Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Patient Again

Yep, I'm a patient again.

Let me start with the end:  I'm doing okay.  I'm home, no surgery, on limited activity and liquid diet for awhile.  I even got an extension on my CPE hours so I'm not even too stressful about that.

Back to the beginning.  We went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I and II this weekend.  When I stood up at the end of Part I, I had a sharp abdominal pain around my belly button.  I was nauseous and crampy, but it subsided after a bit.  I thought it might be the delicious Korean we had for lunch, but I never started vomiting; and it didn't feel like food poisoning.  I felt well enough to go to part II (which was wonderful, more on that later) and just took it easy.  I felt better when I sat, wore my brace, and didn't walk.  But I didn't have much appetite.

I taught RE--our last class--on Sunday morning and even ate some on Sunday with no problems.  And I went to hospice on Monday.  I was still tender and crampy but not like my obstruction three years ago.  Monday evening, while cooking dinner for the kids, I bumped the oven handle with my belly and it almost sent me to my knees.  This wasn't normal.  I couldn't get my GP on the phone (she's checking why the answering service didn't pick up) and so we opted for the urgent care.  But instead of ruling anything else, the doctor there said to go straight to the ER; it was probably a hernia or an obstruction.  I did not want to do this again.

I'm not going to revamp the ER visit--I had fluids, morphine, and a cat scan and a surgical resident who had absolutely no clue--and came away with no answers beyond that it wasn't a surgical problem.  This was good.  Not a hernia or an obstruction.  But no other answers.  We were there til 5 a.m., almost ten hours.  So I slept all day Tuesday.

And today I went to my doctor, whom I really like and respect.  Based on the hospital reports and her own examination, she believes I have a partial small bowel obstruction with an inflamed peritoneal lining, caused by all the scar tissue I have from abdominal surgeries.  I'm on bowel rest, which means mostly clear liquids, and limited activity so as not to inflame the peritoneal lining more, all while watching for fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, increased pain, redness. 

I'm glad not to have surgery.  I knew another obstruction was possible, even probable, with all my scar tissue.  I feel better than I did earlier.  I'll be okay. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Neighboring Faiths

Today, we wrapped up a year of our Unitarian Universalist Neighboring Faiths curriculum which seeks to introduce UU kids to the religious beliefs of their neighbors. In our case this year, this included Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism (Presbyterians, specifically), Hinduism (with smaller discussions of Sikkhism and Buddhism), AME (African Methodist Episcopal, an American black Christian church), nature-based paganism, humanism, a review of UU, and Quakers.  We had class activities about different faiths, visiting speakers, field trips, and time for reflection.  It was an astounding year and I was so glad to teach it with three other co-teachers.  

I think I liked the Jewish, Islam, Hindu, and AME field trips the most, probably because they were least familiar to me.  And I liked our Muslim speaker most.  The kids least liked the Catholic and Presbyterian services--"too much Bible reading!"

Judaism (field trip):
  • historic Torah--Survivors' Scroll for Bar and Bat Bitzvahs was 450 years old, surviving Holocaust in Czechoslavakia
  • Ark by Ben Shahn; kids fascinated by Ark (where Torah scrolls are kept)
  • MLK dedicated building in 1961
  • story of the Menorah hand carved by student
  • righteous and most righteous at the time, story of Noah and Abraham, who argued with God in name of justice
  • in class, kids learned about Torah (first 5 books of the Hebrew scriptures) and Talmud (commentary); important prophets include Abraham, David, Solomon; minyan, or minimum number for service; kashrut (kosher laws) about pork and shellfish; yarmulke, tfflin; menorah as symbol of Judaism (not just Star of David); various holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, Sukkot, which was occurring when we visited); differences between Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform, especially as relates to women; a bit of the history of the Jewish diaspora across Europe and into the US; 

Catholicism (field trip):
  • 8 altar boys
  • 2 priests, a deacon, 2 lay ministers
  • beautiful 19th-century Gothic Revival church
  • lots of incense!
  • Wise and Foolish Virgins--all well and good but you must convert and believe now!
  • NO girls as altar servers because they can't become priests
  • in class, kids had discussed rosary, Trinity, 7 sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Sacrament of the Sick, Marriage, Holy Orders)
  • symbol: Crucifix

Presbyterianism (field trip):
  • rainbow flag, refugee help, homeless shelter program
  • focus on social action, justice, equality
  • in-depth textual analysis of Nathaniel story, being known to God and knowing God--answering God's call "come and see"
  • beautiful building--recycled telephone poles
  • minister saw her stole as the yolk of Christ
  • in class, kids heard about Martin Luther and Calvin; economic, political and religious focus of Reformation; stress on individual relationship with God, not through priest or Church; scriptural basis (Catholic church based on scripture AND tradition)
  • symbol: cross

Islam (speaker and field trip):
  • Belief in God/Allah; Prophets; The Unseen (angels, devils, etc)
  • Islam is the religion; Muslim is the follower
  • Five Pillars--belief, prayer, fasting, charity, pilgrimmage
  • song about the months--Ramadan is holiest month
  • Hijab--modesty; covers all but her face and hands; others don't wear headscarves and some wear niqab over entire face, also abaya/robe over close for some (see here); men were kufi/hats
  • fasting--also about refraining from sin, not just food
  • Prayer--ritual washing, prayer to Allah, bow, prayer to Allah, kneel, "Praise to God" x 3, and repeat from second prayer to Allah--5 times a day facing Mecca
  • Hajj--pilgrimmage to Mecca in 12th month; ideally once in lifetime
  • Koran--learn/memorize in Arabic, also many translations; Hafiz is person who memorizes it fully
  • Service--same prayers for men and women but sit separately; long sermon, short prayer, over in about an hour.
  • Bean pie!  African-American Muslim traditional food
  • symbol: crescent

Hinduism (field trip):
  • The four faces of Brahma, and the three main deities Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva
  • The oneness and multifaceted aspects of God (which are either believed to really exist or to be symbols of life, nature, etc.)
  • Rama and his story in the Ramayana; Baghavad Gita; Vedas; Upanishads
  • Krishna and his incarnations when life on earth is out of balance between good and bad
  • Elephant-headed god Ganesh; 
  • pooja, the ritual offerings; 
  • the animal spirits associated with the gods (and so there are many vegetarians); 
  • samsara, or the wheel of suffering; 
  • reincarnation; 
  • karma, which is not some kind of universal scale of justice, but is more about the sum total of your actions (I've heard it described as intention)--so not "karma is a bitch";
  • At the temple, we chanted OM , and other chants (shanti, shanti, shanti), plus two cycles of yoga forms (essentially what we would call salutation of the sun, downward facing dog, and others, called the Surya Namaskara);
  • laddua sweet yellow ball with (usually) chickpea flour, ghee, sugar, nuts (almonds or pistachios), cardamom, and this one had raisins
  • symbols: OM, 

  • Punjabi religion founded in 15th century, not to be confused with Islam or Hinduism
  • The 5Ks of Sikkhism--Kesh (uncut long hair); Kangha (small wooden comb); Kara (steel bracelet); Kachera (a type of undergarments); Kirpan (sword or knife); the Kangha and Kirpan are sometimes worn as little amulets in the turban.
  • The ten Gurus
  • One Creator, social justice, selfless service--they will feed anyone who comes to the temple and often deliver meals in times of crisis

  • Siddhartha Gautama:  mom dies when he is born; prophecy about becoming powerful warrior or influential guru; hidden from illness, aging, and death; studies to be an aesthete; Enlightenment--"all beings and I awake."
  • The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path ("Middle Way")
  • Three refuges:  Buddha, dharma, sangha
  • karma, nirvana (enlightenment), samsara (wheel of suffering), bodhisattvas
  • meditation
  • Theravada--focus on Middle Way and nirvana, divided into samatha ("calm") and vipassana ("insight"); Mahayana ("great vehicle")--Pure Land and Zen, focuses on bodhisattvas; Vajrayana--Tibetan
  • originally an oral tradition so no main text like the Bible or Quaran.  Sutras gathered in nikayas, which are part of the tripitakas ("three baskets," the Pali Canon)
  • symbols: lotus, wheel, Buddha (elongated ears, wheels on hands, top knot of wisdom)

AME (field trip):
  • African Methodist Episcopal (AME) founded when racism experienced in Methodist church in Philadelphia
  • Church we visited formed by ex-slaves is 1818 and is second-oldest AME church in the world;
  • Booker T Washington once spoke here;
  • near a lookout spot for the Underground Railroad;
  • focus on personal/experiential preaching, blending of music and spoken word, physical response to worship (hands raised, dance, movement in the aisles);
  • very loud music--one song lasted 15+ minutes ("Way Maker" and "It Could Have Been Me")
  • very traditional Apostles' Creed
  • Matthew 21:2--about being tied up (by challenges) and let loose by God--what challenges you makes you worthy to be called.
  • altar call, with one person saved
  • offertory conducted by everyone filing past the box up front
  • some women in gorgeous hats

Nature-based/Pagan (speaker):
  • This is the only class topic that I totally missed because we had just gotten back from Italy.
  • An email describing the class:  "I opened with brief overview of earth-centered religions, and the kids were pretty astute about why we see the earth as a "mother" and why this would be worthy of worship.  "Earth is a Mother" served as a good chalice lighting; 4 kids read a stanza each, and then I re-read it and we discussed its symbols.  They identified directions, we read "The Four Directions" while turning appropriately each way - and teacher drove home the point about how out of touch we are in so much of our lives with where we are on the earth.  She also spoke to the 7th UU principle, and the 6th source.  We used the photos and teacher had photos from the May Day celebration she attends each year, we discussed paganism, Wiccan, why there might be a focus in this domain on the moon rather than on the sun (tides, women's cycles tied to lunar cycles).  She talked about her experiences with shamanism, including sharing Tarot cards and some other practice elements.  We spent a few minutes outside, came back to the room, made a circle and shared thoughts and blew out the chalice."
  • Later, I told the kids about the 8 sabbats and the Law of Three, the individual practice, folklore as a sacred source.
  • symbol:  pentagram

Quaker (speaker):
  • Did a silent meditation and encouraged students to share when they felt called to, a la a Quaker meeting;
  • Watched two videos about Quakerism, including "What does George Fox Say?" (based on the hit song);
  • Speaker compared Quaker meditation, where you ask for insight and listen for the "still, small voice," to Buddhist meditation, where you do not focus on a question or a thought.
  • Speaker liked the very long silences
  • liberal religious tradition but still very Christian

Friday, May 18, 2018

Recent Affirmations

Here we go from the last few months.

For the old lists, see my original list of Affirmations 
from March, AprilOctober 2015, then March and June 2016, and June 2017 and here, and January and February 2018.

  • Challenging CPE moments:  standing in for the priest for a Catholic family whose dad died unexpectedly; helping a teen whose father was dying; comforting a woman who wanted me to proselytize to her sister; ministering to a homecare patient on the phone until she trusted me to visit; the day the power went down and I stayed 9 hours straight; picnic table lunches with the chaplain; attending different IDT meetings;
  • driving Bud to Quassy by myself and staying all day;
  • more driving and errands, without my brace even;
  • attending three orchestra concerts in one week;
  • another Indigo Girls concert, with dinner first!
  • attending compass class--and reading the compass!
  • spending an evening at the Met alone with Mama to see 4 exhibitions!
  • sitting through almost 3 hours of Infinity Wars;
  • helping to shovel some snow and clean off the cars;
  • outdoor cooking with Girl Scouts;
  • taking the cats to the vet by myself;
  • field trips to new worship communities for RE--AME, Hindu, Muslim;
  • birding in the parks and at the beaches;
  • Mindfulness retreat with Mama Goose at Copper Beech;
  • finishing my online modules for my CPE, all 60 hours of them;
  • grief over Murphy moving "home";
  • another Zentangle retreat at Copper Beech, with my crazy and inspiring walk in the snow and ice to see the labyrinth, and all that drawing;
  • Recovering from my Feb. 13 back muscle strain in about a week;

  • Last but not least, ITALY!! (these are just the challenges, not just a list of fun parts, which is here.)
    • long flights to and from Italy;
    • walking on all that cobblestone;
    • on average, 10 miles of walking a day!!!!
    • traversing the slippery stairs to see the cats;
    • all those stairs at the Vatican as we tried to see all the highlights!
    • all the new places we went and things we tried (horses, cats, museums, restaurants, and churches);
    • POMPEII by train and then by foot, all those stones, all that up and down, and it was the warmest day;
    • pulling suitcases on cobblestone;
    • riding the trains;
    • the Duomo Museum, Uffizi, and David all in one day in Florence;
    • going up and down those Venetian bridges--with suitcases!
    • the steep stairs to our room in the palazzo;
    • tripping on a step and yet still saving my gelato panini!
    • riding in a gondola (the idea always made me kinda nervous);
    • all the stairs at the Doge's palace, particularly in the "new" prison;
    • speaking Italian;
    • navigating the streets that were once so familiar;
    • eating 20+ flavors of gelato--with NO guilt!!

Kidbits and Updates

Each is not a whole post, but together it's a lot of catching up:

  • Last week, Sis and I went to a compass class with some of our GS friends.  And it was taught by a friend we had made at Hog Island last year!  So great to see her again.  I learned so much. I did not know how to read a compass.  Hold the compass flat in your hand, with the curved part at your wrist and the printed red "travel arrow" pointing out from your palm.  "Turn on the compass"--I know, it's not electronic--means to put the "red in the shed," i.e. move the "compass housing" so that the red part of the needle that always faces magnetic north moves into the outlined arrow or orienting lines/arrow.  Now you can tell what direction you are pointing by whatever direction and degree lines up with the travel arrow.  You reverse it to go in a particular direction.  Want to go Northwest?  Move the compass housing to put NW at the end of the travel arrow, move yourself to put the "red in the shed", and walk in the direction of the arrow.  At least I think that's right.  Sis was much better than I was.  I know there is so much more to orienteering but it was a great start.  I'll practice at Hog Island again this summer.
  • We went to three orchestra concerts last week, one for our school and two where the kids from our orchestra were invited to play at other concerts to help round out the sound.  They played "Vida La Viva," a bit from "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," "Shadows," and . . . something else.  I love hearing my kids play . . . and it was even bittersweet to hear the little ones play "Hot Cross Buns."  Sis and Bud have come a long way.  And they'll both be playing in the orchestra again next year.
  • Piano duet.  Yep, Bud and I are finally playing a piano duet.  I had stopped taking piano during CPE but am starting up again for the summer.  And so we actually did some planning during Monday's lesson.  I'm dusting off "Finlandia" and "The Entertainer" (both easy piano) and then learning my part of "Vida La Viva."  Yes, the Coldplay song.  Just like Bud played in orchestra.  I know it.  He likes it.  And one of the parts is just my speed.  Only challenge is that I don't really count when I play, just play by ear to the tune I know, which makes it almost impossible to play in the right spot with a duet partner so I'm practicing counting.  Whew.  But the playing has rejuvenated Bud, who spent last night playing "Phantom of the Opera," "Prince Sidon," and other songs.  One of my favorite sounds in the world.
  • Bud has had a few kung fu performance in the last few weeks, which is not our usual performance time (May and October are the big competition times; January/February are the big Lunar New Year performance times.)  He performed at Quassy Amusement Park, a small, old local park with rides and games next to a lake.  The performance went well, but the team had even more fun wandering around together and going on all the rides--swings, tilt-a-whirl, this big boat that swings like a pendulum, tea cups, another ride that flips and holds you upside down.  I enjoyed the lovely weather and riding the carousel.  Oh how I love a carousel!  Bud even rode with me towards the end of the day. 
  • And he earned his Black Belt right before we left for Italy.  The school hadn't been doing belts for the team (it's more of a karate thing than a kung fu thing anyway) and so their Master gave the team the chance to earn their belts.  Bud practiced for weeks, on top of his years of kung fu, and he earned the black belt, embroidered with his school, and a beautiful plaque to go with it.  We're so proud of him!
  • INDIGO GIRLS!  Last week, we all went to hear the Girls in concert in New London.  We arrived early enough for dinner (mac and cheese pizza, chix and broccoli and bacon pizza, pasta pomodoro, great salad and yummy cakes) at this great local pizza place, Two Wives--and the only men in the building were Bud and those on the staff!  Everyone was there for the concert, which always draws about 95% women.  Most of them were our age or older--and not even all of them were dykes!  Of the five others I knew there that night, only 2 were lesbians.  But they were moms of twins, just like us.  Gotta introduce the kiddos to the culture, you know?  It was great--they played most of our favorites.  We got home really late, but we didn't care.  Besides, it was Mother's Day weekend and there's not much these two moms like more than a Girls concert.
  • Mama and I gave ourselves our big Mother's Day present:  we went to the Met museum all by ourselves, leaving the kids at home on Saturday.  I had wanted to see the Thomas Cole exhibition and it was closing on Sunday, but the kids didn't want to go.  And after three orchestra concerts, the Indigo Girls, the compass class, and a kung fu show, we decided they would probably enjoy a day at home much more . . . and we might enjoy the moms' night out all by ourselves.  And we did!  There was some traffic heading into the city on Saturday afternoon, but we talked all the way there.  The Cole show had some great pieces--Course of Empire, Oxbow River, a little trompe l'oeil with an oil sketch of a landscape, a view of Florence in front of which I no longer needed to say "I'd love to take you to Italy!"  There were also paintings by Claude Lorraine, de Loutherbourg, Turner, Constable, including cloud studies and Hadleigh Castle.  The concept of the show--Cole was influenced by European art and travels--was nothing new, but it was pretty.  We also liked the parallel show about Americans in Italy--with sketches and drawings and watercolors by Sargent, Elihu Vedder, and Maurice Prendergast.  We especially liked the Venetian views.  We enjoyed a ham sandwich on a baguette, rich chocolate cupcake, and a cup of coffee in the American courtyard, treating this trip into the city like we did Italy by taking it easy and enjoying ourselves, slowly.  The last show on our list was the French gardens show, tracing the rise of public gardens and private gardening as a hobby after the Revolution and through the 19th century.  There were still lifes by Fantin-Latour, Odilon Redon, Mary Cassatt--I loved her lilacs--and Caillebotte's chrysanthemums.  There were also many women-in-the-garden scenes by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cassatt, and Morisot, though little discussion of the trope.  There were watering cans, hand rakes and trowels, and maps of gardens, including a great panorama postcard of the Tuileries with all these wonderful snippets of people.  It was a lovely show.  I think I might be getting excited about going back to Paris someday, with the kids, once they've had more French.  As we perused the shop--I got the gardens catalogue but not the Cole (I have the one from the very-similar Wadsworth show I saw when I came back to NYC in fall 1994 to see Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard--when I stayed with Mama in her dorm, actually.  Full circle.)--I saw mention of a Visitors to Versailles show and so Mama and I trekked up to it.  Great 18th-century court costumes, dec arts, and even a room devoted to an early 18th-century visit by Siamese ambassadors from the court of Ayyuthaya who brought gifts and wore special hats. Yep, Thailand.  Circle again.  We absolutely skipped the Heavenly Creatures and the Catholic Imagination show; well, sort of.  It was spread out through the Medieval court on the first floor so we passed by the overdone fashions and big crowds on our way to other exhibitions.  It was a dramatic place to stage the show, with all the Catholic art of the Middle Ages, but I am completely uninterested in modern fashion. Give me those 18th-century court gowns any day.
  • We saw Avengers: Infinity War.  Loved it.  It's past the point where I worry about spoilers; by now the details are well known.  Of course, it's the deaths that got everyone.  And we all seem to have the idea that most won't stick.  But I'm guessing they'll surprise us--it's too easy if Scarlet Witch somehow breaks the Soul Stone from the inside or Cap sacrifices himself for Bucky (and them all) and switches places with everyone in the Soul Stone.  I don't think he'll survive the next one, Cap.  And I think Black Panther, sweet Spidey, and all of those who disintegrated will be back. Doctor Strange knows exactly how it will all pan out.  No resurrection for mischievous Loki, though.  He was one of my favorites.  And I think Gamorrah will get, who I think entered the Stone as Thanos's sacrifice, will get out, too.  And all of that in time for the new Guardians, Spiderman, and Black Panther movies!
  • Sis got her braces off!  She was so excited that she took a bag of popcorn with her to the appointment and had been planning her candy consumption for months.  Mama brought her a bag of jelly beans, gummy bears, Star Bursts, Carmellos, jar of caramel sauce, two bags of popcorn from Trader Joe's, and I don't know what else.  She now has a clear retainer.  And says her mouth is "soft!"  Bud will get his braces in a month (he lost his lost baby teeth later than she did)--I teased the orthodontist that he could just recycle the brackets and give us a discount. 
  • CPE is wrapping up.  I have 62 hours left, a final evaluation paper (already at 10 pages), and three more essays.  Whew.  I witnessed a funny moment last week.  The priest startled a sleeping patient who then tried to get out of bed.  I fetched a nurse.  The patient kept saying, "I need to get to my business." (You could tell he meant work.)  The nurse said, "You can do your business here in bed."  "It isn't funny business!" he replied.  We all started to giggle.  The nurse said, "I can't believe you said that in front of the priest!"  The priest was laughing harder than all of us.  More on CPE later.  It's my day off!  Which means some Zentangle, crocheting, blogging, and watching reruns of "Arrow."


"You wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people. These are animals."--#45

Sure, the argument has been made that this quote is taken out of context from a discussion of MS-13 gang members, but it will be embraced by people who believes it applies to anyone without "white" skin.  

There has been some discussion on the FB pages of my friends about racism, in light of everything happening in our country and around the world.  And this was before #45's comment (no, I don't say his name.)  A friend commented that she didn't think most people were racist.  And I posted this below because I disagree.

I think most people are racist. Not in the way of the KKK or white supremacists, but in the lock-your-car-doors-when-you-see-a-black-man-on-the-sidewalk way--they might not even recognize they do it. Recently, it was pointed out to me that hotel shampoo is for white people's hair; I'd never considered the implicit bias that hotels would stock that instead of something else (or even shower caps, which they don't do much anymore--I didn't know that shower caps were often used by African-American women.) It's just enough privilege and then racism that when Black Lives Matter started, people argued "all lives matter" or when violence happens, white people start saying "they" meaning black people (as in, "well, they commit more of the crime, right?") It's the racism that assumes that when it's just white people around, jokes, little asides, and such statements can be made ("slavery wasn't that bad in the North.") It's insidious and perhaps even more dangerous than the KKK because it goes unremarked. It's this racism that supports systemic racism in our society. I know I struggle with racism, having grown up in Texas where there were few African Americans in my neighborhood and none in our circle of friends. I come from a family with ancestors who fought for the Confederacy and, I believe, probably owned slaves in Louisiana. And sometimes I'm locking my car door before I even recognize the gesture. It's why I encourage a diversity and variety of friends and experiences plus trying to stay informed via media and education--to give me the understanding that I lack, to render visible my implicit racism and prejudice and so I can teach my children better. "You have to be carefully taught . . . "


My community has survived the recent tornadoes in Connecticut relatively unscathed, but around us--very close--people have been hard hit.  Five tornadoes touched down in NY and CT on Tuesday late afternoon.  I had heard that we were getting weather and so was keeping an eye on alerts.  I was at my homecare patient's house, waiting to watch "Ellen" with her, when the weather interrupted.  There were tornado warnings in the NW corner.  I left soon after, but the skies were relatively clear.

Not long after I got home, it was that Texas pitch-black sky to our northwest.  We turned on the local news and I watched warnings roll in.  Pretty soon they were tracking a tornado.  Later, the weather guy said, "If you can hear my voice, get somewhere safe now."

I looked outside.  The sky had gone from dark black to a pale green, with darker gray bits.  Green.  No hail, but green was enough for me. 

The kids were ready. We'd pulled out the camping lantern which gives great light and we had the big box of cat treats to tempt the kitties into the basement.  The kids got the cats downstairs but, as I was following, Eris rushed back up.  I searched for her twice but couldn't find her; with the sky turning greener and the wind making the trees into whirling dervishes, I abandoned the search.

Nothing happened here, but I was reminded of that storm ten years ago (pictures and story), when a very similar sky dropped a tree on our house and car just as we headed to the then-unfinished basement.  It was because of that storm that we finished the basement.  And I respect a storm.  If the tree had been angled differently or even a bit taller, it would have blown out the window at the basement stairs landing where I was just then passing with two kids in my arms.  That would have been awful.

So, we waited in the basement, watched the warnings.  I even straightened up some.  But we emerged about 30 minutes later, just fine.  The sky was lightening, even though the thunder and rain continued.  We were lucky.

Since then, I've seen pictures of the storm looming over Sleeping Giant State Park, where it destroyed a beloved grove of pines.  I've heard of the injuries and deaths.  We still have friends without power.  We know people with downed trees.  I talking about the storm, I have been amazed at how little these Nutmeggers know about tornadoes. 

So I told them:  green and/or hail is bad, get inside, get low; if you're in your car, stay away from trees, head somewhere you can get inside, and, if you have to, park and get in the floor well, covered in something.  But it's better to be in a basement or in an interior bathroom (the pipes anchor the space and protect it) or closet, with no windows, or somewhere under stairs.  In CT, we're still only seeing F1s, not the disastrous stronger storms that rip houses off their foundations.  It is mainly our gorgeous New England trees that pose a threat to us--and they're everywhere. 

I have a sinking feeling we're going to see more of these storms.  I hope we are all safe.

Bless This Body

I was very touched by being with a deceased patient while the nurses prepared her body last week.  But I searched for something appropriate to say or pray (she was Jewish and I’d already said the 23rd Psalm.)  Similarly, when I was visiting my homecare patient who has no religious tradition, I wanted a longer ritual for massaging her hands and brushing her hair.  I started reflecting on a blessing for bodies that could be used both before and after death, the very physical bodies that are suffering and dying but had once been full of life.  I thought on the blessing of the hands that I knew from my last hospice position, and then searched online.  There are several variations of blessings of the physical body from the body-washing rituals of Judaism and Islam.  I also found a Wiccan variant.

Here is mine; it is not a poem with a final version but a draft always in progress.  Adapt based on the person; adjust to present tense for the living, past for the deceased.  For a less pagan version, I might adjust “blessed be” to “I bless”; you might even say “thank you for” or “we are grateful for.”

Bless This Body

Blessed be your hair that has felt the touch of wind and rain;
Blessed be your head, where dreams were made and memories cherished;
Blessed be your eyes, that have seen beauty and sorrow;
Blessed be your ears that listened to laughter and cries, music and silence; 
Blessed be your lips that have kissed loved ones good night;
Blessed be your shoulders that have carried children and burdens;
Blessed be your arms that have wrapped us in your love;
Blessed be your hands that have worked and strained, tickled and touched, created and cared;
Blessed be your heart that beat in time to the joys and sorrows of this world;
Blessed be your lungs that gave breath to your voice;
Blessed be your skin that has glowed in the warmth of the sun;
Blessed be your legs that stood proud;
Blessed be your knees that have knelt in wonder—at a child, at a flower, in prayer;
Blessed be your feet that carried you on your own path through life.
Blessed be this body, this person, our loved one.
Blessed be.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Reflecting on Yesterday

I have 79 hours left!  And five papers.  Here is an edited version of the one I wrote for Monday.

(Trigger warning:  death, medical descriptions)

Today I watched the nurses prepare a woman’s dead body for her daughter to come in the room to see her for the first time.  The daughter had arrived just after her mom had died, after a protracted illness in her late 80s/early 90s.  While the daughter called her Rabbi and her sister (in that order, I believe, because there was some family tension) in the hallway, I stood just beyond the foot of the bed, right inside the curtains, to watch.  The woman was not 10-15 minutes gone at this time, no rigidity had set in; when I touched her later, you could still feel some residual warmth.

The CNAs rushed, carefully, to get the woman ready, which mainly involves removing all the unsightly signs of death.  Bodies drain, a lot, when death happens, out of more than one orifice—and every time they moved her body, there was more drainage.  I think they had to change the sheets and her gown twice; she was on the small side but very clearly dead weight—they used a sheet under her to roll her from side to side.  Lots of linens piled up.  They put her in a new set of diapers, just in case.  Once she was positioned, they wiped her face and arms really well, removing all the schmutz that seems to gather on ill people.  The nurse wiped eyelashes and lips and front teeth and inside her nose and between all of her fingers and in the folds of her neck.  They added cleanser to her hair to comb it.  And used lots and lots of deodorizer, apricot-scented.  They covered her back up in blankets, tucked a pink carnation in her hands, and then tidied up the room.  All the medical supplies from her hospice stay were removed and her bedside table was put in order.  She was ready. 

Her daughter’s first comment was “Dead looks . . . dead.  She really looks dead.”  There is no way around that.  She kissed her mom and stroked her face, noticing that the warmth was beginning to leave.  She was sad but relieved.  No prayers now as she went in search of her arriving husband.  So much to organize for the funeral service and luncheon and shiva arrangments and apparently that sister to fight with.

After that, I went to meet and visit with the homecare woman about whom I’ve written before and in my last reflection.  She has become more lethargic and confused, owing to the meds used to treat her high levels of anxiety and increased number of panic attacks.  But she was glad to see me.  She can barely talk and fiddles with her oxygen (her levels dropped into the low 70s while I was there because she takes the mask and the tube off to cough and eject mucus.)  And so I massaged her hands with nice lotion and paraphrased a blessing I learned as a hospice volunteer years ago. 

Blessed be the hands that have touched life.Blessed be the hands that have nurtured creativity.Blessed be the hands that have held pain.Blessed be the hands that have embraced with passion.Blessed be the hands that have closed in anger.Blessed be the hands that have planted new seeds.Blessed be the hands that have harvested ripe fields.Blessed be the hands that have cleaned, washed, and scrubbed.Blessed be the hands that have become wrinkled with years.Blessed be the hands that are scarred from doing justice.Blessed be the hands that have reached out and been received.Blessed be the hands that feed those who are hungry.Blessed be the hands that comfort the dying and touch the dead.Blessed be the hands that greet strangers.Blessed be the hands that guide the young.Blessed be these hands.

We didn’t talk about death and dying, faith or the afterlife, she craved presence.  But I know what I would have said; I would have told a story, drawing on Kate Braestrup’s story in Marriage and Other Acts of Charity (as well as her idea that logos can be translated both as “word” and “story.”)  A religion professor (a student of Paul Tillich) used to ask his class to name what a woman looking out his window at the lake would most likely see.  They predictably answered “people, boats, water, birds, trees, etc.”  No one would mention the window, the glass right in front of the woman’s face, though even the cleanest window is a tiny bit visible as you look out it.  The religion professor noted that Jesus Christ was the window through which people look at God and that, continuously through the New Testament, Jesus points away from himself to God.  In that way, not just Jesus but all prophetic men and women point us towards the sacred; religion helps us understand our world and our place in it.  I would have reassured her that it didn’t matter which window she looked out of, as long as she took in the view.  But I didn’t want to tire her with talk, especially as her afternoon meds kicked in.  Her partner of 25 years ever so gently administer her meds and fluids through her feeding tube, carefully gauging the measurements and checking for leakage.  I hadn’t seen a feeding tube in action.  I felt my day come full circle--death and dying, illness, fluids, leakage, love, and care.  And I meditated, "grant peace to those who suffer and strength to those who help."