On Sunday, April 29, I had the pleasure of attending the annual Mitzvah Day program at Congregation Beth Tikvah in Hoffman Estates, one of more than 400 communities served by JourneyCare. A Mitzvah Day is a day in Jewish communities when congregation members come together to perform a wide variety of deeds that benefit their community. Many congregations in our service area have these annual programs.
The buzzwords “comfort care” are creating questions since the Bush family announced that former First Lady Barbara Bush, 92, will no longer seek medical services. Bush lives with illnesses that include congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
Instead, the family announced that Mrs. Bush is now receiving “comfort care” at her Houston home and news outlets report she is spending time with her husband, former President George H.W. Bush, and her sons, former President George W. Bush and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
I was honored to speak at JourneyCare’s Decades Dance on Saturday, March 10. In addition to the fun ’60s theme, music and auctions, the event raised money for JourneyCare’s All About Kids pediatric program – a program close to my heart.
Our daughter, Sadie Elizabeth, was born on April 29, 2010, after an uneventful pregnancy. I say “uneventful,” because I experienced the typical pregnancy symptoms – tiredness, discomfort, slight nausea, cravings, etc. But nothing could have prepared me for her diagnosis.
Often-ignored but totally necessary, self-care is any action or behavior that helps us avoid triggering health problems and benefits us by improving our mental and physical health through better self-esteem, less stress and overall well-being. These behaviors help provide balance in an increasingly over-stimulating world. Self-care makes up an essential part of a healthy lifestyle that keeps us healthy, happy, and more in-tune with our minds and bodies.
Experts suggest we neglect self-care because it can be tough to make healthy changes and manage stress in better ways. Self-care is also sometimes associated with selfishness and lazy, over-indulgent behavior. This might make us feel guilty for thinking we need to take a break from our lives to do something that, simply put, makes us feel better.
I will always remember my hospice patient’s dog, Jack. Jack was a medium-sized, furry mutt, with all the friendliness of a well-loved and trained dog. My patient was a man who was deeply loved by family and friends... and his dog, Jack.
As the patient was dying, Jack was lying awake with his head on his front legs, under the patient’s bed. The family told me Jack had been there over 24 hours and was refusing to come out to eat or drink. Jack and his human friend were inseparable in life. And Jack stayed there, under the patient’s bed, until the funeral home arrived.
His wife died. He is now a single parent to two young children. His daughter comforts him. She hugs him tight: “It’s okay, daddy.”
Other families in the room acknowledge, they are just like us.
Just like us, this family lost someone very dear and special to them. Just like us, they grieve. Just like us, they journey forward.
I first met Robin, a 53-year-old ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) patient, when JourneyCare began caring for her about two years ago. I was welcomed in Robin’s home to make weekly visits. I instantly hit it off with Robin and always look forward to my weekly visits with her.
The French writer and philosopher Albert Camus once wrote, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” For those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, especially as winter and the holiday season approaches, it can be challenging to find that “invincible summer” through one’s anguish and tears. When burdened with sadness and pain, how do we find that which comforts and calms us? I believe the foundation of the resilience of which Camus writes is hope.
During this Pastoral Care Week, I would like to celebrate the chaplains at JourneyCare and around the world for all the care that you provide to people and families in the various ways you serve. As I reflect on my own pastoral care journey, I am appreciative of the profession I feel called to do.
What do I love about hospice care? I love that it is not specifically focused on death, but on the life of the patient. As a chaplain, this has afforded me the opportunity to hear each patient's life journey. It is in this sharing that I have gained the opportunity to celebrate patients’ lives in the present. Listening to the patients and their families allows their life experiences to be honored. It also has allowed me the opportunity to hear how their lives connect the past, present and their desires in their final months and days. These stories have really influenced my calling as a chaplain.
Mary and her husband Bob are, it seems, glued at the hip, two bodies with one soul. They remind me of my parents who are also in their early nineties, failing in health after living fulfilled, long and good lives, coming from similar backgrounds, with A LOT of kids (eight), a Catholic upbringing and of course, hoping to live forever.
As her massage therapist, I visit Mary, who has congestive heart failure and dementia. Mary has been declining fast and losing her hearing, so I often place my iPhone music right down next to her so she can feel the vibrations. She always smiles. I tell her at each visit that she looks just like the gorgeous Hollywood diva Lana Turner, and she smiles again.