebration. And we had seen him a couple of times in the ten years previous to that. In recent years, he has talked regularly with his mom by phone, and occasionally with us.

His estrangement has been to keep a number of things including his alcoholism hidden from the family, especially his mom. A couple of years ago his liver problems became so serious that he had a surgical procedure to improve his condition. Initially none of us knew about it except our daughter Sara, a nurse practitioner, who he discussed the medical things with. He swore her to secrecy, and he made her his health care power of attorney. After about a week of struggling, she told us and we were able to talk to and support him as he went through the procedure. But even so, he was adamant that his mom not know. The procedure was quite successful, and although we were aware that he was having financial difficulties, we were unaware that his physical condition had been deteriorating.

So the call last week was without warning. I can’t say, however, that it was unexpected.

What we learned from the call was simple. He was very sick, he had no money, no insurance, had abandoned his apartment, and had no one to take care of him. That’s pretty much a crisis.

There’s too much to try to put in one post, so consider this just an introduction to a number of posts that will follow. I will tell you that God has blessed us in countless ways during this time. Steve has received excellent care and is in a wonderful hospice as I write this tonight.

I need to write about this experience for me. Writing is one of the primary ways I know what I’m thinking.

But I know it’ll also be helpful to some other folks. As we’ve shared what’s going on with our friends and church, we’ve been surprised by the number of people who have or are going through similar situations. So I hope you’ll feel free to comment and journey with me through the posts that will follow.