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Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Lessons in Hospice Ministry: Part II

So, we have another new Hospice patient on service. Admitted over the week end. I've been trying to get an appointment with him and his wife to admit him to pastoral care service.

I talked with his wife on Monday. She was feeling pretty overwhelmed which is fairly normal when people are first admitted. There's so much adjustment: the reality of the diagnosis, all the staff from all the various disciplines calling and setting up appointments, the delivery of equipment - oxygen tanks and compressors and plastic tubing, walker, bedside commode/urinal, shower chair, hospital bed - and rearranging furniture to make it all fit.

Did I mention the part about the reality of the diagnosis? 

She asked me to come on Tuesday, after her husband returned from dialysis, but asked me if I would pray with her on the phone. Which, of course, I did. I'm actually getting pretty good at it, for someone with an acute addiction to the beauty of the language in the BCP.

On Tuesday morning at 8:15, she called me again to say that her husband comes home from dialysis "really wiped out" and could we reschedule for Wednesday? Sure, no problem, said I. She asked again for prayers.

So, I prayed my little heart out. Right there on the phone, in front of God and Matt Lauer on mute and without a BCP in sight. That was even before my second cup of coffee.

Today, right after IDT (Interdisciplinary Team Meeting which happens every two weeks), I called to confirm our appointment at 2 PM.

This is that conversation:

Me: Hi, it's Chaplain Elizabeth, just confirming our appointment for 2 o'clock.

Wife: Well, um . ..  I don't know . . .

Me: Is everything okay?

Wife: Well, you know .... it's like this: I don't rightly know if your coming will make a difference.

Me: How do you mean?

Wife: Well, the last time he was in the hospital, about 3 weeks ago, you know, before this last time? Well, the hospital chaplain came by - she was a very nice lady - and, well, he got saved. You know?

Me: He was baptized?

Wife: Well.... yeah, I guess. I dunno, actually. He got SAVED, you know?

Me: I see. Sooooo . . . I'm not sure . . . .

Wife: Well, OBVIOUSLY!  It didn't work

Me: I'm sorry. I don't think I understand . . .

Wife: Well, she supposedly SAVED him, right? And it wasn't 10 days and he was back in the hospital and now, he's worse! Now, he's on hospice. So, he wasn't saved. Not. At. All.

Me: I . ..  umm . . . I . . .

Wife: And, you know, she was a HOSPITAL chaplain and she couldn't save him. You're a HOSPICE chaplain! I mean, how are YOU supposed to save him?

Me: I ..  . umm . . . well, you see . . . um . . . I .... I mean 'we' .... we don't actually do the saving. See? No one does the saving. That's Jesus. Jesus is the Savior. Not the chaplain. Not me. I'm just the vehicle. Jesus is, well, the driver. See? But . . . even then . . . that's not really what it means . . .'to be saved'. It's . . . . .

Wife: Well, now . . . Really? . . . . .What in the hell good is THAT?

           Looooong pause. Obviously waiting for an answer.

Me: I . . . ummm . . . well . . . I think we're talking about two different things, here.

Wife: No . . . no . . . no, we're not. We are talking about him being saved. I stood right there at my husband's hospital bed and she said, "You will not die forever." FOREVER! She said. And, she said it like she meant it. And, I believed her. So did my husband.

And, if that nice HOSPITAL chaplain couldn't save him, what in the hell good are YOU - a HOSPICE chaplain - gonna be able to do? Nothin', that's what! He's gonna DIE. I know that now.

They were talking at the dialysis center about not doing the treatments anymore. Because, you know, he's on HOSPICE. So, there's not a single thing in the world you can do to save him.

Me: The doctor and nurses at the dialysis center said they were going to stop dialysis?

Wife: Nooooo! (As if I were a Very Stupid Person). The lady in the waiting room said that.

Me: And, so.... she was.... a doctor or a nurse or a technician?

Wife: Nooooo! (Now convinced not only of my impotence but my incompetence). She was a lady in the waiting room, I said. Been coming there for years. She told me that, once you're on hospice, they stop doing dialysis.

Me: Well, actually, I think, until you hear that from your doctor . . ..

Wife: Look, I know. I got it. He's gonna DIE! So, there's no sense you coming 'round to save him because it won't work. You or Jesus or whoever it is who promises to save you and then, when you really need them, it's all 'well, that's not really what it means".

(I had a flash of a line from the movie, Princess Bride. You know. When Vizzini keeps saying, "Inconceivable! And Inigo Montoya says, "I don't think you mean what you think you mean." It gave me a momentary silent chuckle, which my soul desperately needed at that particular point in time.)

Wife: It's a joke! Except, it ain't funny! You guys are a joke! It ain't funny!

You know what I'd do, if I were you?

Me: No, what?

Wife: I'd quit!

Me: Quit?

Wife: Yes. I'd quit working for that Jesus, 'The Savior', cuz he makes promises he can't keep.

Me: Yes . . . well . . . I . . .

Wife: And, you should never make promises you don't know you can keep.

Me: Yes. . ..  well . . . . I

Wife: So, have a nice day. Or a blessed day. Or whatever it is you 'nice' people say to each other. Because, you know, I knew there was a reason I don't like nice people. Can't trust them. No, sir. They say nice things to you and make you promises and then you find out it's all a Big. Fat. Lie.

My husband is gonna DIE. . . . You can't save him.. . . . Jesus can't save him.  . . . .

(Barely audible whisper) . ..  I can't save him. 


So, then, a few things:
+ Watch your language. Really. Some people take you at your word. Literally.
+ Never make a promise you don't know you can keep.

+ Everyone's gotta have a hook on which to hang their anger. (P.S. Clergy make great 'hooks'. )
+ Security is an illusion.
+ The Beatles were wrong. If 'love is all you need', we'd all live forever. Here.
+ When you are standing (or, talking on the phone) with someone who is peering into The Abyss, having a sense of The Absurd is important. Having a sense of humor is absolutely essential. Knowing when to keep your mouth shut is critical.
+ You're not as smart as you might think you are. You're not as dumb as others might think you are.
+ Hospice is not for sissies.  
Oh, by the way, in case you were wondering: I haven't written my letter of resignation to Jesus.

Not today, anyway. 


I'm here! Now what? said...

Wow, I had a faith healer show up to see a patient who then pronounced the patient healed, no need for a chaplain.She died the next day. Family was angry... So what exactly does God do?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Dear I'm here! Now what?

What, exactly, do you think God does?

8thday said...

I so understand the wife's position here. If Christian religions are going to preach that God takes care of the lilies and the sparrows and that God will certainly take care of you, well then, I agree with her - Christian religion sells a pack of lies. Not that death can be denied. But there is a hell of a lot of unnecessary, inequitable suffering out there. It is one of the many, many reasons I had to walk away from religion. I think its great if it gives comfort to those who believe - whatever floats your boat. But this woman's anger is very recognizable to me.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

8th Day - It's also understandable to me, not b/c I've experienced what she has, exactly, but b/c, when I hear "salvation" and "atonement", I hear a play for power. And, I back away.

That said, I would never get into a theological debate or argument with a patient or patient's family. I support their beliefs, even when I disagree. Even when they make me uncomfortable.

It's not my journey. It's theirs. My job - my privilege - is to be a companion to them on their way back to the One who created them.

Many paths, one way. I believe that.

Melody said...

It's a tough thing to trust God. To trust that He knows the right time for everything, and to trust that being Saved doesn't mean to stay alive in mortality, but to stay alive in Christ.

Hats off to your Hospice service. It is a hard thing to deal with those who are terminally ill and know the right things to say.... I never feel like I know what to say. (My work has been with family: my mom and my brother.)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

There's an old saying among those who live in the desert: Trust in God, and tie your camel tight. I resonate with that. In my personal prayer, I almost almost always refer to God in female pronouns, but I believe God is beyond gender. Most of the time,the right thing to say to a Hospice patient is, "God loves you more than your wildest imagination."

8thday said...

“God loves you more than your wildest imagination.”

Would you say that to an 8 year old who was taken from their family and sold to the sex trade?

I’m not trying to be argumentative. It’s just that all my religious upbringing told me that God cares about and loves each individual. In my heart I want to believe it, but I have yet to find anyone who preaches it who can show me any evidence of it. Perhaps I don’t have enough imagination.

Those questions aside, I do have a great deal of respect for hospice workers and clergy. My mother died in hospice and was greatly comforted by the daily visit and prayers of her minister as well as the hospices chaplains. I will be forever grateful for that.

Jim said...

Thank you for sharing the journey as you walk with those who need you. Watching our language is really good advice!


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Actually, I just might say that to an 8 year old. It really depends on where she was in the moment and what was going on. And, it just might be what she or he needed to hear in that moment. Just because bad stuff happens to us doesn't mean that God doesn't love us. It means that, even though God loves us beyond our wildest imagination, people can do horrible things. And, because God loves us so much, there is always hope. Hope that someone will take action against the sex trader. Hope that that young child will recover and so something good for the world. Hope that love will, eventually, win.

If I didn't believe that, if I weren't a hopeful person, I couldn't do the work of Hospice.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jim - I'm working with a deaf patient right now and it's pretty incredible who some thoughts and words can get "lost in translation".

Melody said...

I love your response to me :) Thank you! (btw, how do you talk to God using feminine pronouns? Because you obviously don't know me, but how you knew that I needed to hear that must have been God given.)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

That's great, Melody. How DO I talk to God in the feminine? Well, this is not sarcasm but the truth: The same when anyone talks to God in the male, except using female pronouns. Seriously. That's it. Sometimes, God is Mother and Jesus is Sophia/Wisdom. And, sometimes, God is Father and Jesus is Brother. But, the Holy Spirit is always, always female. I can't even conceive of the Holy Spirit as anything but female. Hope that's helpful.