Friday, November 10, 2017

Planning for the Ending after the End

My uncle has been laid to rest, in a two-day combination of memorial service, visitation, and graveside service, with a BBQ meal after.  My mom and her siblings helped my aunt plan the services and write the obituary, all of which was made more difficult by the fact that none of it had been discussed beforehand with my uncle, and that my aunt and uncle didn't belong to a faith community or identify with any particular cultural traditions.   So everything had to be designed from scratch, from service to venue to officiant; I'm sure it was exhausting.  But I understand that they helped each other, made the tough choices, and created a lovely celebration of my uncle's life.

As my mom has long said, funerals are for the survivors.  But I do think it helps ease the mind of the main mourners if the service reflects or even has input from the deceased.  My folks are not interested in church or religious funerals for themselves, obviously.  In fact, my dad says his obituary can read "1940- [date]," which doesn't really make for a great remembrance, so unless he leaves us one, we'll have to write it.  My mom, as she frequently explains, is interested in the dash between the dates, so I can see some kind of celebration with lots of photographs and an obituary with lots of detail (not just dates, places, and survivors.)  Both talk about being sprinkled somewhere (over the duck pond at Wildwood for my dad), so gravesites and stones aren't in the cards.  My mom has never believed in leaving flowers in cemeteries anyway; she always buys herself a poinsettia for Christmas and lily for Easter instead of leaving them at her parents' graves.

I've already tried my hand at my own obituary; it definitely needs to be amended and shortened.  I'd love to write an ethical will  to leave behind, beyond just my distribution of belongings.   And I've thought before, often when I'm waiting for a funeral to begin or I'm leaving a wake, about what I want by way of comemoration.  I like UU funerals--some music, some readings ("Wild Geese" by Wendell Barry, or Mary Oliver's precious life poem), an Order of Service with a picture and a favorite quote or poem, a short eulogy, the invitation for attendees to share a story.  I remember music playing as people gathered for my paternal grandmother's funeral, gentle Christmas tunes as she died in December about a week before Christmas.  I'd love to have a selection of music playing as people gathered--things I like (musicals, Indigo Girls, Wham!, who knows)--and maybe accompanying a slideshow (like in Love Actually.)  Maybe give people a CD of the music (or the contemporary music tech.)  And pass outsome of my books that my family aren't keeping, with a special bookplate.  Or a copy of my favorite recipes.  Yes, I like the idea of funeral favors, not just little prayer cards.  There should be food.  Lots of food and drink, perhaps in the church social hall, though I go back and forth from a real dinner to just a dessert bar.  I would love it if people hung out and really talked, not just nibbled and left.  I do like the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva, a casual and informal gathering in support of the family, with food, conversation, a few readings.   I go back and forth about what do do with my body--I love old cemeteries and headstones but also feel that they are a waste of land and resources (all that fertilizer and water!) that few visit anymore; still, I might like being buried under a bench with a quote as a headstone so people could sit comfortably and enjoy the view--let it be pretty.  The idea of cremation gives me the heebiejeebies because of the fire, but I don't mind being ashes.  And then there are all these new ideas--being buried as a tree, being "bio-cremated" with alkali not fire, etc.  I don't mind being sprinkled anywhere (not sure where exactly?) or being in a pretty cannister (something Wedgewood-esque would be perfect.)  And leave my Facebook page and blog up as a memorial.

So I guess I have given it all some thought, which I think is a good thing.  Have you?


Monday, November 6, 2017

The Unexpected

Just a quick note to explain the last week or so:  my Uncle died suddenly, which was a surprise despite his being ill the last few years, and so my mom's trip to visit was canceled--just as she arrived at the airport up here--so that she could return to support her sister through this devastating loss. A big shout-out to Granny Quinn for helping out during the initial chaos; you are a true friend!

About the same time, we got word that my mother-in-law needs rather emergency eye surgery, for glaucoma-like symptoms have built up in her eye since her last eye surgery (Lambeth, I know that will sound familiar.)  That surgery is tomorrow.

So, instead of a happy, fun-filled visit, we had some tears, worries, and Mama under the weather with a head cold--though at least my back is giving me no more trouble, another quite unexpected happening, and I am pretty much back to normal, cautiously optimistic.

And we went to see Thor Ragnorak as compensation, which we really thoroughly enjoyed.

Plus, happy birthday to my sister, Aunt Banana!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Gommie is Coming!

My mom will be here tomorrow through Wednesday.  It's her annual fall trip, though it didn't feel much like fall today at 70F.  We'll be taking it easy--she turned her ankle last week at Wildwood.  So between her bum foot and my back, which is much better, we aren't up for the kind of huge fall trip we took a year or so ago in Vermont.  Besides, my dad's not coming.  I think he's waiting for the spring visit.  Because, for the first time, we won't be seeing them in December.  Short school vacations coupled with high airline prices plus it's Aunt Banana's year to have them on the actual day just meant that a holiday trip didn't make sense.

Yep, changes . . .

Plus, this is the first year I'm not cooking Thanksgiving dinner!  Nope, my brother-in-law Goo has his own place, his own kitchen, and now his own feast to prepare.  To accomodate his doctor schedule, we'll be celebrating on Saturday.  Which means we can sit around in PJs watching the parade, a stress-free day.  Change can be good.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Circle of Crochet

Remember two years ago when I created a mandala in honor of crocheter Marinke and mental health awareness?  Today, I received a copy of the book, Mandalas for Marinke, by Crochet Concupiescence's Kathryn Vercillo (you can buy one here.)  And it is beautiful!  It's a rainbow collection of creativity and craft in honor of an amazing woman and an important social issue (you can see my quote on page 57.)  It's such a gift, a blessing, and I'm so honored to have participated.  There will be an exhibition in November, out in California, a wonderful way to celebrate this loving project.

My favorite part of the book is all the color illustrations--and in some of the layouts, the hundreds of mandalas are arranged in mandalas or rainbows!  It's beautiful. And inspiring.  I'm ready to go make some more mandalas (if you want to learn how, beyond a pattern in this book, a book of Marinke's mandalas was published posthumously.)  Here's just one of the shots, from the promotional page (though, I can't find my actual mandala in any of the mandala mosaics in the book.  And really, that's ok; it's not at all about me.)

Look, mine's above the lower left corner, with variegated yarn and a strong yellow round near the middle.

Back Again

I'm having something  of a back episode again, much like the ones so many years ago, when the kiddos were in kindergarten.  It started innocently enough, with my standing up to fetch something and feeling a pop and shooting pain in my back.  I couldn't finish standing up and so sat back down.  Oh, it hurt.  I'd say about an 8 on the famous numerical pain scale.

Here, more than 24 hours later--after rest, ice, muscle relaxers, painkillers, my brace, small walks around, and a trip to my specialist--I'm down to a 5 or 6 (sometimes even lower, depending) when I'm moving, which I can do mostly unassisted once I'm up.  This is wonderful progress, owed in part to our adjustable bed, which helps me up and down; so much easier than last time.  And after years of mindfulness practice, I didn't go straight to fear and panic, and was even able to just think "ok, that's pain," and let it go.  Now that's definitely progress.

The kids are taking it all in stride, pretty nervous when it happened right in front of them and I cried out, but now better since I've explained that it's not dangerous, only painful; they're also somewhat annoyed at fetching, which is fine.  They've seen us through two surgeries and other complications, so they know this happens.  And at least my lessons in how to handle pain and obstacles are getting better.

So, I'm optimistic that things will be much, much better in a few days.  I did have to cancel hospice and such this week, but I know it could be worse.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

An Open End

It's been a really good week here at the beginning of my journey to chaplaincy.  First, because I was home with a painful knee (an inflammation flare up of some minor arthritis, apparently--age, weight, conditioning, and most importantly life-long limp related), I was able to spend last week completing my online Chaplaincy Care Volunteer Training course.  And I passed!  This was introductory but gave me some important vocabulary and strategies for my chaplaincy visits.  I also liked the administration of the course and mechanics of the online course and am therefore encouraged in my hopes to do a CPE (Clinical Pastroal Education) unit with them in the spring.

Then I spoke to my chaplain supervisor.  He encouraged my studies and liked my go-getter attitude.  When we reviewed my verbatim--a record of an exchange between patient and volunteer chaplain--he said that I was on the right track and learning quickly.  Yay!

And then last night, I attended a Lay Ministry training, with my fellow UU lay ministers (kinda like amateur community chaplains for our congregation.)  We discussed not trying to "fix it," being vs. doing, empathic listening, non-anxious presence, and open-ended questions.  I was familiar with all of these (from my online course and experience) but picked up some new strategies, specifically a great list of open-ended questions.  I sometimes flounder when talking to patients in how to get them to go deeper and be more reflective.  I rush through the silence, trying to get to the right question to unlock that next level.  Not exactly the best practice.  I liked these questions and look forward to using them.

  • What's helping you get through this (really lousy situation)?
  • What do you think keeps you from fixing the situation?
  • What's been the hardest part for you?
  • What's helped you through times like this in the past?
  • How would your parents/grandparents have helped a situation like this--rituals, prayers, etc.?
  • What are you hoping for? [This one was my addition and is one of my favorites.]
  • Is there anything you would find comforting right now? What brings you comfort? What strengthens you?
  • Is there anything from a spiritual perspective that helps--music, poetry, meditation?
  • How is your family handling this?
  • Are there any relationships that need healing?
  • What is a moment of awe that you remember? What puts a smile on your face as you reflect?
  • What gives your life meaning now?  What is meaningful to you?
  • Are there any symbols that are sacred/important to you right now?
  • What's on your mind/agenda today?
  • What are your biggest concerns?
  • Have there been any changes since the last time we met?  What has changed for you?
  • Where do you turn for help?  Do you turn to yourself for help?
  • How is your spirit today? [I really liked this one and can see using it instead of "How are you today?" which always seems to elicit something physical.]
  • Is God/the sacred/the holy part of your life or spiritual practice? [Our minister says she often prefaces this with "This is something I ask everyone."  This is a great way to introduce the spiritual, akin to my question, "Do you have a faith community?"]
  • Where is God/the sacred/the holy in all of this?
  • Are you connected to something bigger?
In fact, these are great questions for anyone to ask themselves.

I just got a call that my longtime hospice patient had a fall and broke her leg.  I'll see her Tuesday, though, because she can't really verbalize, I won't be using those questions.  We've been together for more than 18 months.  And falls often hasten the end . . . .