Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Death: Read All About It...and be blessed

Books, Books and More Books
By Marsha Rivers, Hospice Director of Development and Community Relations
In our latest Hospice newsletter (hitting mailboxes this be posted online soon), I promised a list of the books I’ve been collecting on the topics of dying, death and bereavement. I’m still working my way through them, so don’t look for detailed descriptions on this list. I’ll come back later and embellish. For now, background and impressions: 
The two I mentioned in the column were:
Sacred Stories: What Hospice Workers Know That Can Change Your Life by Jean R. Linderman. I highly recommend this compilation of accounts from Hospice nurses, social workers and volunteers, which provided diverse perspectives about death. The author’s brevity made it manageable to take in a few accounts per night and then “sleep on them.” 
Blessing Our Goodbyes: A Gentle Guide to Being with the Dying and Preparing for Your Own Death by Kathie Quinlan. This book was a gift from Linda Quinlan, Kathie’s daughter, who was a favorite professor-turned-colleague of mine at Roberts Wesleyan College. Kathie gracefully yet passionately makes the case that death that deserves to be discussed and accepted as a natural part of life. Beauty and healing await us in these difficult conversations.
Other books on my shelf (in the order I obtained them):
Befriending Death: Henri Nouwen and a Spirituality of Dying by Michelle O’Rourke. I ordered this book as soon as I accepted the position working for Hospice. Henri is one of my heroes. If I were Catholic (he was, I’m not), and if he were to be deemed a saint (I already do, the Catholic Church has not…yet), I’d pick him as my patron. Not only do I identify with his writing, his faith journey and his personal struggles (particularly his melancholy, although this might surprise the people who say I smile so much), but he even proffered lovely and much-needed advice to me (and the masses, pardon the pun) about that second-only-to-death taboo topic: Money. Just a few weeks prior to my job change, I had sat in on a webinar hosted by the Henri Nouwen Society on my hero’s “Spirituality of Fundraising.” Some people might call those concepts mismatched, spirituality and fundraising. But both are integral to my life and career.  
The Best Care Possible: A Physician’s Quest to Transform Care Through the End of Life by Ira Byock, MD. Hospice of Orleans’ Executive Director Mary Anne Fischer handed me this book on my first day here. It got relegated to the bottom of my to-do pile as soon as I saw the events calendar. But now that I’ve gone public with this list, and with Hospice events soon taking a few weeks’ hibernation, I’m motivated to dig into what looks to be a real eye- and heart-opener!
Hospice, A Labor of Love by Glavan, Longanacre and Spivey. Getting to know the Hospice organization and philosophy, I dreamed up this combination of words myself: Hospice, A Labor of Love. And then, as I often do, I Googled it to see if someone else had already thought of it. Of course, they had. A minister, a nurse and a writer. Sounds like the start of a joke, right? No—a beautiful book, by the looks of it.
Saying Goodbye to The Iris Lady: A true-life novel by Marilyn Smith Neilans. I bought this book by a woman with Albion connections at—where else?—Bindings Bookstore, in Albion. Even though this account of her mother’s life and death in Williamsburgh, Virginia, fills a healthy 385 pages, perusal suggests it’s a quick and enjoyable read. And I do love my hometown connections.
Midwife for Souls: Spiritual Care for the Dying by Kathy Kalina. Loaned to me just last week by our head Hospice nurse, who herself helped deliver my babies at one of the local hospitals. When the birthing wing at that hospital closed, Mary came here, joining the throngs of people who identify the analogous relationship between the beginning and ending of a life. Even though this is my most recent acquisition of the bunch, I suspect I’ll be reading it soonest.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

November is National Hospice Month

We began our observance of National Hospice Month with our Annual Memorial Service on Sunday, November 3rd at Christ Episcopal Church in Albion. This year’s event was held in conjunction with the All Saints Evensong Service featuring the Genesee Deanery Episcopal Choir, directed by Allison Metcalfe. Pastor Linda Haight offered the following meditation on behalf of Hospice; we also read the names and lit candles honoring all Hospice patients who passed away 9/16/12 – 9/16/13. We have extra copies of the service bulletin for anyone interested. Simply call our office at 585-589-0809 to request your copy.

This sermon was heavily based on a sermon given by Graeme Lamb and he should get most of the credit for the following words. His entire message can be read at:

The Genesee Deanery Choir sang at our Memorial Service.
We are here today, joined together in the common bond of grief to remember those for whom we have died this past year. In many ways the hardest part of grief, is the remembering of those who are gone from us, yet today we gather specifically to remember our loved ones, whether family of friend, neighbor or colleague.

Take just a moment to look around you. This room is filled with others who have lost loved ones in their lives as well. None of us here today is alone. That statement may bring particular comfort to any who have come here today on their own. Although we grieve for different people, our grief is shared. A Honduran proverb says, ‘Grief shared is half grief.’

Pastor Linda Haight
The time of grief and mourning can be an uncertain time, both in terms of its longevity and also in knowing how we or others will react. C.S. Lewis observed, after the death of his wife, that he was resentful if people asked him how he was as he often wanted to be alone in his thoughts and didn’t know how to even begin to answer the question, but he was just as resentful when people didn’t ask after him, observing that no one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.” And when we are in the grip of this fear/grief/anxiety/ we often react to life with uncertainty. 

Akin to the story I read this past week about a great composer, the story didn’t mention his name, but I learned that he raised a rebellious son. This son would often come home well after his father and mother had gone to bed. Knowing his father would be listening, the son would go to the piano in the hall and very loudly play the scales, do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti… Then scamper off to bed with a smile on his face.

The great composer would toss and turn in bed trying to overcome his anxiety over hearing the unfinished scales echoing in his head. When the urge became too much to bear…the great composer would get out of bed, go to the grand piano in the hall and strike the final do…to complete the scales. Satisfied he could then return to his bed for the comfort of sleep.

During grief, we often feel like the music scores in our lives are not finished. The melody is incomplete and we are gripped by grief and fear. Grief is, in one way, a costly consequence of love. The missing note created by the loss of a love. The missing note created by the regret of things left undone. The missing note of dreams left unfulfilled. The writer, Hilary Stanton Zunin observed that “the risk of love is loss, and the price of loss is grief.”

We grieve because we feel the pain of loss, but we also grieve because of the strength of our love for the person that we have come here to remember today. That love continues and grief does not diminish it and often in the early months after death we feel that love even stronger than we did before. The only way we can avoid the pain of grief is by also avoiding the joy of love. And so, what brings us here ultimately today is not grief, but love – love for the person that has died, love that carries on in spite of their death, love that will carry on.

Thankfully, with love there is always hope, hope that the notes will again ring complete…hope that the music will again sound sweet…hope. My hope is found in the love of God for us all. A love that never diminishes and never dies because it is a love of the Creator for his created children. My hope is in the promises given by God through Christ that when we die, he will come to take us to be with him. This completes the music in my heart. Fills the voids with melodies and relieves my anxieties. My hope comes in the promise that those who morn will be comforted.

Today we are not alone. We meet together to share our grief, to share our love for those we have gathered together to remember, but we are here also in this building, this special holy place, a symbol of God’s love for each one of us, here or absent, a symbol of God’s desire to be deeply involved in each one of our lives.

We are here today, to remember the music goes on, to remember we are not alone, to remember and continue to sing in the midst of sorrow, To love in the midst of loss and to gain strength in the midst of our own weakness.

The American poet Robert Frost said,
In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on. God longs to be with us as our life goes on, to show his love for us and to transform us – to turn our sorrow into songs, our mourning into dancing, and our tears into joy.

Remember you are not alone, Hospice, friends and family, and most of all God is here if you are struggling to find a completed melody.

Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti…..Do…May the scales of our lives once again become complete. Amen.