The Beautiful Doubled-Edged Sword of Hospice – UPDATED

The Beautiful Doubled-Edged Sword of Hospice – UPDATED September 17, 2014

Carl McColman has lost his beloved daughter, Rhiannon:

Many well-meaning friends and loved ones say things like “At least she’s in a better place now” or “She’s no longer stuck in a wheelchair” or “Well, her suffering is over.” That’s all true and I believe it — thank heaven for my faith, or I think my sense of being plunged into an abyss would be far more engulfing than it is. And I don’t mean to criticize the genuine love and concern from the many people who care. But every time I hear a comment like that I want to scream, “I’m not crying because I don’t have faith, or because I don’t trust God. I’m crying because I miss my daughter.” It’s really that simple. Call me selfish, or self-absorbed, or whatever. I suppose grief has a self-involved quality about it. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Jesus assumed we would love ourselves — after all, didn’t he say “Love your neighbors as yourself“? So under the rubric of self-love comes a variety of things, from the fact that even people with strong faith feel grief, and even the most giving, considerate person will feel an emptiness when a loved one passes away. It’s just plain normal.

It’s not anything anyone can fix, nor can it be neatly resolved in an hour (or a week or a year).

Read the whole thing, and whisper up a prayer for Carl and his wife, Fran. They miss their daughter.

Having experienced the grueling gift of long-term hospice with my dear brother, I know it can sometimes seem — like most beautiful things — like a bit of a double edged sword. There is the great gift of the time together, and all the ways that healing becomes redefined (and then refined), but when that last kiss has been bestowed, the emptiness feels particularly keen, because all of that energy and focus has no place to go; it must transition and change.

It’s a blessing, though, too. One of grace and privilege.

Through four months of shared caring, first at home and then in an excellent hospice, our family has been saying a long good-bye to a middle brother who is now lingering somewhere between heaven and earth. In that time we have shared moments of suffering with him, as well as moments of spontaneous and keen humor, which can approximate joy if one is looking for it. There have been evenings full of grace, both the natural and supernatural kinds, most particularly on a night when our brother’s room seemed suffused with a gentle light and with a pleasing, indescribable scent that one experienced nurse identified for us. “We call that the scent of heaven,” she smiled. Amid such circumstances, and with our brother still able to talk with us, to pray with us, and to share his thoughts and feelings, it was not difficult to feel some awe at the whole process of dying and to find an appropriate pastel-shade with which to regard it all.

That has changed, of course, as we knew it would. Over the past two weeks our pastels have been used up, and as I make the journal entries I feel compelled to write, it seems as if only the darker shades remain. After months of lingering on the periphery, our family has finally and fully stepped into the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows. “Non, non, it is too sad . . . I cannot bear it . . .”

Today is the feastday of Robert Bellarmine, who was confessor to Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, the young Jesuit who cared for plague victims before succumbing to it, himself. Let’s also ask their prayers, for the generous caretakers of those in hospice, who — in my experience — are men and women with particularly large hearts.

Beautiful Stabat Mater
at Billy Kangas’ blog. For all grieving parents, Mary understands.

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