Saturday 2 April 2005

It's hard to fool around with suffering, pain...and death

I started out the day scheming how to pull a fast one on the other readers of one of my favorite e-lists. I posted this: and it did take a few by surprise - before they realized what date it was...heh, heh!

However, this day didn't go as planned. Unexpected "developments", both at home and in the news, kept sucking me in with all sorts of juxtaposing themes that are not to be fooled with. People all over the world tonight are thinking and praying about the best way to deal with the injustice of pain, suffering, and death. It's a sweeping choice: to deny the inevitability of suffering and pain...and sometimes death...or to embrace it and learn from it.

My dear wife, Carole Anne, could not talk when she awoke this morning, full of fever and phlegm (what an ugly word!) A fine nurse-neighbor and I made her go with me to the doctor this afternoon. She could hardly make a go of it. I tell myself I'm going to be "OK", but I know I'm bracing for the follow-up "punch" in my own body...hoping against hope...some of this stuff can last for days they say. "What a waste of time, this sorry business of being sick," she tells me...

I try to tend to an anxious family who hears that a loved one has been in a terrible accident, but they don't know that she died, and that the body had been taken from "the field" to some other place. Yet they show up here, and we can't officially tell them anything, until the "right people" arrive. How to offer comfort in such a situation when we know the truth, but the truth can't even be told? That's ironic.

I find out later this afternoon, by reading my email, that an extremely talented and professional chaplain friend in another state got RIFed at his hospital today -- it literally felt, to him and his friends, like a kick in the stomach, all the joy just sucked away. They were making him clean out his desk just hours later. Wishing it were but a cruel April Fool's joke, we feel helpless in the face of it all, except to communicate the sorrow. Ironic, since he tends to be such a joyous fellow. The familiar tag line on his emails was this quote: "You need chaos within, to give birth to a dancing star." - Friedrich Nietzsche. Ironic, too.

That should be plenty of chaos for one day. But as I write this 20-20 is interviewing live, a hospice chaplain commenting on the state of the Pope. He lies on his bed of affliction, filled with his characteristic deep serenity as he suffers through the last hours of his life, refusing to be taken to a hospital -- asking to have the story of Jesus' death and burial read to him, knowing his end is near, while millions are praying for his recovery. Ironic indeed.

Meanwhile Michael Schiavo and his deceased wife's parents wrangle over their own funeral plans for Terri - a battle that just won't quit. No peace there yet, and not likely to come for quite some time. More than ironic, just really, really sad.

What are we learning about the best way to face the prospects of suffering, pain, and the end of our lives? Lots of moral, ethical, and spiritual issues to deal with. I would say there is plenty of fodder for the sermons this weekend...

I sure don't want to miss Nightline this evening, after reading the following:

April 1, 2005

Today is the sort of day that gives television producers gray hair. It began about 3 a.m. when the beeper went off at my bedside: the Pope is dead. I crawled out of bed, got on the phone, got on the computer...the beeper went off again: the Pope is not dead. It has been that kind of day. We have no idea who our guests will be, because a number of people are only comfortable speaking if it is known that Pope John Paul II has died. By late afternoon it's time to commit to a broadcast that can hold up whatever the news.

And so tonight we focus on the pope's very public display of the suffering that comes with his illness. It is clearly his last great chance to teach.

The lesson is that suffering is a fact of life, that suffering is to be embraced. Accepting suffering can make us more understanding of the suffering of our fellow man. That's the subject. Guests to be determined later.

And then we will devote the last part of the broadcast to an extraordinary moment. It happened in Los Angeles in 1987. A vigorous, athletic Pope John Paul II jumped from the stage to embrace the suffering of a young man who was born without arms. It brought many of us to tears today. We promise that it will live with you for a long time.

Tom Bettag & the "Nightline" Staff, Executive Producer, ABC News Washington Bureau


No, I guess its not good idea to fool around with suffering and pain. But it's a great idea to show that you really care.

I was informed today about how the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization launched its brand new website today, chock full of timely resources to help us try to deal with all these themes personally:

For one thing, an extensive section on Advance Care Planning (yes, including free, and accurate, Living Will and Medical Power of Attorney forms applicable to each and every state.) Plus many more topics like: Caregiving, Dealing with Pain, Financial Planning, Hospice Care, Grief, etc. (I checked out their extensive menus dropping down from each of the links at the top of their home page -- all pretty solid stuff. Enough to keep us all from fooling around with "denial" and prepare for whatever might befall us in the future:

I really like the tone of the acronymn they have there, good pointers for finding meaning in our lives and putting our trust in the future, come what may!

L - learn
I - implement
V - voice
E - engage


Like my favorite hymn says:

My life flows on in endless song, above Earth's lamentation.
I hear the sweet though far off hymn, it hails a new creation.
No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that Rock I'm clinging.
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?

No foolin' !


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