Thursday Afternoon Blues

“Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever.”  ~Elisabeth Kübler-Ross 1926 – 2004, Swiss-born psychiatrist and author.


MPH LogoThursday afternoon always finds me in an introspective mood.  Because this is the day that I serve lunches at our local hospice.  Sometimes Thursday lunch is a joyful experience as I mentioned in past blogs; sometimes it is sad and sometimes, like today there is a general air of disquiet, unease about the place.

There was no particular reason for this.  But smiles met with pained expressions from those going through painful experiences both physical and mental.  Even those patients whom I had interacted with before seemed particularly withdrawn.

So I asked myself, why would this be.  It was like a miasma had descended on the place.  In my reading and learning I know that thoughts can affect not only people but also places.  I clearly remember the feeling that was left in the church when there had been a funeral immediately before I ran a wedding rehearsal.  The grief, anguish and tears felt and shed at the funeral were palpable.  Yes, some of the other people who worked at the church were skeptical when I said this.  But I do believe it is so.

I began to think of myself in this situation.  Coming to the end of my time here on earth.  How would I react?  How would I cope with this smiling person who asks me “How are you today?”  This of course, is the way in which we normally greet somebody.  But this is a far from normal situation.  The person to whom I am speaking is nearing the end of their journey in this life and they obviously are not great.  So I have to rethink my greeting.  If anybody can help me with this I should be most grateful.

I then got to thinking about how I could make my transition from life to death easier for my children.  When my husband died 13 years ago it was very sudden and we really had no idea what he would have wanted, apart from knowing that we had both discussed cremation.  My children took over the planning for the funeral without any real idea of what their Father would have wanted.

Some weeks later, when the dust and the fog in my brain had cleared somewhat, I found a page on which he had written the kind of funeral and the hymns he would like.  Well, it was too late.  The funeral had been held.

So I have put together a file for my children so there will be no question of what I want.

  • I want to be cremated and my ashes placed with Robert’s
  • I want the funeral to be in a church not an undertaker’s parlor
  • I don’t want lots of eulogies – I would rather people said nice things about and to me when I am alive
  • I don’t want lots of flowers and prefer the money to be donated to Mary Potter Hospice
  • I want my son and daughter and my grandsons to be pallbearers
  • I want my friend and organist at Old St Pauls to play a hymn – Jerusalem
  • I want there to be singing as well as the hymn.  I recently attended a ‘joyous’ funeral.  And this is what I want.  For many years my mantra has been “I hope you dance and I particularly want my favorite version  played – “I Hope You Dance” by Leann Womack.

Oh and I really like this poem and would ask my daughter, she of the fantastic voice, who read “Stop all the clocks” by W H Auden at her father’s funeral, to read this:

She is Gone

You can shed tears that she is gone
or you can smile because she has lived.

You can close your eyes and pray that she’ll come back or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her
or you can be full of the love you shared.

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember her and only that she’s gone
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back or you can do what she’d want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.”

By David Harkins, English author, poet and artist.  1958 – .

I am sorry to be so serious today, but I truly believe that we should all make provisions for our passing out of this life into the next (if that’s what you believe).  In any event, we are going to pass out of this life at some stage.  My children took over all the funeral arrangements after their Father died.  I would like to think by this forward planning on my part, the chore will be easier for them the second time.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. “ 1817 – 1862, American author, poet, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister,  historian and philosopher.


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19 responses to “Thursday Afternoon Blues

  1. Death is something that as a culture we really don’t talk about. As you know dealing with Hospice there are people who leave very much alive. There is this idea that once someone goes to Hospice then the party is over.

    • It was very strange yesterday. Usually/often there is laughter to be heard from one or more of the rooms as family relive memories with their loved one. Laughter was the missing ingredient yesterday and I didn’t realize this until I had published the post.
      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  2. InsideJourneys

    Judith,
    A beautiful meditation. Good idea to have instructions because once you’re gone, unless you had spoken about it before, no one would know what you want.
    I do believe that our emotions – especially when intense like grief or joy at finding love, leave their imprints. You’re clearly very sensitive and empathic.

    I lift my hat to you for the work you do at the hospice — they are difficult precisely because of the intense emotion. In my brief stint as a reflexologist, I was asked to give reflexology to residents at a hospice. It really touched me to work on the residents’ feet but when I left, I was drained. I had to go again years later to visit my former roommate.
    Maybe a way to greet would be by holding their hands? I’m not sure if your hospice has any rules against this, but perhaps holding of their hands, along with ‘Good morning’ might work better. Or probably just good morning and the person’s name. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with how are you today or how are you? Or how about, Is there anything I can do for you today?
    I’m going to share your post with a friend.
    Thanks for this,
    Marcia

    • Thanks for stopping by. I really appreciate your comments and will take on board your advice. There is nothing to stop one from holding a patient’s hand and I have done so in the past when I have felt particularly drawn towards one of them.

  3. Wonderful post and topic. As to your question, perhaps make a statement instead of posing a question, like “What a wonderful day it is today;” or “You look Great, today!;” or, “Share in this beautiful day with me;” to indicate that every day is a gift, no matter how many are left. That’s what we did with my mom towards her end of life, and she always smiled at those kind of statements. Have a great day, Judith!

    • Hi Tracy. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I do love to read the comments once I publish the post.
      I know that death is something we are all aware of but don’t want to talk about. I love the phrase Share this beautiful day with me.”

  4. My mother also made her wishes clear to my brother and I before she died…I’m sure your children will appreciate your thoughtfulness, Judith!

    Wendy

  5. Beautiful, thoughtful post. The closer I get to the end of my life, the more I think about the Big D. I know most of us past a certain age have death at the back of our minds, but it’s so painful to think about, especially if you have a loving family you know would be so saddened by your death. Your advice to prepare is excellent advice, and it’s important to tell your family where you leave your instructions, or, like your husband’s, they won’t be found until it’s too late!

    • Hello Susan and thanks for the comment. My children both know where my Funeral File is – in the front of the filing cabinet, so hopefully, one or other of them will remember that.

  6. Awesome post, Judith! And one that I think needs to be discussed.
    You’re right, we should make provisions for our passing, because it makes it much less stressful for others.
    Death is not something most of us want to talk about – our own or someone else’s – because it’s uncomfortable
    After my father passed away (in a hospice), I volunteered my services in a hospice where I was living because I was so impressed with how much tender-loving care hospice gave him in his last 9 days. So, I know what you mean in saying that most times it was joyous experience, yet at times sad. Especially when someone I was closed to passed away. But, I found it very therapeutic in a way, because it enabled me to go through the long and deep grieving process of having lost my father 6 months before I began volunteering. It ended up being a beautiful and life changing experience for me. I’m so glad I did it.
    Lovely poem, Judith! And thank you for sharing this post.

    • Hi Ron – it was just something I had to share yesterday. Yes, death and even the thought of death is uncomfortable but I am sure that my children will appreciate the fact that I have made these plans for when I die.
      But of course, they don’t want to talk about my dying.

    • Hi Paul, thanks for dropping by again.
      Yes, death and even the thought of death is uncomfortable but I am sure that my children will appreciate the fact that I have made these plans for when I die.
      But of course, they don’t want to talk about my dying.

  7. Great post.
    We really do need to talk about death more and prepare ourselves and those around us. I’ve given instructions to my wife, but she never wants to think about preparations in the event of her death. I think it gets easier and more comfortable as we get older.

  8. Hi Paul – thanks for dropping in again. Of course, nobody wants to think about being the one left behind. It’s a very uncomfortable place to be but I hope that my children will find my passing and the organization that goes with that, just a little easier because I have made the preparations.

  9. Judith,
    This is a great post. I took a death and dying class in college. It was very difficult to plan my own funeral at age 21. I am thankful for that course since it has helped me to understand death, helped me talk and think about those things with all my family members. This is a good reminder to revisit this topic.

    • Hi Jenny. Thanks for stopping by. We are all diffident about discussing death with our family and friends but it doesn’t come with a choice.
      I applaud your college for running such a class. I haven’t heard of any others that do so.

  10. Judith, a beautiful post that offers so much to think about. In the last seven years we have attended so many funerals for family and friends, that it is impossible to not think about death. It makes life feel heavy at times. Thank you for your work at the hospice and thank you for this blog post. -Martie

    • Thanks Martie. I have attended more funerals than I ever wanted to in the past few years and yes, it does make life very heavy at times. But we have to be grateful for the time spent with the deceased and the memories that we have of them.

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