What will she wear, what songs will be sung, what passages read.  We talked about some of those things years ago when we filled out forms for a Pre-need plan at the local funeral home.  The major decisions are already made.

I have to admit that it is painful even to talk about such things.  It was fine to do so many years ago — not now.  I am refusing to allow it to sink in and touch my gut.  The pain is there, but it is an aching now.  I have tasted it enough to know that the pain will sharpen and overwhelm when it breaks open.  Certainly I will survive as have tens of millions before me.

Friends Mike and Judy came over to spend time with us today.  As always it was a good and meaningful time.  Mary Ann connected with their presence and appreciated it.  Since Mike is the Pastor who will preach at the funeral when it comes, we needed to talk some about that.

Later, Pastor Jim, who followed me as Senior Pastor of the congregation I served for a dozen years, came over to celebrate Holy Communion with us.  There were enough of us to feel like a congregation.  Pastor Jim provided a meaningful ministry through a service of Scripture, prayer and song.  With three Pastors, two Spouses of Pastors and one Daughter of a Pastor, we surprised Jim by knowing the words to the songs (multiple stanzas) by heart.  He didn’t have to sing solo.  We were a choir.

One of the songs we sang is “Beautiful Savior.”  Both Mary Ann and I grew up in the same congregation in Aurora, Illinois.  Every Sunday worship through all the years we were growing up ended with “Beautiful Savior.”  As we gathered around Mary Ann’s bed and worshiped, sang and shared the bread and wine of Holy Communion, there was a peace about what is happening.  Mary Ann was a part of it even if she was not able to sing out loud with us.

With that said, as Son Micah commented later when he arrived, “this is hard.”  It hurts.  It just hurts.

Mary Ann seemed to have a comfortable day.  Last night, I was up a few times to listen for her breathing.  I tried to move her a little to minimize the pressure sore problem.  This morning when Lisa and I changed her, she did not show much evidence of the first stage of pressure sores — just one red spot on her ankle.  It was a relief to me that she seemed to fare well last night.  She does not move at all other than a foot moving a bit once in a while.  That is a formula for bedsores.

One happy surprise was that while Lisa and I were rolling Mary Ann this way and that to change her and check her, it just caught our funny bone.  We started laughing and so did Mary Ann.  It was not audible, but had it been, it would have been a belly laugh.

Lisa headed off for church and a local Art Fair.  I read a bit, then started a new book, titled Broken Open, by Elizabeth Lesser.  It is subtitled “How difficult Times Can Help Us Grow.”  How is that for timely.  It was recommended by the online Lewy Body Dementia Spouses group.

I decided to move into the bedroom to read, just so that I could be with Mary Ann.  It was a pleasant experience.  She seemed comfortable.  I asked how she was doing and she responded audibly that she was okay.  We just had some quiet interaction.  I gave her some water.   I realized just how wonderful it is to be able to spend this time in our lives together at home.

Later in the day, Son-in-Law Denis, arrived to provide Lisa with support and help with the girls.  Denis and the girls will be going back to Louisville on Tuesday.  Son, Micah and Granddaughter Chloe arrived at about the same time as Denis.  This was around the time Mike, Judy and Pastor Jim left.

Lisa and I changed Mary Ann again, examined her for red spots and turned her.  It was disappointing to see some red areas, indicating the potential of pressure sores beginning.  I plan to phone the Hospice Nurse tomorrow about the possibility of a hospital bed with the self adjusting air mattress on it to help avoid the worsening of those spots.

One annoying element in the day was the waterfall simply stopping.  It just stopped.  No one did anything to it.  It just stopped.  I was able to get hold of Brad (through his wife since they were driving) who promised to come after his work tomorrow afternoon to work on it.  Brad installed the pondless waterfall.  I certainly realize just how important a role that addition to our home is now that it is not working.  We built the sun room so that we could see the waterfall!

While Mary Ann is, of course, very vulnerable, and anything could happen at any time, she still seems fairly strong.   She ate a small dish of ice cream this afternoon while lying in bed. The Orthostatic hypotension has been so bad that it is pretty much impossible to sit her up for more that a moment.  Her blood pressure drops and so does she.

We continue to take things as they come, grateful for what we have, hoping for a peaceful release when the time comes.

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Now that Mary Ann is enrolled in a Hospice program, there is certainly a vivid awareness of death.  What exactly does that mean about what it is to be alive?  Is Mary Ann as alive as she was before she was enrolled in Hospice?  I will soon be 67 years old.  Statistically, I am closer to death than when I was 27.  Am I less alive now than I was then?

Marilyn, a Lead Staff member at the church I served as Senior Pastor for a dozen or so years has asked me to consider doing a presentation some time on funeral preparation and things that are associated with the process of dealing with a death in the days after it happens.

After forty years in the ministry, I have been through death with numbers of people.  In my job, I simply could not avoid thinking about and talking about death.  I remember when working on my doctorate, for a class on ministering to the older population (of which I am now a proud member), interviewing my Mother, who was in her seventies at the time (sounds young to me now).  I asked what she thought about death.  She said it is just a part of life.  It had been for her, having lost her first two children, one as an infant and the next as at the age of five.  People lay in state at home in the early years (she was born in 1907).

On occasion, when I had a cluster of funerals very close to one another (happened surprisingly often), I would wonder if I ought to find something to do that did not involve being immersed regularly in peoples’ lives at a time of such loss. I am convinced that the truth of the matter is unless and until we come to terms with death, with ours and others’ mortality, we can’t really live life to the full.

Fear of death seems to me to steal the joy from life.  Fear of dying is another thing entirely.  That fear is pretty rational.  None of us longs to have a long protracted process of dying.  Death is just the period at the end of the sentence that is the story of a person’s life.  Every day we are writing that story.  Accepting the reality of death frees us to give our full attention to the story we are writing each day, from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep.

Making plans for the time when we die is just a normal task each of us needs to do, assuming we care at all about those who will be left behind. There is a peace and freedom that comes when all that is in order.  Today, Hospice Nurse Emily mentioned that her very healthy 87 year old Grandpa asked the Grandkids to go around his place and put their names on things for the time when he was gone.  At first the kids were reluctant, but he insisted.  For him it was comforting to know where his things would go.

The process of funeral preparation can be very life affirming.  While I do not recommend writing your own obituary with the expectation that it is the one that will be published, the exercise itself can be life changing.  Who do you want to have been when the period at the end of the sentence comes?  How do you want the story of your life to read?  Once you have gone through that exercise, it is time to actually do something to make that story a reality.

Mary Ann and I are no more or less alive than we were a month ago, a year ago, a decade ago, a half century ago.  Hospice or not, we are both alive.  There are limits on what we can do now as we continue to write the story of our lives, but there are limits of one sort or another on everyone.  The limits are not so confining as they are simply the setting for the story.  We write the story of our lives using the resources we have, not resources we used to have or wish we had, but the resources we have, thereby avoiding wasting time lamenting that we don’t have.

Mary Ann had a reasonably good day today.  It started with some fainting, but we got through that.  There was more conversation about dreams that seemed real to her.  Later in the morning Hospice Aide Sonya came to do Mary Ann’s shower, etc.  After a pretty full lunch, Nurse Emily came.  Again, it is good to have someone to report to and lean on when trying to determine how Mary Ann is doing medically.   I am happy to report that Mary Ann has gained back a couple of pounds, now at 114.5.

Former parishioners came by for a visit.  Randy and his Mom Leota came by for a while.  She is also suffering from some form of dementia, so her memory is not good.  Her husband was an avid fisherman, whose catch she would sometimes cook for us and call us to come and pick it up.  I did the funerals for one of their adult children, and her husband, as well as a couple of his fishing buddies.

Mary Ann ate a decent amount for supper and is now trying to settle down for the night.  The snow is falling at a rapid rate.  The first day of Spring tomorrow may include as  much as a foot of snow.

Since I seem unable to keep my eyes open, I think I will bring this to a close and head to be.  Here is hoping for a sleep-filled night.

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The phone started ringing early (for us) on the Fourth of July.  The first call was from the Funeral Director to obtain the new Pastor’s phone number.  The second call was from the new Pastor on a much needed vacation with his family from whom he has been separated most of the time for the last five months.  He asked me if I would do the funeral.  Since I served the congregation for over twelve years until I retired almost exactly a year ago, I know the family well.  I agreed to do the service.

I have now been reminded how difficult it had come to be just to do the basics of the ministry before I retired.  Even with the Volunteers who have been so willing to stay with Mary Ann, scheduling appointments and meeting times on short notice is beyond complex.  

Just the phone calls are sometimes difficult to handle since Mary Ann’s need for help often comes with little warning, no matter what I am engaged in.  Completing a phone call, especially a long one, is sometimes virtually impossible due to a fall or a bathroom need. 

This family includes one of those who has Volunteered with Mary Ann in the past, so she suggested that the first planning meeting be at our house.   That eliminated the need for trying to get a Volunteer on the Fourth of July weekend with less than 24 hours notice.   The meeting was scheduled for 2pm.  The morning routine started fairly late in the morning.  The morning fainting spells began and a long nap meant that getting Mary Ann dressed came early in the afternoon.  I needed to make a meal.  The ingredients for a Quiche were in the house and ready to go. 

I started during her nap and moved sort of methodically completing each step before going on to the next.  I knew if I had hot pans cooking bacon and preheating oven and sauteeing onions and egg mixture and softening cream cheese all going at once, along with Mary Ann’s multiple requests, all needing to be done before the family arrived, the stress on this inexperienced and unskilled cook would be explosive.  The timing worked out so that the Quiche would not be done before they came.  Mary Ann needed something else to eat since she had not had anything to eat since pill time about an hour before the nap began.  I tried to postpone the meeting but could not get through to them. 

I managed to get my clothes changed for the meeting, the Quiche in the oven and scrambled eggs made from the leftover egg mixture, onions, bacon and cheese for Mary Ann to eat. 

When the family came, we met on the back deck while Mary Ann was eating and the Quiche was cooking.  I left the meeting periodically to check on Mary Ann, adjust the oven temperature, and take the Quiche out of the oven.

Understand, the meeting was with parents who had just lost their adult son.  One of their daughters, his sister, was with us.  Ministering to people in such painful circumstances demands full attention.  People deserve that kind attention when they are in such powerful grief.  The Son who died had lost a daughter at two and a half years of age many years ago.  The pain of losing that Granddaughter was still fresh after all the years.  Mom had lost her mother when she was just a little girl.  Those feelings remain intense. 

It is important to be there for people in times of such grief, in this case in multiple layers, listening intently and responding in ways that validate the pain and help provide a framework with which to handle it.  It is hard to do that while running back and forth to deal with another center of focus equally complex. 

Today reminded me why I made the decision to retire.  Doing a responsible job serving the people of the Congregation and being there for Mary Ann at a time of such need simply had moved beyond the limits of my ability. 

This week will include another very substantial meeting with the family to process feelings and gain information for the message at the funeral.  There is already a Volunteer scheduled at a time that was workable for the family.  There will be a number of hours after Mary Ann is in bed writing that message.  I have just completed the plan for how the service will be done, putting the pieces together so that a service folder can be prepared. 

For the funeral itself, Volunteers are simply not available (at least not so far) since some will be attending the funeral.  Mary Ann may be able to attend, but will need someone to help her during the time I am attending to the service and its preparations.  If she attends the service, that Volunteer is in place.  If she cannot go, I will need to arrange a paid agency person to serve as backup.  That may or may not work out. 

On Sunday afternoon I will be conducting the Ordination Service for a young man who has completed training and internship and will begin serving a congregation in Iowa the following week.  The plans for a companion for Mary Ann and an agency backup are now in place. 

The convergence of work needs and Caregiving needs is something that some who read this blog are experiencing.   To you I say, if you think what you are doing is impossible, you are right.  You are doing it and will continue to do it.  As I look back, I have no idea how I survived.  Those of you who are working full or part time and Caregiving also have no answer to give when someone who knows what you are doing asks, “How do you do it?”

I am being reminded this week why I retired.  I am grateful that I could, and glad that I did.  Mary Ann and I need every hour of every day just to deal with what the Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia.  We are full time care partners.  It is what we are called to do. 

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.