Feedback From The Beyond: A Fantasy in Two Parts

A hospice nurse told me an afterlife fantasy so captivating it has stuck in my mind for months. She said, “When I am in heaven, I hope to see every patient I have taken care of. All they have to do is file by and nod at me.” She has been in this line of work for many years; she would probably have to reserve several hotel ballrooms in the beyond in order to accommodate them all. The amount of people hospice staff see really does add up quickly. Say I see three patients and one or two family members a day three days a week which becomes about 780 people a year, then in ten years that is about 8,000 people. And that is just working part time.

As in any helping profession, we hospice workers yearn to know if we are making a positive difference. But unlike other professions, it’s a different story in that our patients cannot exactly give us feedback once discharged into the next world.  Not counting family, it’s not like we can conduct an exit interview! And the vast majority of family members do not return bereavement calls so we do not often get even a secondhand account of “how we did.” So I think that is why that nurse has um “nursed” that image as I have.

I have to be contented with what patients say in the here and now, and hope that the few who express their appreciation for letting them vent or helping them with some unresolved issue or simply entertaining them (I sing but I can’t dance), are representative of what I have done for others.

The nurse’s fantasy also is about how our patients have impacted us. I have learned about so many points of view that I am unfamiliar with or have little exposure to, such as those who voted for Trump, or those who believe that they are going to a mansion in the afterlife even if it has to be one of the smaller ones due to their sins, or who hunted and fished on their time off, or who fled Puerto Rico years ago because the island is going bankrupt, or who have had jobs I have never heard of such as  “recycling” bricks by cleaning old ones from a demolished building for use in a new one.

If I could reverse this fantasy and make me the one who files past all my deceased patients, I would hope that I would nod at those I felt privileged to know because of their passionate caring for those around them until the last moments of lucidity. I would nod at those who have dampened my fear of death, those who have shared their creativity with me—the other day a poet gave me a copy of his book of poems and signed it with a personalized message before dying just days later— I would nod at those who challenged my religious beliefs, and to all those who reminded me to slow down and relax. As for those who wish to nod back at me in return: that would be heavenly indeed.

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A Chaplain’s-Eye View of Presidential Material

Everyone else is talking about the presidential candidates so why not yours truly, even if this topic does not quite fit what you usually find in this blog? You might inquire what a chaplain could contribute that would add anything more than any random person on the street. I think to speak about this through my filter as a chaplain, and not just as Karen B. Kaplan, random voter, is in fact the point. Chaplains are generally more self-aware than the average person, so I can consider how my own life story causes me to sidle alongside one candidate rather than another. I also may be more sensitive to tracking down the elusive agendas of the aspirants.

I have no proof, but I predict that Trump will self-sabotage before he gets too close to finding himself in the Oval Office, assuming that outside factors don’t derail his efforts to win it. It is one thing to electioneer. It’s another to actually sit down and do the day-to-day work of a president. It’s the difference between talking about being president and actually being president. Would it be his cup of tea? I mean would he really want to give up his stinging words and grind through tedious meetings and painstakingly shepherd change, if there is change at all, through the slow process guaranteed by our balance of powers? I think he would miss the higher flying super-duper charged existence of speech making and grandstanding.

That people are currently gravitating toward candidates with more extreme views is extraordinary, since usually most people want to go with what is more predictable, and therefore emotionally safe. My prediction is that like any attraction to extremes, such behavior cannot be sustained for long and people will scuttle back to the more comfortable haven of moderation.

My life story, full of erratic and unpredictable behavior in my home of origin, makes me wary of any candidate that seems volatile, no matter how attractive their views may be. Above all, I want to feel that a candidate is a stable personality, not one to lurch into one stunner after another. I leave it to you to consider who falls in the former, and who in the latter category. Setting aside your own political views, you can examine whose behavior and personality best suits your own view of the world. Who best fits your own emotional and spiritual make-up?

Win a Free Book (Mine!) By Taking This Quiz

…About ten minutes after I announced this giveaway (see below), I got the two winners!  This contest is therefore closed. However, if you want to try to answer the quiz just for fun….  You can now see the  correct answers under the first comment below. The commenter happens to be the first winner, a hospice chaplain in Oregon named Jacqueline Brodsky. The second winner, from California, sings to the sick and dying in Threshold Choir and her name is Cathy Baird. Congratulations to you both!

I am giving away two copies of Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died. What’s the catch? You have to pass this quiz! The first two people who email me the correct (i.e. best) answers to all five questions will receive a print book or e-book. If the former, I can send an autographed copy. The material on this quiz covers posts since February 12th through now, and it’s an open book test!

1. Eulogies should
a. reveal only the positive aspects of a person.
b. capture the essence of a person
c. be neither too long nor too short

2. Being a chaplain is a lot like being a [Careful—this is the hardest one]
a. banker or accountant
b. football player or boxer
c. detective or journalist

3. If you read my post, “Not Even Chocolate Lasts Forever,” you might conclude,
a. I would like nothing better than to experience death by chocolate.
b. I had a hospice interview whose primary topic was chocolate
c. I am concerned that someday I will become allergic to chocolate.

4. When a new patient turns down an offer of chaplain care,
a. this might be “nothing personal” and more due to the patient’s anger at the disease or at God,or that they may already have their own clergy.
b. this means the chaplain has to offer the care again and again and again until accepted.
c. this means the chaplain has miserably failed with this particular patient.

5. A big “no-no” in hospice work is for a chaplain or social worker
a. to offer to visit a patient more than once during the time they are on hospice.
b. to report patient pain to a nurse, even though the main task of others besides nurses centers on emotional and spiritual support.
c. to ask a newly bereaved family member to become a hospice volunteer as soon as possible.