Friday, October 22, 2010

Life & Death within the Beloved Community

This morning I found myself thinking about all the things that have been going on since I last wrote. I've given two workshops and hosted another day-long retreat. I've picked up a new counseling job. And, then there is the usual stuff.

What my mind rested on during meditation was how tied up I'd gotten from the workshop this weekend. I was asked to speak on aging and end-of-life issues with a small Quaker meeting who has experienced lots of loss. I didn't see anyone under the age of 50 years.

Several 80-year old members had or were experiencing health problems. I listened intently as people spoke about their fears and gratitudes. One of them was a man who had been dealing with prostate cancer.

One of the reasons I had been called in was that he had brought up euthanasia in a discussion which stunned his wife. At the workshop, he went from "euthanasia" in the conversation to "assisted suicide" to using the term "suicide". He said he knew how he could do it. He just didn't want his family to have to live with the shame. He quietly spoke of his doctor's recent suggestion that he consider hospice. He didn't say all of this at once nor in a way that people understood fully what he was saying.

I talked about the gift of ministry where at a Quaker retirement home, people who are in the nursing home are often fed by people who live on the independent side of the community. This is relatively unusual because in many retirement communities, the general public independent elders are terrified of this stage of life and will avoid coming into contact with higher need residents. Those at this Quaker community, who spoke about feeding their former mentors, talk about doing this with great emotion. It was an intimate giving back to someone they saw as their elder. It was an honor.

I also talked about situations I knew of where elders who had been dealing with a great deal of pain, loss of function, and were ready to move on, stopped eating or drinking. They did this in close consultation with their loved ones and doctor. In one case, a person was evaluated by a psychiatrist to determine if depression was an issue. In that case, the doctor felt she was not depressed. Although she started the fast, she discontinued it after a few weeks and lived several more years.

After the workshop with the Quakers, I spoke to key leaders in the meeting and said this man was at risk for suicide. He talked about suicide; he said he had the means. Older white males are one of the highest risk categories for suicide. They cannot tolerate accepting assistance or being a "burden". One person said he seemed to be in more pain than she'd seen him in before. What about his wife who wasn't a Quaker and was having difficulty talking with him about end-of-life issues?

I left feeling jangled and went to a spot on the Shenandoah River where I thought I would cry. Instead, I prayed my heart out. I didn't have a problem with the group talking about euthanasia if it was done in an open and honest way. What I felt was a brewing act of violence against oneself and adding to the pain of his death within his family and faith community. By killing himself, acting alone, he would be shutting himself out of the gift of accepting love from others, working through this with his family and closest friends.

The next day, I got a call from the head of their pastoral care committee. We talked for 1 1/2 hour on the phone. How was she doing? What is the plan to reach out to him? Where does she derive her faith from? She had been identified as someone who had a good relationship with this man. People were in essence supporting her so that she could tend to him. She said she was glad to hear I went to the river to pray afterwards. I told her that I didn't know how the community could bear losing him since I fell in love with him from just meeting him once. We exhaled and talked about the bigger Mystery and our hope to be faithful to that which felt much larger than ourselves.

The next evening I got a voicemail message. When the pastoral care person was writing her monthly report, she decided to give him a call. He had signed in to hospice. They were immediately starting treatment for pain and depression. His wife was on board. He had reached out in his faith community and had been heard. My heart leapt with joy.

I am no fan of pain or suffering. Yet, it is a part of life. We will all die. The questions for me are: how will we live with the short time we have on earth? How do we do this in community? Is there room in our community for us in our need - to be of service or to be cared for?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sneaky little fox

This morning sitting on my meditation cushion, a fox ran through the back yard and under a hole in one of the bushes. There was no hesitation. It was just like she had done this plenty of times before. I had no idea that she was trotting through that opening under the forsythia bushes.I'd seen birds nesting there in the past.

This fox fascinates me.

The first time I saw her, she batted at the lower beech tree leaves passing by. Trot, trot, elevate, bat, pause, drop down, trot, trot. What was that about?

Then the fox trotted over to the bird feeder. Oh, bird seed for the birds, bird-as-food for the fox.

In the morning, I will occasionally see the fox trot by going west to east, or, east to west through the back yard. Some evenings it will cross in front of the car as I come up the driveway.

But the maddening thing is that the fox never comes by when I am near a camera.

I often take photos of wildlife and birds drawn to the back yard. The camera is often perched on our kitchen window table ready for those opportunities to pick it up and capture an image.

The fox will have none of that. It only comes by, or I only notice it, when the camera has been put away in another room.

This morning the fox came by again as I was talking to my daughter.

"Wait," I whispered. "Let me go get the camera."

I put the phone down, practically crawled under the kitchen window. Stood back up and walked down the hall. Checking through blinds, the fox had moved under the beech tree and was licking its fur.

Great, I thought. I grabbed the camera - still there, but the screen over the window would render the photo useless. I needed to get back to the picture window in the kitchen.

By the time I eased myself back to the window, the fox was gone.

I'm sure there is some moral to the story or a metaphor for my meditation practice, but I can't think of one. It's like my neurons have blocked any significant connection.

I vaguely remember thinking that the fox darting under the bushes during meditation was akin to my sneaky thoughts that flit in and out seeking to flush out the succulent bird or finding temporary cover on my way to going somewhere else with a thought. But I can't hold on to those thoughts, either. Yet, if I am trying to make some meaning out of this, isn't trying to find meaning an attachment?

Peace little fox. Even though I never saw you catch a bird, you sure do look healthy.

Oh, I am sorely tempted to bring my camera to my morning meditation.