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Posts Tagged ‘caregiver’

Lately in the parish and community there have been several significant losses. It seems I’m spending more time with the grieving then any other group. What I’ve learned with time is that there is nothing useful to say to someone who is experiencing a great loss.

There are, however, many things that are NOT helpful when in crisis or grieving. This hit home with me after my dad died. Every one of these phrases was said to me. And they all made me angry. So here they are, in no particular order…

I know how you feel.
Been there, done that.
S/he’s in the arms of Jesus.
They’ve gone to a better place.
You’ll get over this.
You have to stay strong for your mother.
You must be used to this, given what you do for a living.
God now has a new angel in heaven.
OMG, this reminds me of when…
Chin up, s/he’s not in pain anymore.
I’m sorry for your loss.
What happened, exactly? How did s/he pass on?

Now, while these may be true sayings, they are NOT helpful when someone you love has died. So I’ve taken to letting congregations know that the phrase “I’m sorry” is perfectly acceptable, with nothing else added.

Yes, I am a religious person, but it brings me no comfort to be told that my agnostic father is in the arms of Jesus. He wouldn’t like it there. Too many people try to appropriate someone else’s grief by telling their story. With time that may be an appropriate way to share how you’re coping, but not at the funeral home or the church. The person who is mourning is a combination of exhausted, hyperactive, frightened, nervous, and numb. They are not there to comfort you. You’re supposed to comfort them.

Something we seem to be so frightened about is silence between two people. More and more often, when I’m sitting with a family I will deliberately not speak for several minutes, and let the silence wash over the room. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and there’s chatter about weather, sports, etc. But sometimes it’s comforting to be still in the silence, especially of the parishioner is finally sleeping.

Everyone reacts to death and illness differently. There is no right or wrong way to do it. There is only your way. I stress with families that if they feel the need to be angry, they should express that, especially if they are angry with God. As much as we are prepared mentally for a person to die, when it actually happens we realised just how UNprepared we are. It hurts like hell. And it will for a long time.

It’s not helpful to tell someone to “get over” their loss. The death of a loved one is not something that you ever “get over”. But with time, love and grace, you will get through it. You will be affected for the rest of your life. There will be times when you burst into tears because of a song on the radio. Or collapse in a fit of giggles because of a remembered phrase of joke. And both are absolutely okay.

At some point in the future I will post about stupid euphemisms people use for death. But not today.

Today is about the gift of silence. About the gift of presence. I remembered when my dad died, what I needed was someone to hold me and say nothing. My husband is awesome with that. Not a single word is exchanged, but I can feel the strength of his arms around me, hear the beating of his heart, and know, for this moment, I am safe.

True ministry, I’m discovering, comes from the heart, not from the mouth. There are times when it is appropriate and necessary to speak. But more often, especially when in crisis; it is more important to be wholly present with the person, and to save the words for another time.

With permission, take their hand, give them a hug, but say nothing. The strength you will feel from that experience will be life changing.

Don’t be afraid of silence. Don’t be afraid of anger, tears or laughter. Don’t be afraid of numbness. All are appropriate emotions when mourning.

So the next time you are at the funeral home, or greeting someone in the community who has sustained a significant loss, resist the urge to say “So, how are you?” because that’s not a fair question. A better statement is “I’m sorry.” And offer a hug or handshake, and be still in the silence.

I truly believe that God appears to us, not in the eloquent homilies, or the well prepared eulogies, but rather that God appears to us in the stillness and silence of simply being present.

“Preach the gospel, use words if necessary” is a misquote attributed to Francis of Assisi. While somewhat contentious, I believe it means that to be fully present with a person, you don’t need to say anything. Great comfort can come from silence.

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Yesterday the community gathered to say farewell to a lovely man who had lived a very good life. The last couple of years were not good ones, his health was fragile and he lived in constant pain. About three weeks ago he told his wife he was ready to die…not in a morbid way, but because he felt he didn’t want to live in pain anymore.

We used to get together for coffee about three times a year. We went to the local coffee shop and his friends would be there, watching every move he made. I enjoyed talking with him as he often shared stories of his family, beaming with pride at his three children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He was proud of each and every one of them, and made each and every one of them feel like they were special.

The church was overflowing with people. We ran out of bulletins, and worship space, so chairs had to be brought in and set up. A friend and colleague who is in a wheelchair co-presided the service with me and he was a tremendous source of strength during the service. As the eulogies were offered, I sat on the chancel steps to be closer to my friend. Two of the great-grandchildren, ages 2 and 4 came and played on the chancel steps. I got to play too. It was awesome.

As the grandchildren and children got up to speak they each spoke of the legacy their grandfather/father left them. The legacy of stories. The legacy of practical jokes. The legacy of witty sayings and pithy statements. The legacy of family. The legacy of service. The legacy of love.

When I was preaching I made a plea for someone to pick up the ministry of service that my parishioner had done. He had volunteered at a soup kitchen in the city and that is how he met my colleague and friend. At the graveside his brother and sister-in-law tapped me on the shoulder and said they wanted to pick up the mantel of legacy – the legacy of service.

And so, as we interred the remains of one of the kindest and gentlest men who lived, his brother picked up the mantel of service. The shoes he will fill are quite large. But he will do it, his way.

The longer I say in this community, the closer I become to the people. The more our stories intertwine, the greater the honour of the journey. I have been present as couples exchange vows, as children and adults are baptised, and as a soul leaves this life for the next one. We have celebrated lives, cried bitter tears of loss, laughed at silly jokes, and known through it all that we are richer for lessons we have learned. Lessons of legacy.

Rest in peace my dear friend. May you feel the arms of Jesus surround you. May you enter into the heavenly choirs of angels and be amongst the saints in heaven who watch out for us mere mortals, here on earth.

Thank you for the legacies you have left for us. We will do you proud.

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As one who is in a giving profession or healing profession, it is often difficult to take care of oneself. In fact, when my depression loomed its evil head after several years in absence, it was due, in great part, to me not looking after myself.

Who cares for the caregiver?

My dad died on the 12th of June 2012, after a brief battle with pneumonia. He was about 6 weeks shy of his 80th birthday. My dad wanted to die as he lived…simply. He died on his own, peacefully and gently. After all the health issues he had endured from a traumatic head injury, lower leg amputation, several heart attacks, an abdominal aeortic anyeurism, a femoral break of his right leg and an inoperable abdominal aeortic anyerism; he simply stopped breathing. He died because the time was right.

My Mam looked after my Dad for all of their 50 years of marriage. It wasn’t always easy, but she did what needed to be done. And after he died she was at a loss for what to do next. And thankfully, she chose to live.

She is now, for the first time in many years, concerned with her appearance. I’m heading home to be with her for a few days and she wants to go shopping, to increase her wardrobe and make sure she has clothes that fit for winter. For someone who wore the same tired tracksuit for 10 years, this is huge.

I am in a healing profession, or at least, a nurturing profession. And there are times when I forget about myself in order to care for the other. But I, too, need to be cared for. And that’s what vacation is about.

In a couple of days I’m heading to the northern part of Ontario to spend time with my Mam. I will be taking part in a challenging hike that I’ve not done for many years, because I want to. And it will be a glorious day when I am able to finish that hike…for many reasons.

On Saturday my Mam and I will take the ferry from South Baymouth to Tobermory and will enjoy the colours that surround us…if ever one doubted the presence of God, one need only see the changing colours to truly believe.

We will join my beloved and our wonder hound to celebrate Thanksgiving and to give thanks to God from whom all blessings flow.

This will be my time to slow down and rest. To reflect, to relax and to remember that I, too, am a beloved child of God, created and nurtured in God’s image…and that image is of perfection.

I can’t wait!

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