Curiosity Seekers: Spiritual Science Fiction

curiosityfront

If you were offbeat enough to  find my first book “oddly entertaining,” then you might enjoy Curiosity Seekers  all the more.  It is a gentle science fiction work about a retro couple in the near future who gets into and out of various predicaments. Now that’s a lot more fun than hospice, isn’t it? One of the main characters is Gomer Ackerman, who repairs and beautifies material books which are becoming more and more scarce. The other main character is his wife Muriel, who designs one-of-a-kind greeting cards each intended for only one recipient. Their financial planner Virginia Boyden is more conventional, but things go awry after she gets dementia and becomes one of the first people cured of the disease. The catch is, as she gets better and better, an unexpected side effect comes up. In another story  Gomer becomes a widower and deals with his wife’s death by buying a robot that looks and acts like her, even in intimate matters. Ahem! He then suffers immense remorse and comes up with one ridiculous plan after another to atone.  You will also meet the Ackermans’ great niece Beatriz, who finds creatures on a different solar system that have to be very sparing with their words in order to survive.

Here is an excerpt for the readers of this blog, when Virginia describes part of her recovery: “When I had dementia, it’s like all the words in the English language had flown away from me into space, all the way to another solar system in another part of the Milky Way you could say. Then I called to them  to all please come back home, and they did, at first a few at a time, and then bunches of them at a time, each batch making a perfect landing in its own proper dear little spot in my brain, like birds finding the nests of their young days.”

You may wonder why a chaplain has written science fiction. One of my reviewers explains:

“Kaplan’s sci-fi will appeal to readers who like their spaceships and androids served with a side of spiritual contemplation.” — Mystery writer Mindy Quigley, author of The Burnt Island Burial Ground

You can see more about these interrelated stories on amazon:  http://amzn.to/2mjXpR0

 

The Myth of Wanting To Let Go

Guest author Lizzy Miles explains in her article here and in Pallimed.org why telling a dying loved one they can “let go” might not be such a hot plan; it might even make things worse:

The idea that a dying person is waiting for permission from their loved ones permeates many articles about the final days of dying. There is some truth to the idea that some patients may linger because they worry about the ones they are leaving behind. However, this concern about the bereaved is only one of many possible reasons that patients do not die when we think they should.
Consider this. How do you know it is okay to go? Have you died before? Do you know what it feels like? No, you don’t–none of us do. Dying is scary stuff, even for patients who have a strong belief in the afterlife or heaven.

Several years ago I had a patient, “Betty,” who told me that she was not afraid to die because she had a vision of her deceased husband and he told her everything was going to be okay. Then one day I was called to the house because she was “dying.” The chaplain, an aide, a few family members and I stood around the bed. The chaplain began to play music and the patient yelled out, “NO” several times. The patient continued to be in distress until we stopped the music and everyone left the room. She calmed down immediately. In hindsight we realized we had put pressure on her to die before she was ready. She died a few days later in the early hours of the morning with her favorite aide by her bedside.

When my aunt was dying, we had the bedside moment with all the family members praying and then my cousin stopped and said she was going to run an errand. I thought she was having a tough time and had to step away from the situation. That wasn’t the case. She told me later that at the time we were praying, she heard her mom’s voice in her head, saying, “I don’t know what you’re all doing, but I’m not going anywhere right now.”

On more than one occasion I have had friends and family question why a patient hadn’t died when they had told them it was okay to let go. The first thing I do is normalize their feelings of uncertainty and the difficulty of not knowing when. Often in these situations I explain the phenomenon of timing. I tell family members that dying is like planning a dinner party. There are a lot of components that need to happen for someone to be ready to go. I tell them sometimes a patient waits for someone to arrive and sometimes a patient waits for someone to leave. I instruct the family to not worry too much about the right conditions because they are difficult to anticipate and rarely what we expect. I tell the families that it will all make sense ‘afterwards’.

I had one woman who was questioning me on the length of time it took for her husband to die and I gave her a short example of another situation in which the patient was waiting for his spouse’s sister to arrive. Oddly enough, that was exactly what happened again. These patients weren’t waiting to see someone for themselves, they were waiting for someone to arrive who would be a source of support for the ones left behind.

One of the more challenging aspects of bedside hospice work is for staff to leave their own expectations and ideals at the door. The best advice I was given as a new social worker was to remember the acronym “NATO” which means Not Attached to Outcome. While we can give suggestions to families and friends on how to talk to or be with their loved one, we have to remember to stay neutral if they do not follow our guidance.

There are times where we, as staff, express our concern about patient situations behind the scenes. Have you heard a coworker express concern or thought to yourself:

There are “too many” people in the room.
Why aren’t they talking to the patient?
Why would they talk about those topics in front of the patient?
How could they talk that way in front of the patient?
Why isn’t there anyone at the bedside?
Why won’t the caregiver tell the patient it is okay to “let go”?
Why won’t they leave the patient’s bedside, even if for just a minute?

Caregiver actions at the bedside can sometimes confound and unsettle us because of our own ideas of a “good death.” However it is not up to us to define. We may actually be the ones who have to “let go” of the idea that we know what’s best for our patients.

This article was posted by Lizzy Miles on January 20,2017 in Pallimed.org. and reprinted here with permission.For the original article plus comments, see  at http://www.pallimed.org/2017/01/the-dying-dont-need-your-permission-to.html

Lizzy Miles, MA, MSW, LSW is a hospice social worker in Columbus, Ohio and author of a book of happy hospice stories: Somewhere In Between: The Hokey Pokey, Chocolate Cake and the Shared Death Experience. Lizzy is best known for bringing the Death Cafe concept to the United States. You can find her on Twitter @LizzyMiles_MSW.

Touch-Tone A Prayer

As I entered the modest room, about a dozen friends and family were awkwardly standing all around the patient with his hospital bed as the hypnotic centerpiece. Xavier (pseudonym) could no longer register their existence, and they in turn felt disconnected from each other. Xavier’s daughter had asked for a chaplain and the spontaneous prayer I offered melted away some of the tension. But when I was done no conversation with me ensued, so to conclude the visit graciously, I gave them one of my business cards and explained that the cellphone number listed is my personal one for them to call as needed.

During my time off the next day, the daughter called and asked if I could come pray again. Guess I supplied a high-quality prayer since she wanted seconds. She declared, “There’s only my husband and me this time with Xavier, so it’s more peaceful now and we can concentrate better.” After I told her I was not in the facility that day, I broached the idea of imparting a prayer over the phone. I worried a little that she would think that was a pale substitute, but the power of the word was to prevail. “I’ll put on my loudspeaker and we’ll listen,” she enthused. Thank goodness she requested Psalm 23, because that was about the only Psalm I had in instant reach. After I recited it, she hesitantly asked about sharing a prayer of her own, which of course I urged her to do as I listened. Her prayer was about feeling God’s strength and praying for Xavier’s peaceful passing. I then intuited that I should follow that by softly singing the spiritual, “This Little Light of Mine.”

The couple murmured their appreciation, and the most moving call of the month was at an end.

The Rosary And The Rabbi

It was not a promising start. I had left a voicemail in Spanish with a new patient on hospice and her family. The patient’s daughter sent me a text message in Spanish saying I could visit whenever I wished. I called back, and after I said in my obviously flawed Spanish who I was and that I could come now, she said, “I don’t understand English.” Yikes. Was my Spanish all that bad?

But when I replied that I was speaking in Spanish to her, she giggled and the conversation at last had a future, however fragile it might be. So I considered it a victorious leap past the communication barrier when she agreed that I could come over right away.

The patient, who I will call Margarita, was seated on the couch, and her daughter Gabriela sat next to her as she put my Spanish comprehension to the test with a complex story of woe. A couple of other family members were present as well. I then turned to her mother, who had not said anything or even looked at me much during this lament. Because Gabriela mentioned that Margarita went to Spanish Mass at a church around the corner, I asked her mother if she would like a prayer. It just so happens I come prepared with prayers written in Spanish for such visits, including a prayer for caregivers (which caregivers sometimes scan into their phones because they like it so much), and the prayer for the Rosary. Margarita found it worthwhile to tune in to me and take the energy to communicate since I brought out the magic word Rosary as one of the prayers I had on hand. At my request, the family found a set of white rosary beads for her to hold.

I felt comfortable enough saying the words themselves of this prayer in these circumstances, but as a rabbi I could not make the sign of the Cross or say “amen,” so I felt I first had to let on that  I was not Catholic, but not only that, I was–were they ready for this?– Jewish. This only added further spice to the spectacle of a gringa like me with fractured Spanish reciting a prayer of utmost sanctity alien to her own beliefs. But they were alright with this, grateful for a spiritual presence that could cut through their linguistic isolation at this time of acute need. As I started to say the words, “En el nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y del Espiritu Santo…” I saw that Margarita could say much of the Rosary by herself by heart. I only had to resume here and there to prompt her along. She teared up at the emotion of expressing this prayer, and I saw the others brushing off their own tears. And as I was engaged with this task, I thought about how odd and how glorious it was that we could transcend language and religion and nationality and race to provide this salvation of release and of God’s comforting closeness.

No Reservations Required

alzheimers-daughter

 

Author Jean Lee faced the bizarre coincidence of having both her parents diagnosed with Alzheimer’s on the very same day. She wrote about this in her book, Alzheimer’s Daughter. Her parents had married on a five-day furlough during WWII and remained passionate about their relationship until their last breaths 60 years later. Jean says, “The blessing of their dual diagnosis was that they faded away together.” In the following excerpt from her book, where she, her sister Annette and her dad face the ultimate loss of her mother, we find out how Jean could call this a blessing:

 

“Around dinnertime, the Hospice doctor spoke with us explaining that a blood infection had started in Mom’s foot. It was something simple that anyone would be able to fight off with a normally functioning immune system but since Mom had stopped eating and drinking, she had no body reserves with which to battle this infection. It would end her life. They acknowledged Mom was having difficulty letting go. Hospice advised us to leave Mom alone during the night so she could come to terms with her own passing, promising to call us at any turning point.

We brought Dad to visit one last time that evening. He whispered sweet things and kissed Mom on the cheek. However, seeing her waxy-faced without her smile, and unconscious without recognition of him­­––he was confused.

As we walked with him back to his room, he asked, ‘Is that my mother?’

We replied, ‘No, Dad, that’s Ibby. The angels are taking her to heaven.’

My sister Annette and I sat on either side of her bed. Her head was turned toward the window, even though it was still dark. As gray dawn came into the sky, her eyes were open just a slit. The Lodge was waking up. Aides came to say their goodbyes and tell her they loved her.

A favorite aide brought Dad to Mom. He stood by the bed, held and stroked Mom’s hand. We knew he wanted to be closer––one last time. We lowered the rails. He leaned his body into hers and kissed her dry lips, whispering, ‘Ibby, I love you.’

Nearly seven decades before, Edwin Church had kissed Elizabeth Naegle at the end of a roller coaster ride in the dark tunnel of love––he now gave Ibby her last kiss. Caressing her cheek, then straightening to stand––shaking and bewildered, Dad looked at us. Annette and I hugged him. The aide approached, putting her arm around his waist to steady him and asked, “Ed, do you want to go back to your room?” He nodded.

Annette and I stayed, leaned over her bed on either side, holding her hands and holding hands with each other, completing a circle. We told her what a wonderful mother she’d been to us. We told her she’d been an amazing grandmother to our children. We told her she’d made us the women we were today. We told her she was beautiful and smelled so sweet. Lastly, we said, “We’ll take care of Dad until you can be together again in heaven.”

With every exhale she labored, as if more and more of her soul was expelled with each respiration. The circle from birth to death was now completing itself.

Annette and I stayed in the sanctuary-like quiet of the room, hearing only our own breathing, stroking her skin, knowing Mom was gone but not wanting our time with her to end.

What was left of Mom was simply her earthly shell. I had seen her birth her soul to heaven.

I returned to the locked unit to get her glasses and dentures. As I walked through those locked metal security doors knowing I had to tell my dad that Mom was gone, I did so with my back erect and a large stride, having great peace, telling myself my mother was now free and restored. She’d never have to live behind locked doors again.

When I entered Mom and Dad’s room, he struggled to stand. I hugged him, smiled and said, ‘Dad, Mom has gone to heaven.’

With a mystical expression on his face, he replied, ‘Really? I just saw her. She came to tell me she’d wait for me there.’”

 

Jean Lee lives with her husband in small-town Ohio, twenty minutes from anything. Although she worked full time while her parents were ill, she is now retired after twenty-two years of teaching elementary school. Her children are married with children of their own. Five grandchildren are her greatest blessings.

Here is the link to Alzheimer’s Daughter

You may contact Jean by email:

jean@alzheimersdaughter.com

Alzheimer’s Daughter blog:

http://jeanllee.blogspot.com

Alzheimer’s Daughter Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/AlzheimersDaughter

Twitter:

https://twitter.com/JeanLee18

 

 

 

 

 

Consolation Prize

You would think that being non-Catholic, let alone Jewish and female, would disqualify me from standing in for a priest for a patient when none are handy. And that is usually what happens: no priest, no service. My husband jokes that all I need to do is put on a beard and wear a robe and say a few Latin words to be the next best thing. Hmm; impersonating a priest simply does not sound kosher.

However, there were two occasions  where I was better than nothing; a lot better they assured me. The first was when Julia ( name pulled out of the air) wanted me to hear her confession. I made sure she fully realized what flavor religion I was, and of course my untraditional gender. No matter. She found peace by unburdening herself of regrets in front of someone who symbolized God’s loving forgiveness. As I learned online, confession is also called the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Feeling reconciled with people and with God is a crucial task that many dying people wish to accomplish, so I am glad I could make it happen for Julia. Thankfully she did not ask me how many Hail Mary’s she had to do or any other such penance.

The other day, a family was with a patient who was not many breaths away from his very last one. They asked me over and over every half hour or so about getting a priest for last rites, and getting one right away. They had to ask me over and over because embarrasingly enough, I could not find one even after calling several. Finally I found one, but not one who could rush over literally at that moment. He said he would be there about two hours later. I explained this to the family members, who were all crowded into the patient’s room just waiting, and they decided that just in case it would be too late (it was, it turned out) to get the priest, that they would like me to offer a final prayer. The patient had only been on hospice for about five hours and could no longer respond in any way.Their distress felt so extreme, that I left out the distracting details of my religion and only let them know I was not a Catholic. I hoped that as I offered spontaneous prayer standing together in a circle holding hands with each other and with the patient, they would not notice too much that I left out words like “Jesus” and “Christ.” Perhaps they wondered to themselves several hours later what that was all about, but this family was comforted  that I recited a prayer that for them, put the finishing touches on the man’s soul at the critical moment.

The day Col. Sanders met Lyndon Johnson’s dog

In acknowledgment of the commencement of the general presidential campaign, I am featuring a guest post about First Dogs. Author Mindy Quigley’s post in this case is only remotely connected with the themes of my own blog in that the protagonist in her books is a healthcare chaplain!

Mindy Quigley

A reviewer once opined that, though she loved my books, she found the speaking in tongues scene in A Murder in Mount Moriah unbelievable. I laughingly noted that that scene, along with the notorious squirrel in the bathroom incident, are just about the only events in the book that are based on true incidents. This reader had happily swallowed the miles of yarn I’d spun and choked on the single nugget of truth.

I was reminded of this recently during a long road trip with a colleague, who I travel with several times a year. You can only talk shop for so long, so we often end up telling stories of our younger days to pass the tedious hours trekking back and forth along I-81. We were regaling one another with tales of pets our families had kept over the years–the bird who angrily demanded everyone in the house go to bed at 9pm, the…

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