Category Archives: grief

Two Things

Alzheimer patient Tomaz is caressed by husband Dos Santos in their house in LisbonI visit with my patients on a regular basis. What I see and hear often can be emotional and moving.

Harold (not his real name) sits in the memory unit of a local facility every Fri morning holding the hand of his wife. They sit together in the common area – her in her wheel chair and he on the couch. She can’t speak nor does she seem to recognize Harold. They’ve been married 43 years. She became a resident this past Jun after suffering a massive stroke which mostly immobilized her and left her unable to communicate or remember much of anything.

His touch is tender, he talks to her as if she understands everything he is saying, and he smiles at her all of the time.

I went to a movie a few days ago. I had peeked ahead to see what it was about. I knew it would be hard to watch but I felt I needed to see it for a number of reasons.

Vincent goes to the assisted living home every week. Before entering a room down the hall, he puts on a white doctor’s lab coat. Upon entering, he greets the woman in the room with a strong “Good morning, Martha. You look beautiful as always today.”

Martha responds, “Hello doctor. I feel good today. Aren’t the tulips wonderfully colorful outside?”

“Yes, so amazingly colorful.”

After what appears to be a very cursory check-up, Vincent declares, “You check out excellently again today. As incredible as ever.”

“Thank you, doctor,” Martha says.

Each time that Vincent leaves the care facility, he takes Martha’s linens and clothes with him in a laundry basket. The aide at the front counter says, “You know we can take care of her wash, Vincent.”

Vincent says, “No, it’s okay. I want to do it.”

A few weeks later, Vincent (as the doctor) and Martha are outside sitting on a bench next to a pond looking at the ducks. As usual, the two are talking about the pretty settings and splashing ducks.

Martha says, “Vin, do you see those ducks diving?” Vincent’s voice catches and his eyes well up with tears.

He responds, “Yes, Martha, aren’t they something?”

Martha casually responds, “Yes, doctor. They are truly amazing.”

The moment passes quickly and without notice by anyone except Vincent.

Vincent and Harold are in the same situation. Their spouses are aware – but not of them. In story or in real life, it is heartbreaking to observe.

Two things. What is worse? Having a loved one who is present but not aware, or simply not being able to sit in the presence of a loved one?

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Library Remember

2014-10-11 12.58.49
(Click on photo to enlarge.)

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It Hurts

changeThank you, Rob, for your words yesterday from the Book of Job. And I 100%, unequivocally, absolutely, and emphatically agree with your thoughts on dealing with grief. Fact is, and as you said, hurt is hurt and there are not words or actions that will ever adequately fill the void left by loss. Even faith and Scripture doesn’t fix things, as some would like to think and often attempt to patronizingly and pedantically vocalize. Rather, these things are meaningful and healthy methods given to us by God that can and should be used to help us cope with wounds over time. Understand, however, that pain and scars will never go away completely, fully, and totally in this life as if they had never existed.

Because of your words, several people spoke with me yesterday about dealing with grief. One individual observed with me that we like to talk about, prepare, discuss ad nauseam (his words) and have parties for babies but we go out of our way to not discuss the process of dying and death.  I assured him that having babies is a fine thing and that we shouldn’t be too hard on anyone but, yes, we view the transition from eternity into life as a time of human celebration but we view the transition from human life back into eternity as a time of human loss. But then, it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? We like it here (it’s okay – it’s nice here!) so coming in is a good thing but we sure get hung up on leaving, don’t we?

In times of grief, there is nothing better a caregiver can do than to listen (if anything is even being said) and be present. After awhile, something will need to be discussed but dying is one ailment that does not have a quick-fix in this life so it takes time to process. Death should be grieved because it is a curse, it hurts, and it destroys. Death – in any way one tries to spin it – is a horrible thing.

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Loss Touch

hugeA few days ago, I visited a new patient. As it turns out, he was comfortably asleep so there wasn’t much I could do for him. But one of his daughters was visiting and sitting quietly when I entered his room. When I entered, she perked up and was happy to have someone to talk with for awhile. She told lots of interesting stories about her father and family. I could tell that she liked talking and having a conversation.

She was a teacher up until a few years ago – she has since retired and moved to Florida. I asked about her own family. She mentioned some sons and then told me that – she had lost her husband five years ago to cancer. I was dumbfounded. This is why she was wanting to talk. I told her my story and the entire tone of our conversation changed dramatically.

Anyway, after about 45 min of good, solid conversation, it was time for me to leave. I told her that I planned to visit on a certain day of the week for awhile and she said she looked forward to me visiting with her father and, she hoped, she would be around for another week or so to enable us to meet again.

As I was leaving and we were saying our goodbyes in the hall, she said, “I am a hugger. I hope you don’t mind.” I shook my head. “Of course not,” I said. She gave me a big hug and then she said, “You know how it is, of course, being by yourself. Without someone around to give a meaningful touch or hug every now and then, it gets lonely and you start to feel useless. I hope you don’t mind.”

Her words have been ringing in my ears for days. Yes. I miss kind and sincere touches from someone special that say, “I notice you and I care for you.” My new friend is right. Without touch and hugs, it does get lonely and I do begin to feel useless.

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Grief 101

mwhhospiceI sat in on the Oct 1 version of Grief 101 yesterday. These excellent sessions are sponsored for the community – free of charge – by Mary Washington Hospice, the people who I volunteer for. Yesterday’s topic was interesting to me both because I deal with it in working with patients but also because I wonder sometimes about me and my situation. (Click on the photo to the right for a larger image in order to see what is being offered the rest of the year.)

Several things about grief and depression from today’s seminar:

1. Among other differences, grief can be characterized by waves of grief – up and down during the day or week. Clinical depression is most often characterized by a constant, sustaining sense of desperation for long periods (days or weeks) of time.
2. Additionally, grief can often be characterized by guilt and remorse where depression usually is not about guilt and remorse.
3. And finally, grief can often be characterized by a person being open to care and support where depression in a person is often characterized by a person not generally desiring support.
4. A person can be “steeped in grief” but should not be concerned that he is in a depressive state.
5. Grief is a very natural reaction to loss whereas depression is not normal and, if diagnosed by a medical expert as being clinical depression, the condition will require professional care.
6. In grief, it must simply be accepted at some point that “you will not be the same forever.”
7. One thing not to do is “slump into our grief.” We often – both mentally and physically – begin to slump and get lazy in grief.
8. “Managing grief needs to become like reconciling a balance sheet. Good things will result in more good things but bad things will result in bad things. A balance needs to be attained.”
9. Complete numbness in grief is not good. Perhaps a bit of numbing (medications, sleep, eating food, etc.) is okay but too much numbness will likely completely cover the pain. When pain is completely masked, true healing will not be able to occur. We must learn to handle both happiness and pain in order to maintain a semblance of balance.
10. The best way to get through grief is by being in a safe place with a trusted support group of people with common issues and interests. There is not any better way to manage grief than by being in a support group for a suitable period of time

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Missing R

Regina091It’s been two years, three months today.

When I am with people now, I am the one who they see and converse with. I carry the name, reputation, history, and stories. I realize very often how much I depended on her. She was always friendly, kind, interested in people, and could muster a giggle or laugh. Going somewhere with her was usually comfortable because I knew I could depend on her to, so to speak, represent us. She was approachable, unlike me, I think. People liked to see her and immediately start up a conversation about something or anything. l’ll admit, I liked having her around when we went into social situations. She brought me comfort and security. I appreciated her for being the tip of the spear in social settings. It was something I never took for granted and it is something that I very much miss now.

I was usually proud to have her with me. Not in a mean or silly way, but in a sincere way. I was proud of her. I liked to know that others liked her. Yes, she did deflect conversation away from me so that was nice, but I appreciated her for being someone that others liked and wanted to be around. She made others feel good, and she never put anyone down or belittled them in conversation. It made me feel good to be with her when we were out. Sometimes when we weren’t together, but we could send eye-signals across the room and know that everything was okay.

In a few weeks, I will be taking another trip – the kind she would have liked. And my parents adored her, and it always made me feel so good to know that. And now when I visit my parents, I have nothing to show them – nothing to be proud of like her. She could carry on with them for hours, unlike me.

I don’t know. There are so many things I miss. This is one of them – having her out with me. I’m sad that I can’t have her with me to share with you. I know you loved her being around. I did, too. I still can’t believe it.

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Pain Scale

She asked if I was going. I said that I probably wasn’t. She asked why. I said that it’s hard to go alone and it’s hard to leave alone. She thought a minute. Then she said she understood and said that she wondered why things like this were so hard. I shrugged.

She is mostly alone. She does things with others only when people ask her to do things with them. Otherwise, she spends time with herself or with people she may not know like when going to dinner at a restaurant or a movie or something.

We understand each other. It’s hard to talk about some things but, at the same time, it’s easy to talk about those things, too. These are things we don’t have to say but we understand each other perfectly. And neither one of us – or anyone, for that matter – can come up with a solution.

It simply is a different existence. It’s not right or wrong. It just is. And each morning one rises with it and each evening, one goes to bed with it. There are ways to mitigate the sting when it gets too bad, but usually, one learns to live with the dull throb.

Have you seen those pain scales in the emergency room or in the hospital room? The ones with the smiley face at ONE and the increasingly painful expressions until, at TEN, there is the grimacing, hurting face? The pain I’m talking about can be anywhere on the scale, depending on the day.

It just is.

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Thanks, Beth, for your note. It was a different, special, and sad day in so many ways. (The derecho news article referenced below is here.)

2014-06-30 00.10.08


2014-06-30 02.03.48

· Leave a comment. Posted in grief, regina's rest.

Normal Unnormal

Facts are important but so is context. What has happened – happened. There’s nothing that can be added or subtracted. It isn’t about fault, blame, destiny, karma, providence, or anything else. When something like this is over – it is over.

But context adds all kinds of insight on top of facts. Fact without context is like birthday cake without icing. It’s like dropping a rock in a lake but not seeing any ripples. It’s sort of okay and kind of normal but it isn’t completely whole.

The added context on top of the event is that my life is completely different now after losing Regina. Life will go on for awhile, things will be accomplished, there will be good times and not such good times, friendships will come and go, health will ebb and flow, and so on. But – bottom line – the context surrounding everything about me is much different now than before.

Piddling arguments and nuanced solutions don’t matter as much to me anymore. The highs will never be as high and the lows will certainly never be as low. Finding love has now been balanced with losing love. Giddy arm-waving, hand-clapping, foot-stomping, punching-the-air spirituality is long past. God is now more a trusted, listening, feeling, walking companion and less an I’ll-give-it-all-to-you-if-you-pray-enough benefactor. Relational conflict (even in jest) isn’t funny to me anymore and, in fact, brings tears to my eyes. Friends lists and followers is less important than a handful of trusted, loyal friends. Sick and hurting people seem more important to me than ever before. Quietness, I realize, is meant to be more than a perk – it’s actually something that brings wellness. Respect and tolerance, I now know, is worth it’s weight in gold – snarkiness and cynicism isn’t worth a hoot.

And I also realize that my time here is limited so it’s a good idea to not get too comfortable with things.

I loved Regina for who she was and I now love Regina’s influence and legacy. If you think I carry on too much about her, then you are not respecting my context. She was and is as much apart of me as my own body. That will never change.

In these two years, the new normal for me has become the unnormal for many others. I’m not doing it to be different. It’s simply where I am between the two bookends of eternity.

· 1 Comment. Posted in grief, regina's rest.


Nothing big really happened. The doctors, nurses, and staff continued to perform their assigned duties in the CVRR after they solemnly had escorted us out. They showed emotion and hurt, but they were professional and kept pushing through. Once we were out of the CVRR, there were families milling around in the waiting area anxious for news from their own doctors and nurses about their loved ones who were in for various surgeries and procedures. We stood in an open, lobby area in front of the elevators – the elevator doors kept opening and closing. A candy striper or two hustled by doing their volunteer duties. The slight bong bong of the hospital public address paging system regularly sounded out – looking for somebody. I stood under a blowing duct of air-conditioning. It felt really, really cold but I didn’t move because I was in a corner and out of the way of everything and everyone and I didn’t know what to do.

We stood with a few of our nurses who had been with us the whole time – all of us in shock and with dry tears. No words. I heard some phones ringing – they kept ringing. Lilly kept running.

Shouldn’t something happen? Shouldn’t the world stop for a few minutes or seconds? Shouldn’t there be a big voice out of the sky that announces something profound? Shouldn’t there be something?

A nice lady arrived. She invited us back into the small family room where only an hour or so earlier we had decided to let Regina go. The counselor was very gracious and patient. She had a bit of paperwork. A few signatures. It was simple. She wasn’t pushy. I felt kind of sorry for her – having to do such a hard thing with families right after.

I signed one, last form. She closed her folder and looked at me.

I remember saying, “What now?”

She said, “Well, we’re all finished here.”

“Do we go home?”

“Yes, you are done.”

And with that, it was over. I was going home without Regina.

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