EXCITING NIGHT

What a memorable night. Our 18 year old granddaughter, Brannon, drove us to Pittsburgh to see the Davidson-Duquesne game. I have  followed the Wildcats basketball team since 1947!  I know I had to be the oldest alum present  There is nothing so special as an old alumnus, still rooting for his Alma Mater. The “Cats did not disappoint me as they swished 30 three pointers and skunked the Dukes 107-78.  Someone from the Alumni Office took my  photo, just when the “Cats hit  the 86th  point,  as it was my 86th birthday. What made the night even sweeter was that it gave Davidson undisputed possession of 1st place, a remarkable achievement,  since all the sports pundits picked them for last! I loved the way my granddaughter got into the  flow of the game and joined me in leading a “We’re No #1 cheer!”  After the game I had a chance to congratulate Coach McKillop, and all he could say was, “35 assists, a record.”Memories are made of moments like this. On to March Madness.!

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A WONDERFUL TREASURE

The apostle Paul wrote, “We have this treasure in clay pots…..” But I found the treasure in the magnificent paintings of Lester Potts. Lester never painted a picture or showed any previous artistic ability or interest. But when he suffered Alzheimer’s and was a resident at Caring Days, he began painting, and in four years painted over a hundred water colors to the amazement of family and friends. Some of his art (including the cover) is found in the book, Seasons of Caring. Our activity director, Wendi, showed his art to some of the residents. One lady who rarely spoke, loved the painting of the snow man on skis, and  chuckled as she said, “There he goes.”  Lester’s son, Dr. Danny Potts, sent me a portfolio of many of his Dad’s paintings. Last Sunday I sat down with two ladies. locked down in our memory care unit, because they both had dementia. As we flipped through the pages, their faces brightened, as if Lester’s art resonated with their lives. One lady who loved his paintings of flowers said “Those flowers made me feel so good.” I knew the other lady had grown up on the coast, and she became fixated on Lester’s paintings of the sea and sea birds. She spied a lighthouse, and said “Yes. yes. I remember I climbed up a lighthouse at the  coast when I was a little girl. …..” as the past became present and memory was rekindled. They went through the album a second time, enraptured by his paintings which not only expressed his life story, but, theirs, too.  This will be a beginning of many visits to these dear souls with Lester’s paintings. “He, being dead,” yet speaks.” A genuine  treasure without words.

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LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS

These have been difficult times here. We have a low population of men in this community and in the last 2 weeks three men have died, and one is near death. Men are an endangered species here, with only 15 survivors in a community of 91 residents. It is like viewing a line of marching soldiers and one by one many drop off and are seen no more; and there are none to take their place. it seems as if the angel of death visits here often, 181 deaths in 14 years. My brother, Howard, was in Asia some time ago, and sent me this fantastic picture of Monks in a Sunlit Doorway from Cambodia. What strikes me is the shadowy figures of the monks, but light is streaming through the doorway ~~~ not only pointing to light outside the room, but light inside the darkness. That is the good news that even when life is difficult, there is light. I began my ministry at the Richmond Home for Ladies and it is ending at Redstone Home for Ladies (and a few men).

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THE TALK WE NEED TO HAVE, PART III

I will never forget walking on a track with a physician. Our conversation centered around  Bioethics, Whe is the right time to say to a doctor, “Let my loved one go?” He cited several instances when the patient had not made end-of-life decisions and families kept loved one alive when there was no quality of life. I shared a story with him  about how I had to “referee” a family battle around the death bed of their mother. As she had never exactly made her wishes clear,they were divided about heroic measures to prolong her life.I ushered them out of the room, reminding them that although their mother seemed out of it, she could still hear their bickering. Finally, they decided to use a feeding tube. I wondered if that decision was based on the fact they had not had the best relationship with their mother, and were trying to make up for it by keeping her alive as long as possible. Although he was an agnostic, the doctor’s response has lingered with me for many years. He said,. “Dick, why is it that those of you are believers in a better life beyond this one, would  want to keep loved ones alive when there is no quality of life?” I had no answer for that!  My next book, At the Edge of Life: Conversations When Death is Near  (Upper Room Books) grew out of my concern that most people do not deal with end-of-life issues or have difficulties talking with a dying loved one.The little book of 72 pages show how to talk with one another when death is near. It offers conversation starters. on how to talk with dying loved ones about life’s most important questions. Katy Butler has well said, “Unless we create new rites of passage to help prepare for death long before it comes, we will remain vulnerable to the commercial exploitation of our fears and to the implied promise that death can foerever be postponed.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE TALK YOU NEED TO HAVE, PART II

I stood by the bedside of an old friend, age 97. She had lived such a good and full life, and had signed the Five Wishes document, which clearly stated her wish not to be kept alive when there was no quality of life. She had suffered  a major stroke, was comatose, and  already in a far-off land.Yet, her daughters rejected her wishes and insisted on keeping her alive, using a feeding tube for nourishment. This is not the first time, and it won’t be the last, that I have stood helpless when someone’s wishes for end-of-life were not followed. All this points up to the necessity for people to make their  wishes known to family and physicians before they can no longer speak for themselves.Martin Luther wisely said “Everyone needs to do his own believing, and do his own dying.” There are end-of-life alternatives. So may make no plans, and allow medical technology to do everything to do preserve life at any cost.  Other may wait until the last moment, when death is imminent, make a last minute decision to trust family members to do the right thing. Other may maker plans earlier. Their wish is that if there  is a realistic hope that you can remain a competent human being, do everything possible, but if there is no quality of life, let me die.  There are two helpful programs to help people talk about end-of-life issues and make plans. Five Wishes is a program we have used in our retirement facility. i have expressed my wishes in this document and given copies to all my adult children. You can access this program at http://www.agingwithdignity.com. There is a new program, Conversation Project  which includes a starter kit to facilitate conversation with familiees about end-of-life matters. .  (www.conversationstarterkit.co). I urge you to take a look at either or both.

 

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THE TALK WE NEED TO HAVE, PART 1

I went to a Quaker school in Philadelphia and the Friends taught me about having a concern. I have a concern that all too often end-of- life decisions are not made or put off until the end of life.  As parents we planned and saved for our children’s college education. When the “retirement” age approached, we planned for financial and housing situations. Yet  only 1 in 5 Americans plan for end-of-life  issues As Carrie Madren wrote  “End-of-life conversations can stir  up a range of emotions from relief to fear.” Talking about these grave matters remains the “elephant in the room.” Older people often ignore it, and adult children are in denial and shun any talk of it. Many are like the woman who said,to her husband, “I don;t which one of us dies first, I’m going to Florida!” I realize talking about end-on-life issues is a scary subject,a topic so volatile and threatening that  people avoid it. However, much better to talk about it in the light of day rather than in the heat of the moment. The sad reality is that even when older people have advanced directives, their families often disregard their wishes and opt for “heroic measures” to keep their loved ones alive when there is no quality of life.It is time to end this conspiracy of silence and talk openly about these matters. So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Next, I will suggest two places to start this neglected conversation.

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BOOKS THAT LAST

BOOKS THAT LAST

On what may well be the last visit to my Alma Mater, Davidson College, we visited the Davidsoniana Room in the Library, where my books are on the shelves. It is an awesome thought that my books will survive me, and last as long as the college. This gives you an eerie feeling of immortality. Today was a quiet day, and I took the opportunity to do some cleaning of my library and files. I continue to give books away. No need to clutter my shelves with books I no longer read. However, there are books I cherish, which have stood the test of time, and which I continue to reread. Many of my books now focus on Alzheimer’s and dementia and End of Life issues. Among older books I still read are: Thomas Kelly’s Testament of Devotion, Bonhoeffer’s Letters from Prison and Cost of Discipleship, Arthur Frank’s At The Will of the Body: Reflections on Illness, Nouwen’s Wounded Healer. books by Frederick Buechner, and a new book, Nelson Mandela: In His Own Words. In this ever expanding world of virtual publishing, with my brothers and so many colleagues glued to their Kindles, I am still a holdout I like going to my shelves, selecting a BOOK, cradling it in my hands,and reading it! !

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