Thursday, September 25, 2008

Good News

I'm so excited. I just received a contract for a story that will be in an anthology to be released later this fall. It is a "Sweet Romance" collection coming from Freya's
and my story is "New Love." It is quite a bit different from the traditional romance as the characters are senior citizens -- very senior-- :-) But love knows no age.

On another note, my virtual tour is continuing. Today I am at If you are not totally sick of reading about me, come on by to see what we are talking about today.

I have been on this blog for three days this week, and it has been a great experience. LuAnn Morgan was a wonderful hostess, and I hope to see her blog grow in popularity. She loves to read and is so gracious to authors. We need to support her.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Tour Bus is Running Again

There is another interview with me up at

If you haven't already reached a saturation point with my blogs and interviews, stop on over and see what is new in this one. There actually is, which is one of the neat things about this tour. There is some repetition of information about One Small Victory, and some repetition in interview questions, but there is also something new in each one. I know I have enjoyed following some other authors on their tours and seeing something unique at each stop.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Virtual Book Tour

Monday morning and the virtual book tour is starting up again. Here is the stop for today:

This is another interview, and the neat thing is that it has some questions that haven't been asked before. If you are so inclined, stop by and leave a comment.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Virtual Book Tour

Chugging right along on my tour. Today I am at for an interview. When I started this tour, working with Pump up Your Book promotions, I wondered if the interviews would get redundant after a while, but the blog hosts have been wonderful about asking different questions, so there is something fresh each time. Whew! I would hate to think they were all like having a canned response. Sort of what we sometimes get with political candidates. :-)

And I just can't let this important day pass without mentioning 9/11 and sending out good thoughts to people who are still feeling the pain of loss from that day. And in a way, that touches all of us, because we all lost something that day seven years ago.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Virtual Book Tour

My virtual book tour started up again today after a weekend off. Today I am featured at

If you would like to read about a funny experience I had at a book signing, hop on over. Might be worth a chuckle or two.

And speaking of chuckles, you might want to read a funny column from one of my contributors to You can find the column here:

Also, don't forget about the "Blog Train Excursion" starting today. A lucky winner will receive 16 e-books. The train leaves the station here:

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Jump on Board

In addition to my virtual book tour this month, I am participating in this contest "Blog Train Excursion" - A scavenger hunt for words, and the winner will receive a virtual prize basket containing sixteen e-books, one of which is Play It Again, Sam. The contest starts Monday, Sept 8th at:

Have fun.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Virtual Book Tour

If you are interested, visit me on today's stop in my virtual book tour.

Book Excerpts from Bestselling Authors -

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Nice Surprise

Just received the following e-mail message from my daughter...

"OK, so I told my self a couple of weeks ago 'no more books until I catch up with everything else.' But I picked up OSV to read on a quick break from work... skimmed thru the prologue and first two chapters since I'd already read them. At around chapter ten I told myself to quit and then I saw chapter 13 go by.... I finally quit at 16 however reluctantly.

Shame on you for writing so well!"

What a thrill it was to get this from her. My children are all very discriminating readers and they don't give unwarranted praise. We have a long tradition of open and honest in our family, so that just added to my excitement over receiving such an endorsement for my book.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Excerpt From The Front Porch Prophet

I’m reading The Front Porch Prophet by Raymond L. Atkins to write a review for and the following passage just resonated with me. I was privy to many instances where family members had to make the difficult decision to remove life support from a loved one, and I thought this captured the moment in a particularly poignant way.

A father and son are talking about the wishes of Granmama that she not be kept on life support. The father says he knows her wishes. He just can’t say the words…..

“I’ll take care of it, John Robert,” he said. It was the last thing he wanted and the only thing to do. John Robert slowly nodded. The night passed in silence, and next morning A.J. conferred with Dr. Prine. Granmama’s condition had worsened. He gave a sigh.

“It was my grandmother’s wish, and it is my father’s wish, that we remove life-support when there is no sound medical reason for it to remain.” The words hung in the air, limp as wash on the line.

“Is this your wish as well?” His wishes probably didn’t matter, but it was considerate of Dr. Prine to inquire.

“My wish is that she hops up, and we go get in the truck and go home,” A.J. sadly replied. “But that’s not going to happen.”

And so, late in the afternoon, the ventilator was removed and the life support was shut down. The candle that was Granmama began to burn toward its nub. Not long after, Clara Longstreet, mother of John Robert and grandmother of Arthur John, matriarch of the Longstreet clan, flickered out of this world and took her place beside the clumsy young husband who had waited patiently for her all those years. What Jehovah and a hay baler had put asunder, A.J. and Dr. Prine had now rejoined.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Olympic Thrills

What an exciting week it has been for Michael Phelps as the American swimming team won the final relay race last night to clinch his record eight gold medals in one Olympics. It was a thrilling moment, and I am so impressed with those young men, as well as all the other American athletes.

Watching the swimmers all week, I kept noticing how it appeared that they were having a good time. And there were many instances of good sportsmanship as those who didn't set records or win medals congratulated those who did.

For a full list of the medal winners for the men's and women's swim teams click HERE

By the way, my granddaughter has already made plans for the marriage between her and Michael. She said she is just waiting for the Olympics to be over to tell him. She didn't want to distract him from his goal.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Olympics - You Gotta Love It

Monday - well actually Tuesday in China - was a marvelous day for the U.S. athletes. Michael Phelps won his ninth career Olympic medal, and against all odds, the U.S. mens' gymnastic team won the bronze medal. That was wonderful, and I stayed up way too late last night watching the live competition.

What struck me the most was the character and demeanor of these Olympians. They weren't strutters or braggarts. They showed great sportsmanship throughout, and the expressions on their faces when they finished an event indicated that, while the scores mattered, what mattered most was going out there and "getting it done" as one athlete said.

This is what it is all about.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Farewell to Kenny

I just received notification that a cousin died on Friday night. Kenny was older than me, and I don't have many childhood memories of him. He may have been away at college, or in the service when I was visiting as a young child. But when I was a young adult, I have a vivid memory of him and his wife taking me and a couple of my girlfriends out to party.

He came to pick us up at my grandmother's house in a pink Cadillac. And, no, he didn't work for Mary Kay.

Kenny was considered by some to be the black sheep of the family. He tended to be wild. He liked his drinks and his cigarettes. And he didn't always take care of responsibilities.

But, Kenny was always fun and funny. He was always generous to a fault. And you could never spend time around him without feeling good. For years after that visit, my two girlfriends would talk about the good time they had with my cousin.

Two years ago, we had a family reunion and I saw Kenny for the first time in many years. I could barely see past the wrinkles and other ravages of excess and see the young man who had introduced me to moonshine so many years ago, but when he spoke, I knew it was the same man.

We talked and laughed, and then he started to sing. My father was sitting near him and he joined in. Then other folks were drawn into the music, and pretty soon we had a good sing-along going. That was a high point of the reunion for my father - and for all of us who treasure the sing-alongs that were always a part of our family gatherings.

My father, who was 89 at the time, has been having memory issues, so he didn't recognize everyone at the reunion. After we left the party, he said he didn't know who that young man was, "but boy, he sure could sing good."

I didn't have the heart to tell Daddy that was his nephew, but I did tell Kenny that he made one old man very happy that day.

Rest in peace, Kenny

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Heartfelt Story of Loss

I know I said yesterday that I was not going to be writing about grief issues for a while, but I just read this blog by a writer friend who recently lost her husband, and I thought people who have experienced the same kind of loss would benefit from reading her story. The hardest thing to do when someone we love dies, is learn how to live without them. We have to make a decision to try, and that is what Beth Anderson, known affectionately as Hotclue does. Here is the link to her blog. It is well worth the read.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Taking a New Direction

For six or seven months now, I have been focusing pretty much on grief issues here, and I may get back to that in a while. But for now, I think I will use this space to share anecdotes about my promotional efforts for my two new books.

Promoting and marketing are not areas where I consider myself an expert - or even very experienced - so I may be stumbling along here at times. But the good thing is that I am not alone. No author is alone on the Internet. There are so many places for authors to connect, promote, share marketing ideas that it boggles the mind.

It can also consume hours, and I have had to decide which places I want to stick with and which ones have to go. That has proven to be a tough call, as most of the sites and lists are filled with the nicest people.

Two lists I will stick with for sure are blogbooktours and murdermustadvertise

And I will still hang around at Wicked Company because I've been there for years and reading the posts is like going down to the corner and meeting friends at the tavern.

I haven't joined MySpace yet, but I am on Xanga , Crimespace and I've just joined Twitter

That one is all the rage right now, and I like it because you only post a short comment. That I can do more regularly than write a blog.

Anyway, I hope those of you who have been following this blog will check back now and then to see what is going on with my book promoting. It all starts this coming Saturday with the official Launch Party at the Trails Country Centre For the Arts in Winnsboro, Texas. Then Sunday I am off to Houston to be at Katy Budget Books for a signing from 3-5pm.

Until next time...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Denial Isn't Always Good

A recent “Dear Abby” column dealt with the issue of whether a father should force his teenage son to attend his mother’s funeral. The teen said he would rather remember his mother the way she was, and the father was unsure about pressing the issue. A responder said he had been forced at age 19 to attend his mother’s funeral and that the experience “did not bring closure, but additional trauma.”

I’ve mulled this over for almost two weeks, trying to find a response that might make sense and not be judgmental or disrespectful to the young men. My first reaction was total amazement that they would not want to attend their mothers’ funerals. Yes, it’s painful. Lots of emotions all over the place, but gosh, the women gave them life. That’s got to mean something.

Over time, another realization has hit. Not going to the funeral gives a person a way to avoid some of the tougher parts of the grieving process. It’s part of denial. And while denial can sometimes be a perfectly acceptable mechanism to cope with trauma, I don’t think it is the right call here.

The impulse not to go to a funeral to avoid the trauma is akin to saying, “The only feeling I had when my mother died after a long, painful illness, was relief. I couldn’t be sad because I knew she is in a better place.”

Pardon my bluntness, but that is hogwash. Sure, the dominating feeling might be relief and a bit of happiness that she is no longer suffering, but that has to be tinged with sadness. This person is gone, leaving a huge hole in our lives and it is only natural that we are sad about that. To say otherwise is denial, and if we don’t deal with those feelings they will find a way to eat away at us physically and emotionally.

Monday, July 7, 2008

My "Bucket List"

It’s been said that the people with the fewest regrets in life are the ones who are most able to let go of that life when the time comes. I certainly found that true in my years of working with terminal patients in the hospital and in hospice, so I have been making a concentrated effort to eliminate regret from my life. Not that I am facing imminent death – at least not that I know of – but in preparation of the inevitable. After all, time does not march backwards.

In the spirit of the movie, “The Bucket List,” I have started checking off things that I always wanted to do. As I wrote in an earlier blog on this subject, my list started with having my small farm and playing farmer as long as I can. I'm still doing that, and this weekend I checked another item off my list.

I’ve always wanted to go on a trail ride, and even though I have owned horses on and off in my lifetime, I have never been able to go on a trail ride for one reason or another. So I told my kids and my husband that is what I wanted to do for my 65th birthday. Last Friday – yes, I’m “Yankee Doodle Dandy” – six of us went to a nearby dude ranch and spent the morning riding through 800 acres of beautiful East Texas pines and meadows.

I’m not going to idealize the experience. While it was wonderful to be in the saddle, riding a very pretty appaloosa gelding who had the nicest slow trot, it was hot and dusty and sweaty, and three days later I still have muscles screaming at me for riding so long. (Some of these are muscles I never even knew I had.) But it was fun and especially meaningful because I shared it with some of my kids and their spouses who all make me feel incredibly loved. Going horseback riding is probably not high on their Bucket Lists – if it is even on them at all – and they all did it for me.

And as an added bonus, I got to check off another item on my list. At one point we were riding a trail with the trees on one side and the open meadow on the other. One of my daughters said, “Mom, you should take a run across that meadow.” So I did, and I was so thankful that she remembered the time we were driving past a beautiful hay meadow with gently rolling hills and I said, “Every time I pass a meadow like this I think of how much fun it would be to gallop a horse across it.”

Thank goodness young people have better memories than some older people.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pre-Planning, Part II

There is something very special about funerals and memorial for people who helped plan those services. I have attended a number of those for friends, and it brought an added depth to the ceremonies to know the deceased had picked scripture readings and music and asked certain people to speak. It was like the person was with us spiritually that day.

The thought of pre-planning a funeral scares the bejeebers out of a lot of people. They think that if they actually put the plans on paper they are somehow alerting death and he will pounce. That is especially true with people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. But planning a funeral service will not hasten death. It merely gives a person some small measure of control in a situation where they have so little control.

We can’t control what illnesses we might get. Well, okay, we can do some things to stay healthy. But even so, cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and other terminal illnesses strike almost randomly at times. So the only control we have when we are looking at the stark reality of death is what happens afterward. We can decide if we want to be cremated or not. If so, where do we want our ashes to end up? Where do we want to be buried? What kind of service do we want?

Memorial services that celebrate a person’s life have become very popular and appeal to a lot of people who are making these decisions. “I want people to remember me as having a good time and enjoying life,” one patient said. “And I want a party afterward.”

Some patients have told me that being able to make these decisions and plan for the “afterward” has made their last few weeks or days much more bearable. And family and friends attending services planned by the deceased have shared that knowing that is what made the service more meaningful.

Until next time

Monday, June 16, 2008

Planning For Death - Part One

It is amazing the different ways that people respond to the dreaded words, “You have a terminal illness.” Some panic and get hysterical. (I might just do that.) Others withdraw into a dark depression. Other’s wage an intricate war with battle plans that rival any major military action.

Sometimes they continue that battle long past the time when winning is even a hope. Is that better than giving in to the inevitable? I don’t know. I try always not to judge someone’s coping mechanism, and sometimes pretending is the only way to cope.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for accepting the inevitable. It affords time to take care of the business of one’s life ending. I can’t tell you how many widows in my support groups were struggling with the anger they felt at their husbands who did not put things in order so the wife could carry on with financial and other matters. And that is still a significant issue with couples where one or the other handles banking, investments, and household business. It would be so much easier for the person left behind if he or she were thoroughly briefed before their spouse died.

Openly acknowledging the inevitability of death also affords time to take care of issues or problems in relationships. Nothing is harder on the patient or the family than to go through this kind of crisis with huge problems hanging over them. Old hurts can be forgiven. Words that should have been spoken can still be said. And healing can take place.

Not all families have those kinds of issues, so for them, the time left with a loved one can be used to start the grieving process and mark each moment in some special way. One family had visitors write messages in a book that were then read over and over to the dying person, then given to the next of kin after the funeral. For other families, the time of waiting was used just to treasure the person for one more day, one more minute.

And sometimes the going is easier for people who have had this kind of acceptance personally and from their family.

More about pre-planning next time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Who's An Angel?

At church the other day a man came up to our choir area after Mass and said to me, “You sing like an angel.”

That reminded me of another man who called me his angel. I first met “Bob” when his wife was in the hospital, just diagnosed with cancer, and he was terrified. In her room, he kept a running patter of positive comments and encouraging words, but later he came down to the Pastoral Services office and shared his deepest fears. I was humbled that he trusted me enough to be that open.

Bob and “Sherrry” weren’t strong religious people – I seemed to attract a lot of those kinds in my work, which was interesting. But they were deeply spiritual and very open to prayer. They just didn’t always do that in a church.

Over a period of several months, Sherry was in and out of the hospital for treatments and setbacks, but then they finally got the word that she was in remission. I was delighted. As much as I enjoyed ministering to and with them, I always hated it when patients came back.

Then one day I got a call in the office from a room upstairs. It was Bob. He had heard me say the Morning Prayer – I worked in a Lutheran Hospital where prayer was an important part of the treatment program. Bob said, “I heard that prayer and recognized the voice of our angel.”

I asked if Sherry was back in, but he said no. This time he was the patient, but it was nothing serious.

Over the next year, they would come by the Pastoral Services office when they were in for routine checkups, and when I resigned to move back to Texas, they came to my going-away party. I still have the plaque they gave me that says, “You are an Angel.” It is hanging here on my office wall and reminds me daily of the blessing they were in my life.

I do believe in angels, but I’m not so sure who was the angel here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Another Perspective on Grief

I received this e-mail from my cousin after she read some of my entries about grief. I liked what she had to say, so I thought it worth sharing:

I know I have never seen the spirit lift from a body, as you described in your blog, but I am certain it happens, and that there are those who are aware of it. Dying is a road we all must travel, and like you, I feel certain that most of us are apprehensive, to say the very least. I guess my father always tried to put things into perspective for me, as he would often say, "There are worse things than death."

I remember questioning that type of philosophy....what could possibly be worse than dying, of not existing anymore? When he explained his thinking, he told me that death is a release that we need when we are too sick to ever get well again. That relief and release will be welcomed at that point. I will never forget that conversation he and I had, even though it took me a few years, to see exactly what he meant.

Then there was the quote from THANATOPSIS, A VIEW OF DEATH, by William Cullen Bryan that we had to memorize in high school that tells us, "So live, that when thy summons comes to join that innumerable caravan which moves to that mysterious realm, where each shall take his chamber in the silent halls of death, thou go not like a quarry slave at night, scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave like one who wraps the draperies of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams."

One of my friends from high school is facing "sudden death" from a heart problem that has taken away her ability to oxygenate her body. She is on oxygen 24/7 now after fighting it for several years. She is an RN, and a good one, so she knows too well what is happening. Because I think the world of this woman, who is a beautiful person inside and out, I wanted to do something to offer her some support, so one day I printed a copy of THANATOPSIS from my computer and mailed it to her. I also told her about some good books that covered death and near-death experiences of some ordinary people. She appreciated my trying to alleviate some of
her anxieties.

Donna Woodburn

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Goodbye Miss Kitty

I had to do that thing that most pet owners dread. I had to have one of our kitties put to sleep. She had feline leukemia and was so anemic the vet was shocked that she was even still alive. She was also about two weeks shy of having her first litter of kittens.

This was a stray that I rescued from a busy street in town because I couldn't stand the thought of her getting killed and I just had a sense that she would. Not that we needed another cat. We already have three, also the products of someone dumping a pregnant cat.

We only had Miss Kitty for about four weeks, but somehow I got really attached in that short time. She was a sweet little gray and white tabby that purred every time I touched her and never offered to scratch or bite even when I was cleaning out the mites in her ears. I have scars from doing that with other cats.

Even so, I was still surprised at how emotional I got when the vet gave the fatal injection and I cried off and on most of the day yesterday after I buried her. I know we grieve for animals, even though there are some who think that is silly, but I really didn't expect the depth of grief I felt, and am feeling as I write this.

I guess this is just another example of what I have come to believe is true about grief. There are no rules. No timelines. No reasonable explanations for how it happens. It just is. The important thing is to acknowledge it and move through it.

So I will shed another tear as I think of Miss Kitty and her babies.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


One of the questions frequently asked in the grief support groups I facilitated was, “When is it time to clear out a loved one’s belongings?”

What a loaded question, and it never failed to generate a myriad of responses.

Truth is, there is no “right” time. Or I should rephrase that and say there is a right time for every individual, and that person’s right time may never be the right time for anyone else.

Many people theorize that it is not healthy to keep clothes and other items as they are just daily reminders of the loss. Because of that, they are quick to encourage “clearing things out and getting on with life.” But that is not what a grieving person needs. A grieving person may need those things to touch and reconnect and remember for as long as it takes until they are ready to let go.

When a couple we know lost their five year old son in a tragic accident, some other friends cleared out the boy’s room while the parents were at the funeral and took everything away, including furniture. They meant well and thought they were doing the right thing by sparing the parents from the painful experience of sorting through his room, but they had no idea that facing the empty room was harder than facing all the boy’s treasures.

The parents were too kind, and maybe still to numb, to express anger at the friends’ misguided help, but later they told me how devastated they were at the time. There was not one thing left of their son except some pictures, and they wished they had something that belonged to the boy to hold on to.

Several months later, the father told me that he found a matchbox car in a far corner of his closet. He figured his son must have left it there one day while he was playing and watching Dad get ready for work. That became the father’s most treasured possession.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Maggie's Legacy

When Hal called me to tell me Maggie had died, he also asked if I would officiate at her funeral. I was honored to be asked, and because Maggie and I had read a lot of Scripture together, I knew some of the readings that were meaningful to her. I also knew that she would want her funeral to be a celebration of her life, so that is what I focused on in planning the service.

I worked with Hal and Katie in the preparations to make sure that anything that they wanted would be included, and Katie arranged for someone to sing a couple of her mother’s favorite hymns.

Because of Hal’s professed atheism, I wasn’t sure how all this religious stuff was going to go down with him, but he said it was okay. “This is for Maggie. This is what she wanted.”

So the service started with “Amazing Grace” and a prayer. Then some readings. Then I gave the eulogy and a reflection on the past three years of knowing Maggie and how her life had blessed my life. I reminded her sons and daughters how much she loved them and how we prayed frequently for their well being. I asked them to honor her and her memory by finding a way to be at peace with each other, and with Hal, because no matter what they thought of him, he did love their mother intensely.

Following my talk, I invited people to come up to share memories and reflections. After a few people spoke, Hal stepped up to the lectern. He briefly addressed some of the problems the family had been experiencing, and asked the children to take my words to heart.

Then he talked about how important prayer had been to Maggie and how he had always respected that, even though he was not a man of prayer himself. Then he turned to where I was seated behind him and said, “What do you think, Chaplain? Should we say one more prayer for Maggie?”

He took me by the hand and led me over to the casket. We stood there for a moment, and I couldn’t speak over the lump in my throat. Then Hal took a deep breath and said the most beautiful prayer

Ah, Maggie, I thought, this is your reason why.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

More About Maggie

The dynamics of Maggie’s family were most unusual. There were four adult children, two men and two women, who all had problems of one sort or another, and Maggie freely admitted that her lifestyle and lack of skills as a mother contributed in large part to the dysfunction. That and an alcoholic ex-husband who was the father of the four.

But in these later years, Maggie had tried to make peace with her family, and with God, after finally finding a second husband who was life-giving instead of life-destroying. She was particularly close to one daughter, “Katie,” who had forgiven Maggie for past mistakes and accepted the new husband. This particular daughter was more emotionally stable than the others, and had gone through some counseling to come to terms with her past and how it affected her. The other three seemed immersed in their dysfunction, and were not open to forgiving Maggie or accepting her new husband, “Hal.”

That made visiting times at the hospital a bit of a challenge when more than one showed up at a time, and it wasn’t a huge surprise to me that the people most willing to step aside for the demands of the others were Katie and Hal.

In an attempt to find some reason for “God not taking me,” Maggie wondered if she needed to stay to bring some peace to her family. Since that seemed to be important to her, I told her it was quite possible, and every time we prayed, she prayed that God would open the hearts of her children so they could all accept “Hal” and make peace with each other.

Hal, who was a professed atheist, would leave the room when we prayed. At first, I wondered if he was offended by the prayer, but one day he told me that he wasn’t offended at all. He knew that was important to Maggie, and respected her for her faith, and he felt like it was somehow disrespectful for an atheist to remain in the room during a prayer.

Even today I still find that most interesting and profound.

Maggie lived for three more years, but was in and out of the hospital several times for complications of diabetes and respiratory problems. Each time she was admitted, I would visit her and ask how the “family peace plan” was going. She would just shake her head, so we would pray some more.

Finally, the last time she was in the hospital, she told me that maybe the reason she was still hanging in had nothing to do with helping her children, as they all seemed to have the same problems they always had. I told her that these questions of “why” often have elusive answers, and if she has had any joys in the past few years, perhaps that was reason enough to be alive.

A few months later, Maggie died suddenly at home. Then she got her answer, but more about that next time.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Will Wonders Never Cease

One day I was called to the ICU to help mediate a difficult situation. A woman, “Maggie” wanted to be taken off the ventilator. She had suffered a heart attack the week before, but her prognosis was not dire. The cardiologist was certain she could be treated with medicine following the heart catheterization that had opened a blocked artery. It was during that procedure that Maggie was put on the vent – standard for any surgeries – but for some reason when the medical staff tried to remove the vent, Maggie was not able to breathe on her own.

Maggie was lucid and clear about her intentions. She did not want to be kept alive on a vent, not even for another week to see if the medicine would start working. Her husband, a second husband and not the father of her children, was willing to abide by her wishes. One daughter was also willing to do whatever Maggie wanted.

The rest of the family, however, was desperate to keep mother alive, and that desperation was bolstered by the doctor’s opinion that it was too soon to remove the vent and “give up.”

This was a very dysfunctional family with a history of addictions and lots of unresolved issues. They all appealed to me to “talk some sense into my mother,” and I had to gently tell them that wasn’t my job. My job was to determine if Maggie fully understood her decision and then be her advocate.

On the tablet provided for her, Maggie wrote that she did understand she would die when the vent was removed and she was ready. She asked me to pray with her and for her, and continue to pray for her children after she was gone.

We held a brief prayer service and the vent was removed. I stayed with the family for about an hour, but somehow Maggie managed to hang on. I was called to another situation that took a couple of hours to resolve, and when I checked back, Maggie was still breathing.

It was the same by the end of the day, and the next day Maggie was awake, alert, and very much out of danger. The doctor was amazed. The family was amazed, and even Maggie was amazed.

More about Maggie next time.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Angry? No, I'm Not Angry

Anger is often one of the hardest emotions to deal with in the grieving process, especially when that anger is directed at the person who died. Every person who ever attended one of the grief support groups I facilitated found this the hardest emotion to talk openly about. They all said that even thinking it made them feel so guilty. “How can we be mad at someone for dying? It’s not like they did it on purpose.”

It is very normal to have this kind of anger, and if it is not expressed it can create havoc on a person’s emotional and physical well being.

I remember one woman who talked every week about her difficulty with making coffee in the mornings. She and her husband used to have coffee together every morning and now that he was gone, she just couldn’t bring herself to make the coffee. On the surface, this sounded like so many other stories of what grieving spouses could no longer do, but I sensed that there was something deeper that she was having difficulty facing. So I gently prodded her to think about how she felt about the fact that he was no longer there to share that special time. I asked if she could possibly be angry, and she was quick to say, “No.”

She also said that she was not angry that she was now solely responsible for the family, the house, the finances and the cars. Although she did say that she was disappointed that he did not make more of an effort to put some things in better order before he died. But angry? “No. I loved him. How could I be angry?”

This went on for several weeks, and I think others in the group suspected there was another layer to all of this, but they were patient, as was I.

Then one day she came to group and her whole demeanor was different. She stood straighter, had a smile, and was wearing makeup. After she sat down, she looked around the room then announced that she had finally made coffee that morning. When asked what the turning point was she said that she had a “come to Jesus” talk with her deceased husband during the night. “I told him everything,” she said. “Even how angry I am that he died and left me all alone.”

We all laughed, then hugged her.

After that, we didn’t see much of her. She came to group a few more times, but I think rounding that most difficult corner in her grief journey set her on a straighter path forward and she “outgrew” the need for a support group.

It’s amazing how that can work.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Do Not Be Afraid

During one visit, Bob admitted to me that he was afraid of dying. Like many people of faith, he occasionally had doubts about heaven and eternal life because those concepts defy rational thought, but he had trouble voicing those doubts. After all, people of faith are supposed to be sure.

The first thing I did was assure Bob that he was not alone in having these thoughts. And it didn’t mean he had lost his faith. I reminded him of how Jesus prayed in the garden before his arrest, a prayer wrenched from the same fear and doubt Bob was experiencing.

That seemed to bring him some comfort, but he also said he was afraid of the pain and discomfort he might experience in the dying process. He knew as the COPD worsened it would become more difficult to breathe. In fact, there did come a time when he could no longer sing because he could not get enough breath. But if someone started “Precious Lord” I could see him mouth the words.

Bob’s last few days were spent in ICU, where medications helped with the painful process of dying, but it also numbed him to human interactions. That didn’t keep friends and family away, however, and the afternoon he died, the whole family was gathered. Everybody took turns standing at the head of his bed to talk to him or sing a song. I stood at the foot of his bed and waited.

Then it happened.

There was a hush in the room and I looked over at Bob and saw his spirit lift from his body. It was so quick, I almost convinced myself I didn’t see it, but the image of his smiling face is imprinted on my mind. The deep lines of fear and anxiety had been smoothed by the most beatific smile.

When I was able to share that with his widow later, she said it brought her great comfort to know that he was happy.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Gift That Was Bob

When I was working in the hospital, there were many instances when I felt like I was benefiting more from visits than the patients were, and my visits with “Bob” were definitely in that category.

In addition to the beautiful music that he so freely shared, I was also privy to his strong faith and unwavering trust. He never asked why God did this to him. The only “why” question Bob asked was why God didn’t just take him. Why was he lingering for so long?

As I have said before, I don’t think God is that actively involved in our dying. I know that many people believe that our day and time of death is preordained, but it is not a concept I have ever been able to embrace. Not that there is anything wrong with it. It’s just not part of my theology.

So I couldn’t answer Bob on that level. But I could help him see all the ways his life continued to be a blessing to many people. He was at the hospital so many times in a two year period; I think every employee there knew him or his family. And everyone was touched in some way.

His life “graced” our hospital in so many ways, and the God part in all of this is the grace.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Would The Real Chaplain Please Stand

When the television show, ER, added the character of a chaplain to the cast, I was delighted. Finally, I thought, more people are going to see what it is that a chaplain does, before they are faced with their own health crisis, or the crisis of a loved one, and meet a chaplain for the first time.

At first I liked this new character and could relate to her somewhat offbeat and irreverent approach to the job, noting that she made that important distinction between spirituality and religion. Not everyone gets that, so I thought the writers had really done their homework before writing this character.

That confidence faltered a bit when the story line shifted to being more about her relationship with the doctor than her job. I was disappointed at this focus shift, but the little bits in story lines about her job still rang true for the most part, so I continued to cheer for her.

The cheering faded during a recent episode when the chaplain fled from a patient who was asking her for forgiveness. The patient, who was a doctor, had worked in a prison as an executioner. In his later years, he came to regret what he had done and set out to seek forgiveness, believing that his deeds were so terrible there was no way God could forgive him unless he somehow made restitution first.

Driven by the need to assuage his guilt, this doctor spent a number of years seeking out the families of the people he executed to offer a gesture of restitution. Sometimes it was through a gift of money, and other times offering some other kind of assistance. Still his guilt overwhelmed him, and now he was on his deathbed, terrified that he had no hope of salvation.

The chaplain was called in to help this man find peace, but she couldn’t do it. Instead of entering the place where he was and giving him the assurance that God could forgive him and would accept his atonement, she tried to counter the man’s need for forgiveness. He finally screamed at her to get out, and she fled.

Of course, this conflict added to the drama of the show, but in real life, the chaplain would need to put aside her personal theology and give the patient what he or she needs to be at peace. If that means going against a personal belief, so be it.

I learned early on in my training that it isn’t about me and what I believe. It is about the patient and what he or she believes. I can share my theology, and have done so at times, but more often I am working within the bounds of a patient’s theology. And I firmly believe that is the way it should be.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Hear The Music

I am not a poet, but occasionally some lines will pop into my head, so I write them down. That happened now and then when I was working at the hospital, and one day I realized I was writing one for a patient, “Bob”

He was an elderly black man with a large, loving family and his illness dragged over a number of years, the last two keeping him almost completely bedridden. He had congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and diabetes.

One of the great joys in Bob’s life, besides his family, was music. He sang in his church choir, and one daughter said he sang around the house all the time. She could remember having song fests when she was young, and they would sing all the popular songs as well as church songs.

During Bob’s hospital stays we would sing whenever he felt up to it, and often our singing would draw other folks in the room for a chorus or two, including nurses.
To hear Bob sing “Precious Lord” was a tremendous blessing.

One time when I brought the young man from Rehab Day Services to sing with Bob, he cried. I can still see the smile that lit up Bob’s face, despite the tears, and he said, “That boy sings like an angel.”

Bob's delight in music touched my heart in a special way, and I finally realized one day that the snatches of poetry in my journal had been inspired by him. And I knew this poem was for him.

Sing the song of life,
Take it,
Embrace it,
Carry it deep in your heart
Where the melody reaches out
And plays to the rhythm of your soul.

Dance the song of life.
Feel it,
Rejoice in it,
Let it carry your soul
To the far reaches of the heavens
Where God dwells.

When the song is ending,
Don't despair.
As the final note draws near,
Take it,
Embrace it,
Rejoice in it,
For the song never really dies.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Spirituality Doesn't Always Happen in Church

One of the things I learned in my years of training as a chaplain was the difference between spirituality and religion. Most of us tend to believe that the two are the same thing, but they are not. They can be intertwined, and are for many people, but others have a strong spirituality without ever setting foot in a church.

There are the people who find great peace and contentment while sitting on the bank of a river or lake with a fishing pole in hand. My friend, Mr. Charles, knew that he was nurturing his spirituality as much at the lake as he was at home reading his Bible.

There are the farmers who work the land and can say that they never feel closer to God than when they are out at the break of dawn to see a spectacular sunrise. I can attest to that. Not that I’m such a great farmer, but every morning when I go outside I am overcome with awe and wonder at the beauty created for our enjoyment.

We humans have something that separates us from the rest of the animals. Some people think of it as a soul, others refer to it as a “spirit center.” Whatever we do in our lives that make us feel whole and worthwhile is somehow connected to that spirit center. And this need to feel whole and worthwhile is as vital to our well-being as food and water and the air we breathe.

In my years of working at the hospital, I met many people who found religious practice to be the best way to feed their spirits, but I also met a number of folks who were relieved to find out that God would not strike them down for not going to church. I did, however, encourage them to nurture their spirituality in some way, whether it be through music, art, nature, or relationships with people. And to recognize that through that they were connecting with some power outside themselves, whether they called it God or not.

Friday, January 4, 2008

No Regrets

As I was clearing brush from my back pasture today, I reflected on how I almost didn’t follow my dream of having acreage and playing farmer.

When my husband and I were preparing to move back to Texas after our stint in Nebraska, we knew it would probably be our last move and we wanted to make sure it would be a home that we would be happy in the rest of our lives. For my husband, that didn’t mean much beyond a large master bedroom and a walk-in shower. Other than that, he didn’t care.

On the other hand, I cared a lot. I wanted a house with a large, country kitchen, some character, and a nice room for my office. And in my heart of hearts, I wanted to live in the country and have a few acres where I might be able to have a horse. But I wasn’t even sure if I should attempt to have that because my husband’s health is not good and I thought we should settle for a nice house in a small town.

When I told one of the chaplains I worked with what I was considering versus what I really wanted, she asked me why I was settling. She reminded me what regrets do to us, especially as we near the end of life, and asked if that is really what I wanted to do to myself. So what if I only got to live my dream for a few years before circumstances forced us to move again? At least I would have the dream for a little while and would not end up on my death bed playing "what if."

Buoyed with her advice, I told my husband that I was going to look at acreage the next time we went house-hunting in Texas. I thought he might object, but bless his heart, he didn’t. Of course, he had picked all the homes we’d lived in previously and had told me this pick was mine, so he really couldn't object.

We found our perfect house, well, maybe not perfect, but close to it, and have close to five acres. We also have a horse, two goats, two dogs, and three cats. Sometimes more cats depending on strays that wander down for a snack.

So this afternoon as I worked and marveled at the peace and beauty of our little place, I thanked God for the wisdom of my friend, for the graciousness of my husband, and for the blessings of “Grandma’s Ranch.”

And if death comes knocking soon, I will have no regrets.