Making It Through Difficult Days

Posted in Personal on July 19th, 2010 by Jim Hughes – Comments Off

As hinted at in my photoblog today, there’s lots going on around me.

My buddy Jim Clarke got his new lungs last Wednesday night. The fact that a double lung transplant is even possible just boggles my mind. And yes, it’s a BIG deal — for Jim and Pam and their family, and for all of us who love them (which is easy because they are such loving and serving people). I’m so anxious for him to recover to the point that we can enjoy his laugh again!

Also last Wednesday, I spent time with one of our members who is in her last days. She and her husband have been though so much the last couple of years — she fighting cancer, him recovering against all odds from a massive stroke. However, as I visited with the family, we were able to talk about all of this and even laugh together frequently. Even though they have been dealt difficult blows, they’re handling it all with grace and gratitude. And as I prayed with this beautiful lady who had been non-responsive, she audibly prayed along with me.

In addition, I have two friends caring for their spouses who have suffered debilitating strokes. And several who have lost their dads in the last few weeks. And even more who are caring for their aging parents, dealing with all kinds of difficult issues.

The way they, and we, are getting through each day is the commonality that brought us together in the first place — our faith, and our hope. We are able to face each day through the presence of God — often seen through those dear people he has brought our way — in our lives.

Today I’m especially thankful for that.

It’s my dog’s fault (that I haven’t been writing here).

Posted in Personal on June 14th, 2010 by Jim Hughes – 2 Comments

Maybe you’ve noticed that I haven’t been writing here lately.

Missy Dog

It’s my dog’s fault. Well, sort of.

Missy Dog has abundant energy, and is seemingly always either receiving my attention or getting in trouble in an attempt to get it.

Of course, the reasons I haven’t been writing are more complicated than that, and it’s not fair to blame it all on Missy.

On the positive side, I’ve been devoting a lot of time to my photography. There’s so much to learn, so much to shoot, so much to post process and to share.

I’d love for you to drop by my personal blog (which I’ve converted to be primarily a photo blog) to see some of my recent shots and how I’m doing with this newly revived passion.

There was also both an unconscious and conscious decision to pause my writing on this blog. We’ve had a lot going on personally — difficult seasons — so far this year. ¬†Several of my last posts were about my brother-in-law being in hospice. Happily I can tell you that his condition has improved so that he is living independently. But then in March, my 85 year old dad had a heart attack followed by pneumonia, resulting in 10 days in the hospital and an extended recovery. That thrust me into an essentially full-time caregiving role. Happily, his recovery has gone very well. Not only have these situations required a lot of my time, but a lot of emotional energy. Writing about them and difficult seasons in general has just not been something I’ve had the energy to do. And I’ve needed to focus what energy I have had into activities that provide renewal (like the photography).

I’ve missed the writing, though. And I have a number of things that it’d be good to write about. So I’m back — but with no promises about how frequently I’ll post.

Thanks for reading!

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.

Hospice: Black Bottom Pie, Dogs, and a Phone Call

Posted in Caregiving, hospital visits, Personal on January 19th, 2010 by Jim Hughes – 2 Comments

Black Bottom Pie

Eloise and I were in Florida for the long weekend visiting her brother Steve in residential hospice. I wrote briefly about our visit on Saturday. Here’s a brief update on our Sunday and Monday visits.

Eloise had been thinking about what she could do special during this visit for a while, and decided that making Steve’s favorite dessert, black bottom pie, ¬†would be it. It was the special food their mom always prepared when Steve was coming home. It was his “birthday cake.”

It’s not an easy pie to make. You first prepare a custard, then make half of it chocolate which forms the bottom layer. The other half of the custard has beaten egg whites folded in along with some vanilla, and forms the second layer. After these layers have set, it’s topped with whipped cream. We spent quite a while just shopping for what Eloise needed to make the pie. We ended up having to go to three stores to find an electric hand mixer. It turned out to be one expensive pie, but we just decided to call it priceless.

When we arrived at the hospice, Steve was sleeping, and really didn’t want to wake up, so we watched a little football, and even our cheers and groans at the Cowboys didn’t arouse him. However, a guy came to visit with a therapy dog, and that helped Steve start waking up. He was about to go back to sleep when I started telling him that Eloise had made him a black bottom pie. That made him decide to wake up!

With an aide helping him, he ate a whole piece, mumbling appreciation and even rolling his eyes at how good it tasted. It was worth all of the work to see him enjoy it, to talk about how important it had been in his life, to explain that it was his mom’s recipe. We made sure the staff all got some as well. He talked some, but mostly dozed after eating the pie.

Monday our goal was to take his dogs out of the kennel and take them to visit Steve. It’s been the thing that he has most wanted since this all began. We had planned to do it Saturday, but the kennel was closed for the weekend.

Steve’s dogs are golden retrievers, and though they are good dogs, were quite a handful for us. But once we got them into his room they settled, and aside from wanting to drink out of the toilet, were well behaved. Hospices are dog friendly places, and encourage pet visits. The staff had all heard about the dogs, and all came in to meet them and be part of the time together. Steve really enjoyed the time with them, and talked more and even laughed several times while we were there with them. The dogs didn’t really understand the bed thing, but we were finally able to help the dog Steve raised from a pup to get up on the bed with him so that Steve could hold and rub on him. It was an emotional scene for all of us.

Shortly afterwards, we said our goodbyes, as we had to leave to take the dogs back to the kennel and catch our flight home.

We had been able to have some memorable moments, and it was a good visit.

One of the interesting twists to all of this is that Steve’s condition has stabilized to the point that he will move to a different resident hospice house this week. He doesn’t require the level of care that is provided at his current house. In fact today, Steve called me on his cell phone and we had a good conversation — much better than any we have had in person since this all started. He didn’t remember that we had been there for the weekend, but with prompting remembered the dogs coming and the pie. A week ago he couldn’t talk, and today he has been talking since he woke up.

We don’t know what the days ahead hold. But we know that God has been at work in all of this, and for that we are thankful.