Posts in Caregiving

At The Table With Love & Death

This morning I had a flash back to last week’s hospice visit where I sat across from a woman who, as they refer in the hospice field, is “actively dying”. Across from her and next to me sat this woman’s beloved husband of 60 years.  Between the two of them, they have 180+ years of life on this planet.

The sweetest part about being with this couple is getting to witness how 60 years of unconditional love blossoms, especially when one of the pair is nearing the end of life. This little wise man shared stories of their life together and he was sure to note that their marriage had experienced many peaks and valleys. He then sealed all of the years together so elegantly with his robust bright eyed smile.

Of all the lunch dates I have been on, this was perhaps one of the most meaningful. Stripping down our roles and physical conditions, it became clear that we were all sitting at the table with two honored guest- Love & Death.

It was pretty magical, yet also very simplistic. We allowed ourselves to be present in the moment, flowing in and out of moments of talking and silence. Everything felt just right. There was nothing to fix, nothing to change, and there was definitely no holding back. We all just met each other in the spaces we were in. It was perfect.

As I recalled this lunch date, I got to thinking about my own impending death. My mind often wonders to what this big adventure is all about, or in what fashion I will be departing. I’m not about to say that I am fearless when it comes to death, I too feel a sense of clinging to life and some sadness when I contemplate my death and the death of those whom I adore.

But you know, this lunch meeting with love and death has got me thinking…Perhaps when we go out, it’s like sitting down at the table with love and death. Before your bottom grazes the surface of the seat, your entire being is immersed in an unconditional love that you have only ever touched the surface of. You look death in the eyes, and then you glance over to love. And suddenly you have an absolute knowing that is all the same. They are not separate. Suddenly all of our fears and concerns melt away and we become one with love.

My beloved teacher Ram Dass equates the experience of death as “taking off a tight shoe”. The more I am sitting with death,  I am slowly beginning to see what he means. But yes, I still have a mighty long way to go.

Speaking of sitting at the table with death, are you familiar with the Death Over Dinner project? I think this project is fabulous because it invites us to sit down with love & death, and you all know how I feel about that experience! But let us remember, that conversations of death can happen anywhere…not just over the table. Conversations about death should not be confined to a time or place.

The more I embrace my life more fully, the less scary death feels. Ya know, I really think the Buddha was on to something when he shared the following:

“The Buddha taught there is no birth, there is no death; there is no coming, there is no going; there is no same, there is no different; there is no permanent self, there is no annihilation. We only think there is. When we understand that we cannot be destroyed, we are liberated from fear. It is a great relief. We can enjoy life and appreciate it in a new way.”

The Grace of Dying

“Love everyone, serve everyone, remember God, and tell the truth.”
-Neem Karoli Baba

A little over a month ago I flew to my hometown St. Louis to visit a man who I have know since I was born, my grandfather, Don Francis Kern. A week before boarding the plane, my grandfather aspirated, he was rushed to the Hospital and immediately intubated. The day I was arriving would be day 8 on ventilation and the day they would begin removing the tube. They removed the tube shortly before we arrived and he was responding very well. We walked in the hospital room, and to my surprise he greeted me with the biggest and brightest smile. It is a moment that will play in my heart forever.

The course of the next few days was a bumpy one, full of ups downs, moments of hope and absolute certainty followed by  moments of uncertainty and despair. Because my grandfather was still aspirating on his swallow test, the medical solution was a feeding tube. In respect of my grandfather’s continued wish for no feeding tube and quality of life, Hospice became the next step. This is where my opportunity to serve and share about the magic of hospice came into play.

Hospice isn’t an easy word for most people to hear, but it really isn’t a bad thing. In fact, Hospice is a service that is dedicated to comforting, loving, and serving you in your final chapter of this life. I personally can’t think of anything more sweeter then people who are waiting and willing to serve individuals in their time of transition. It’s not a job nor path for everybody, but it is important we know that it is a service available to everyone.

Honoring my grandfather’s final wish to go home, my grandmother made the decision to bring my grandfather home on hospice. A neat thing about is Hospice is as soon as you say the words, you are no longer walking this journey with your loved ones alone. You are instantly armed with the compassion and love from strangers, all ready to serve your family and the person transitioning.

My grandfather’s eyes lit up when he was brought home and sat in his favorite chair! His last wish was fulfilled and you could feel the ease and peace in his spirit. Three days later my grandfather passed away with his wife of 50 years by his side,holding his hand and giving him the permission to let go. True love in the purest form, sitting along side your loved one and holding space for them in their time of transition.

I am beginning to believe with all of my heart that there is no greater service then being with someone who is dying.

I haven’t come to the above realization smoothly, in fact I have faced my own deep grief as a result of loosing two very close friends of mine. Amidst the pain and grief, I somehow found my way out and have always managed to hold on to my faith. My granny and I had many conversations of faith while sitting at my grandpa’s bedside, we both agreed it is the one thing that has allowed us to endure all of the obstacles and heartbreak that life brings.

One distinct moment by my grandpa’s bedside that stands out above the rest was when I wiped his dry and pudding stained mouth with a washcloth and time sort of just stood still. There was no judgement, in fact there were no thoughts at all…just love. It was space of timeless infinite love that could be likened to the feeling of absolute grace.

On the return flight my heart swelled with gratitude and I was in awe for the opportunity to be of service in this way again. It seems to get sweeter each time.

“Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work. ” -Mother Teresa