Monday, March 23, 2015

what I do

Yesterday, during service, I remembered a service a couple decades ago, in the late 90s. A woman, local high school teacher as I remember, was giving a solo as part of the service. It was the Louis Armstrong classic, "Wonderful World." And there was a guy, I think his name was Dan, who had joined her onstage but who didn't sing or play anything. He just sat on a folding chair on the other side of the stage with his hands folded, watching the performance, and enjoying it with us. After a few minutes I forgot he was there, and then was reminded as I'd see him out of the corner of my eye. He did nothing to draw attention but at the end of the song he walked over to the mic the teacher had backed away from and sang into it Louis' immortal closing,"Oh, yeah."

That, I realized, is my analogy for what I do as a hospice chaplain.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

an almost empty house

I'm beginning a new job in a new hub city in two weeks and toward that end, and because my employer gave me a month to prepare, I've been reading essays, articles, listicles and books about my new profession: chaplaincy to the dying.

One book I've struggled with the entire time but stuck with because I'm determined to get through it all, is The Grace of Dying: A Message of Hope, Comfort, and Spiritual Transformation by Kathleen Dowling Singh. I've noted many passages that I've thought to mark or write down, but they were portions of thoughts, ideas, parts of sentences, and sometimes a full sentence. Until today I haven't seen a full passage speaking enough to me to merit putting here. At this point, Singh is writing about Kubler-Ross' famous stages of death and explaining how even the most advanced among them are a part of Chaos, "what is experienced when an accustomed order is first suspended or destroyed." Lately, I've been thinking about what it is a hospice chaplain goes through when she herself is in the dying process. I suspect it will be something like this:

It was once my privilege to know a woman who had been uncommonly raised, in the Theosophical tradition. This tradition, sprinkled with names like Leadbeater and Blavatsky, attempts to outline the special conditions that engender consciousness evolution. This woman was disappointed in herself when she found herself caught in the powerful emotional undertows of the period of Chaos. She "would have hoped to have been a bit father along than that," she said. She thought perhaps she had already evolved to the point where she could have "given up the body more easily." She entered a profound depression. My visual memory of Geneva is of a woman of dignity sitting alone in a recliner in her living room surrounded by meaningful mementos of her travels: woven tapestries from Tibet, Japanese screens depicting Zen teaching stories, shamanic masks from New Guinea. As the weeks went by and her depression wore on, she began giving all these things away, piece by piece, to relatives and old friends from the Theosophical community. Eventually she sat in an almost empty house. Her depression lifted and she proclaimed, "I've come out the other side." She surrendered to the process of dying and died with great openness and courage. Indeed, she was an inspiration.