My dear friend and former Davidson College roommate, Ben Hamilton, died yesterday,  a victim of pancreatic cancer.  We are always surrounded here at Redstone by death. You would think I would become immune to all these losses. But I grieve each one and none more than the loss of Ben. Our paths crossed almost 70 years ago at Davidson College, as I treasure these memories. As close friends, we shared many experiences, not the least of these was playing on the Sigma Chi intramural teams. Ben was our pitcher ,and I was the shortstop, and we won many victories.  After graduation, our paths diverged. Yet I knew Colonel Ben Hamilton had served his country with honor, and had spent two tours in the Vietnam  War.  I also knew we both had gone through divorces and found happiness in 2nd marriages.  In 2010 we met again at Davidson, celebrating our 60th reunion. For the last five yeas we kept in close touch, and shared our support of the Davidson Wildcat basketball team. I was sad when Dibba, Ben’s wife, told me the news of his cancer. But, like a  good soldier, he fought the good fight to the end.  The last time I hard his voice on the phone, he said “Dick, I don’t know if I can beat this one,” but he thanked God for giving him some time with his family. Ben had great faith, One line from my favorite hymn, “For All the Saints,” keeps running through my mind as I think of Ben’s faith:”Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight.”  Indeed, he fought the good fight to the very end.  In my old age I see a line of marching soldiers, and one by one they drop off the line and there is none to take their place.

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A perennial favorite in retirement communities is Bingo. Here it is the most attended activity; in the community; people go early to get their favorite seat, and woe unto you if you sit in someone’s chosen seat. I only play the game if it is for some worthy cause like Alzheimer’s or Benevolent Care. It reminds me of the story of two painters, trapped on the 42nd floor of a building. One man said to the other, “Do you know a prayer?” “Sure,”replied the other man, ” B 2 I 16 N 22″ Bingo began as a lottery game in Italy in 153o. In the 1920s,  Hugh J, Ward standardized the modern game at carnivals in and around Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. (Maybe that is why it is such a favorite  pastime here).  He copyrighted it in 1933. However, there is another bingo — antique bingo.  Jane Thibault told about a women who came for geriatric counseling who said she was tired of playing antique bingo in her retirement years. What she meant was she was weary of doing things to kill time, just to amuse herself. She needed vital involvement. Don’t get me wrong. There is time for quiet meditation,  just sitting still, and being quiet.  I cherish those moments. But God spare me from playing antique bingo. Somehow I find myself being involved in more worthy endeavors. I can think of nothing more boring than  to kill time playing bingo, or its successor, antique bingo. .

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Twelve years ago when we moved to this retirement community, there were no wheelchairs, one walker, and two motorized carts. Notice the change in the enclosed photo of our annual Cancer Walk.  Only one person without assistance, the others on Hoverounds, walkers, or a cane, who  participated  in the Cancer Walk! It looked like a  line of the handicapped and they were the most active in the community!   Such is the  real change in retirement communities. The persons entering CCRCs now are much older, and with few exceptions, have health issues. So they join us who have aged in place, in a “community of the disabled.”  A   chaplain friend in Ohio told me  the retirement community where he serves has converted a whole wing of independent living to assisted living rooms.   The Baby Boomers, if they are affluent, may seek expensive Villas. Others will downsize,  move to one-floor homes or stay where they are with home health.  The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once wrote, “The only that that is constant is change.” So health providers need to be proactive to meet these changes. Some people make things happen; others watch things happen, and others wonder what happened!

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If you visited our campus last night and spied the large tent outside our apartment, you might have thought it was a sign of a tent revival. My maternal grandfather, Milford, Lyon, worked with the famous Billy Sunday ,master of   tent revivals and “hit the sawdust trail.,” religon.  Those were  the days when evangelists spoke of sin and preached “hell fire and damnation.” No, it was a tent installed for a wine and jazz to attract possible new converts, a far cry from the days of  double-fisted  evangelists warning of the evils of drinking and gambling.  However, I was  reminded of Biblical tents,  the tent of meeting where God was supposed to dwell, and Paul , a tent maker and his immortal words, “If this earthly tent we live is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, For in this tent we groan . ..”  Instead we heard loud music sounding into the night and a few stray dogs in the distance,  barking at the noise.  As they took the tent down today, I realized we do live in a fragile tent that will eventually be taken down. But we are promised ” a house not made with hands. which will never be destroyed.”

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An ancient Greek philosopher once wrote, “The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.” In other words, given time, justice will prevail. I applaud the recent decision of Medicare ( beginning January 2016) to fund doctors to counsel their patients about options involving end-of- life care. Among many others, I have urged such counseling. for some time. Advance care planning is critically important to ensure that patient’s goals and needs are met. I have been privy to far too many end of life situations, where such plan were not made, and the person suffered terrible results. The assumption is that the more patients understand their options, the more likely  medical costs will come down as patients decide against expensive medical interventions that don’t help quality of life. This action of medicare ends the silly nonsense of “death panels,” suggested  by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin which fueled opposition to the Affordable Care Act. The Institute of Medicine IOM) produced a provocative report, Dying in America, which states that advance  care planning can begin at any age and should center on frequent conversations with family members and care providers. We have filled out the FIVE WISHES and given copies to all our adult children. Despite their reluctance to talk about such a difficult subject,  we feel at peace about doing this. As  I said to one of my sons, “You don’t think I will live forever, do you?”And we have given copies to our primary physician too. Making these end of life decisions now will ensure that end-of-life care  is affordable, compassionate.  and sustainable. The IOM Report hopes that such end-of-life planning will become a national priority.  Let’s hope so!

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Every once in a while we sneak off to see a movie. However, it is becoming extremely difficult to find  anything worth our time. We sat through six horrendous previews, and vowed we would boycott all of them. It’s a shame that unbridled violence and  lust occupy the cinemas. BUT, we  went to see Me and Earl and  The Dying Girl. What an incredible movie of real life and death. Filmed in nearby Pittsburgh, it tells the story of an awkward Schenley High School senior Greg,  who forms a friendship with Rachel, a girl dying from leukemia. Despite neither one of them really  desiring each other’s company, they make plans to meet on a regular basis.. Greg introduces Rachel to his lifelong friend, Earl, who convinces Greg to show Rachel their collection  of short films. When Rachel begins chemotherapy, and her condition worsens, Greg begins spending less time with school, and more time caring for her. A  crisis occurs when Rachel realize her treatment is doing more harm than good and decides to discontinue  treatment.  Upset by her decision, Greg leaves, devastated he can no longer help her. Later he learns Rachel is on hospice. and visits her in the hospital. The final scene is touching and terribly real. In a society that craves the unreality of horror and violence at the cinema, this is a powerful film, vibrant with reality, and making the viewer aware  of the issues of life, reconciliation, and caring for the dying.

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