Friday, July 20, 2012

Life Before Death

 I am a member of a hospice community forum, and they brought this amazing video series to my attention.  All of the videos are well worth watching.  They are amazing!

Barred Owl

I have had the coolest sight in the morning on my walks.  The other morning while walking on the lake path, I flushed a large bird.  I followed it with my eyes and discovered a barred owl perched in a willow about 15 feet from the path.  We just silently looked at each other for a long time.  Suddenly, it began to raise it's shoulders and cry with a "screeeee".  Then it would pause, and then call with a "screeeee".   The longer I stood still, the more calm it became, until it stopped calling. 
I continued on my walk and passed many people walking, running, talking and being loud.  I figured that the owl would be long gone on my return loop.  As I passed the spot, I didn't see the owl and thought for sure it was gone.  A closer look led me right to it, in the same spot in the tree.  A woman was walking past and I quietly motioned for her to look.  She couldn't find it at first either, but eventually did, and she asked me how in the world I ever spotted it.  I shared my story with her.
The following day, there was no owl.  On the third day, I saw it and stopped.  It looked strange, as if something was wrong with it's head.  I took some cautious steps closer and realized that a second owl was perched right behind it.  I stood for a long time just staring at the magnificence of these two creatures.  I realized that time had probably gotten away from me, so I began to walk away when I noticed a third owl on the branch above the pair I had been watching.  Wow! 
Now that I know what their little "screeeee" cry sounds like, I hear the two that I don't normally see, calling to one another in the nearby trees, while the bold owl sits perched in the willow and looks at me.  I feel so very blessed to have this rare opportunity to look at such magnificent creatures in nature. 

Here's a link to some barred owl facts: 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Transformation in photos

Recently I took a class entitled "Midwifing Death"at the Aslan Institute.  Although the title is somewhat upsetting to some, it was a fascinating class.  We learned how to assist people in their spiritual journey as they pass on.  It was an amazing two days.  

 At the end of the class, one of the instructors  brought in a big box with dozens of Monarch caterpillarsShe gave 6 or so to anyone interested in raising the caterpillars.  I took seven and every morning picked the fresh milkweed they eat .  I was amazed at how much those little things ate (and pooped) and just how fast they grew.  One by one, they all made cocoons.  Well after one week, all but one of the cocoons turned black and the beautiful monarchs hatched.  It was an absolutely remarkable front row seat to transformation.

What is ripe for transformation in your own life?  Growth and change can be uncomfortable.  Transformation can also lead to things beyond our wildest imaginations!  Enjoy the series of photos!

Reverie Harp

I have the most delightful patient right now. "June" served as a missionary and has the most interesting life story, including raising 7 children!  I often strum on the Reverie Harp when I visit with patients.  It is wonderful if they are sleeping, unconscious, or unable to communicate.  My current patient, June, is usually sleeping when I stop in to see her, so I sit quietly and play the harp in her room.  Several weeks ago, she was awake when I arrived.  She was all excited to ask me if I had been there the week before and if I had played the harp for her.  I told her that I had been there and did play the harp.  She told me that even though she was asleep and dreaming, the music wove into her dreams and she found it so comforting and beautiful.  I was so happy.  I have played so many time for people who are non verbal or who pass away without regaining consciousness.  With what June told me, I now think that they can hear me playing and are comforted.  What a wonderful confirmation.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Please go Away

I can't imagine that I haven't posted since February.  So much has been going on, including amazing weather and a beautiful and early Spring!

I was visiting a patient that I have been seeing every week since last summer.  She loves the male deacon/hospice chaplain that I travel with, and lights up whenever he comes into the room.  It's a thing of beauty to watch.  Several weeks ago, we saw a major change in her.  She began sleeping more and more, and was often very sleepy or confused during our visits.  About two weeks ago, when we arrived, we sat quietly in her room.  She woke after a bit and asked us to leave.  She said that she didn't want visitors.  

I tell you this because this may be part of the process for someone you love.  It can be shocking or hurtful to hear.  When my partner and I reflected on the experience, we thought of a few things.  Once we removed our ego from the interaction, the request wasn't at all shocking.  She was tired and not feeling well.  We started to think about how pleased we were that she felt comfortable to speak her mind with us.  Being on the outside of the goings-on in some patient rooms, we often see someone in the last days of their life feeling like they have to entertain a litany of guests, when they are exhausted or uncomfortable.

Our patient was being honest with us, and we could support her by leaving.  Knowing that she loved to pray, we realized that we could offer support in many additional ways, like prayer, letting the nurses know that she may not want visitors, and letting the family know that the patient was changing.   Honoring her wishes was giving her the support that she asked for.

It can be difficult to forgo asserting your agenda into such a situation.  We were there to visit.  We were going to brighten her day.  She loves the chaplain.  Maybe she didn't understand that he was her visitor.  Like I said, ego can make a mess of things.  The best thing we can sometimes do for a patient is to give them what they long for.  It may be difficult to turn visitors away, but it may be the right thing to do. 

Luckily for us, we have been to see the patient again, and although she is often living in the past, it is delightful to visit and learn about her life. Both the chaplain and I  feel so blessed to have each visit.  If a time comes again when she doesn't want to see us, we will have to accept that as part of her individual journey.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

I'm Ready World

Lately, I have been thinking about what I really love - hospice work.  I love so many aspects of it.  For a long time I have held the belief that people don't come into this world alone, and they should not leave this world alone.  When I was 14, I lost a brother in a car accident and have always wondered if he felt alone or if he died without that knowledge or feeling.  In my hospice work, we don't often care for people who have no one, but it does happen.  Sometimes, family lives far away, and they are doing their best to get to their loved one, but travel can be unpredictable.  
I decided that I would like to actually do Vigil work.   As a doctor, midwife, or doula  aids in bringing a child into the world, vigil work or death midwifery, respectfully ushers people out of this world.  Now, keep in mind, I am not referring to physically doing anything that would speed up the process like some "death doctors" who have been in the news.  I would just like to be a peaceful loving presence that stays with a person in whatever way brings them the greatest comfort.  Sometimes, I find that putting these things "out there" via blog posting or conversation is like telling the universe, "I am ready to do this work, so help to prepare me."  I really think that I was born to do this work, and I am looking forward to the journey of preparation and participation.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Positive Attitude Goes a Long Way

I wanted to share this great 10 minute TED video that talks about how a positive attitude can actually change everything.  No one is implying that life is always easy or without struggles, but is your glass half empty or half full?  Make it an hour, a day, and a week of seeing the positive side of life. 
Click TED to see the video

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Magical Saturday

It began as a blissful rare morning that let me sleep in until it was light outside. I awoke and saw that ho-hum, it was yet another gray day.   When I finally got out of bed I looked out my window and gasped.  The frost was thick on every branch of every tree, and my world looked like a fairy tale that had come to life.  I pulled on my walking gear and headed outside with my camera.  The path is too protected, so there was no frost there.  I headed out across the lake to the various islands and outcroppings.  I never saw another person, and the world seemed covered in a blanket of quiet.  Looking back on it, I find it strange for a Saturday morning.  There was so much beauty in this gray day.  It's just another lesson for me to see the beauty in each and every day and every kind of weather.  Breathe in the beauty of this day wherever you are and whatever you are doing.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ski Weekend

What an amazing weekend!  I had planned to ski with friends on Saturday.  We started as a group of 4 and one by one they dropped out until I found myself alone.  It's funny but most often I exercise alone.  I find that when trying to merge schedules with friends, the timing rarely works out for all of us to be available at the same time.   I really enjoy exercising alone.  I get lost in my thoughts, and let nature guide my pace.  
The sun was brilliant Saturday, and I felt so blessed to be fit and healthy enough to spend an hour or so skiing and soaking up the sunshine.  The wind was biting, and it was racing across the lake.  I hugged the shoreline to cut the wind and got lost in the rhythm of my body whooshing through the snow.  There was barely enough snow for the poles to grab before slipping on the ice below.  I stopped several times just to enjoy my surroundings.  I tend to look down at my skis while skiing and miss the bigger picture.  The sky was that amazing  cloudless blue .  I love to look up at it hightlighted  behind the dark bare branches of the trees.  I had some canines greet me as I passed their homes.  They really seem to love to frolic on the big frozen expanse, and we had a delightful visit.
Sunday looked to be a busy day and I awoke with the wish to ski again but the thought that it may not be possible.  Some way, some how, I found myself darting out the door at 3:30 instead of washing my kitchen floor.  I knew that soon, the sun would begin setting and I needed to prioritize fresh air and more sunshine.  Back down to the lake I went, to find that the wind was much less severe, but the temperature was much lower than the day before.  I took a slightly different route, and truly found my bliss.  It is a magic formula for me to be in nature, sunshine, and fresh air.  I find it so restorative and amazing.   I was able to ski a bit farther and stretch my tight muscles from Saturday's skiing adventure.  Usually, I start my skiing treks much earlier in the year, but with the strange lack of snowfall and the mild temperatures, Saturday was my first ski of the year!  I am blessed to be living in such close proximity to lakes, trails, wildlife, and adventure.  
Today find your bliss and breathe it in.  Savor it so that you can call it up at any time and breathe yourself right back into that time and space.  It's like a mini vacation from stress.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Beautiful Snow

I had always heard that the Eskimo had hundreds of words for snow.  I read in Wikipedia today that they have about as many words as we have in the English language.  It is the Sami people of a region that spans Sweden, Finland, Norway and part of Russia, who have hundreds of words for snow.  
This week, we have had a fresh dusting of snow almost daily. Today my boot prints were the only human ones on the lake path -both going in and coming out.  The temperatures have been more mild this week, so the snow has stuck to every branch on every tree. Sound is muffled from the insulating quality of the snow.  I swoosh almost silently through nature, lost in its magic.  It is stunning. 
Last week, when I was walking, the temp was far below zero, I try to put it out of my mind, but I think it was 14 below one morning without accounting for windchill!  That morning I was walking as well, and each step sounded like I was walking on Styrofoam.  The cold literally made my steps squeak through the snow.  I knew that it would be a long shot to see anything wild that day.  All of the creatures could hear me coming for 5 minutes before my arrival!  I did see a magnificent pileated woodpecker.  I always seem to forget how large they are.
If I can drag myself outside into the cold, I am always rewarded.  The cold brings all of the different frosts and snows that we don't have words for but should!
Next time you see an amazing weather day, try your best to live in the moment.  If you can't get out for a walk, ski, bike or other 'big'  activity, just step outside.  Take some deep breaths and say "thank you" for the beauty that surrounds you at that moment. It is a moment just for you that you can savor for the rest of the day or longer!
Live in the now of nature.  Enjoy!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Going Home

I had the honor last Thursday of visiting 6 different hospice patients.  I spent quite a long time with one patient, "June".  She is suffering from dementia.  She was very unsettled and something was obviously troubling her.  She told me that she was afraid to go "home".  
For many hospice patients "home" has several meanings.  Some who have been removed from their physical homes wish that they could recover enough to return.  For others, I believe that "home" means heaven or wherever their beliefs will take them in the afterlife.  June kept telling me that she needed to go home but that she was afraid because her mom and especially her dad were mad at her.  I had attempted to calm her by saying that I was pretty sure that they would forgive her when they saw her.  Having no idea of her family history, I didn't want to say too much.  I usually try to turn worries or thoughts into questions.  I asked her if she didn't think that she would be forgiven and reminded her that her parents loved her.  We sat and held hands without speaking for about 30 minutes.  She seemed to relax.  She asked me if I had any idea how much she loved me.  It took me by surprise.  I don't know who she thought I was.  I decided that it didn't matter, the important thing was that she was sharing something very real to her with someone she thought she loved.  I replied with a thank you and told her that I loved her too.  It seemed very important for her to tell me.  I have done so much research about dementia.  Many people have the feeling that they need to correct the patient or loved one.  "Your parents have been dead for years.  Your son can't be older than you.  You have lived here for years.  You are home."  
My experience is that the only thing that the so-called correcting does, is to frustrate and confuse the patient or loved one.  I have designed a good rule of thumb.  If what the patient says is incorrect, but won't harm anyone, let it go.  If they say something like "I'm all alone"  it is helpful to talk to them in a soothing way and point out the physical surroundings and nurse or family to "remind" them that they are not really alone or in danger.  If they begin talking about someone who isn't present, or call you by another name, you can say something like:  "Oh, Clare .  I haven't thought about her in years.  Tell me about Clare."  Often their memories are crystal clear and are a wonderful source of connection.  Their stories can lead to other things that they remember.  
Just remember to be patient and ask yourself what the kind and gentle response would be.  It's amazing what can come out of those interactions.  
I will always remember my time with June last week as a gift!
Here is a great resource for dealing with people with dementia

January or March?

Well, what a beautiful weekend.  I went up to the St Cloud area to visit family.  It should have been our 4th annual boot hockey for all ages tournament.  We had two issues. There had been so little snow and so much wind, that the ice was almost too slippery to stand on without falling over.  The second issue was that there was a lot of open water.  Our host keeps records, and the latest date that the lake has completely iced over was January 9th.  We beat that this year.  
We still ended up having lots of outdoor fun in the beautiful sunshine and 30-40 degree temps!  
The oldest and biggest "kid" in our party is 53 and he organized curling, golf,  soccer, and bean bag toss.  He painted the curling target right on the ice with spray paint and we glided rocks into the target.  I ended up finding that the perfect delivery was like a version of bowling.  I got a running start from a small patch of snow and then swung my rock and set it on the ice as I pushed it forward.  It worked like a charm.  We golfed from the sand and chipped the balls onto a deflated inner tube that was positioned on the ice as the "green".  We all decided that we needed some good cardio exercise, so we chose soccer.  There was no snow on the grass, but because it was frozen, it was slippery and hard.  I can tell you too, that when the ball made contact with skin, it hurt.  We spent hours outside laughing and soaking up the unbelievable January weather.  Right before we began curling, a flock of 10 white trumpeter swans flew in and landed in the open water.  They seemed to be unafraid of us and swam to our end of the open water.  Several were mottled gray and white.  We decided that they were juveniles.  They were every bit as large as the adults.  Only their color distinguished them.  They were incredibly beautiful and quite noisy at times.  
The lake was almost constantly making the most eerie sounds as the ice expanded.  I tried to record it but the family was much too noisy.  It reminded me of hearing whales communicate.  At the same time, it's quite unlike anything else.  What an amazing outdoor weekend!