Grow, Maintain, Decay

Dealing with the Cycle of Life in the Physical Universe

Recently, my husband, Bill, and I spent an hour with his doctor talking about whether the time had come to consider hospice care for him. It is hard to explain the effect it had on us to catalog the many ways in which his body has entered the cycle of life where decay starts to take center stage. My husband participated in this discussion of the abilities he has lost, the bodily functions that are becoming difficult to control, the ways in which his brain can no longer keep up with the demands of living. It was a brutal but necessary discussion and it could have been held without Bill in the room but he chose to take part in it. Bill has an extraordinary ability to confront the parts of life that most of us avert our eyes to avoid seeing. But the time spent in that room did take a heavy toll on both of us and, after the discussion was over and the decisions had been made, we needed to find a way to return to a place where we could find some sense of fulfillment and peace in our lives. This story is about how we managed to do that in spite of the harsh realities we are facing.

My husband and I love to have philosophical discussions about why we are on Planet Earth at this time; what the purpose of our journey here is; whether we cease to exist or live on as spirits when our bodies die; and why this place, in so many ways, is a violent, unforgiving planet. I believe, for example, that love and compassion are extremely important qualities to focus on developing and yet, the needs of this body of mine dictate that I regularly have to eat other species to help my own body survive. (Yes, as the accompanying photo shows, I include vegetables as a species: just because I can’t hear a tomato scream when I eat it doesn’t mean it is happy to be served for lunch.)

All those nature shows on television are wonderful until they get to the scene where the lions start chowing down on Bambi or the industrious ant colony gets crushed under a falling rock. Then the true nature of the planet and its inhabitants becomes apparent: it is often a cold, seemingly cruel, and painful place to live. It is hard to reconcile stories about the loving God who cares for every living thing and stories about the vengeful God who appears to smite folks regularly. Especially if I, or a person I love, seem to be the person being smitten. Add that confusion to the fact that some days I feel like the rock (intentionally or unintentionally) and other days I feel like the ant (this last statement is probably influenced by the invasion of ants we had in our kitchen recently and the harsh but effective way I dealt with the problem).

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Maintaining a Balance Between Giving and Receiving Help

 I was talking to my husband last night and he reminded me of a story I had written about a woman I worked with when I was working as a trauma counselor. That story had ended up as an article in Caregiver Magazine. The woman in the story is someone I admire more than I could possibly express. He suggested that the woman’s story, as I had written it many years ago, would be a good thing to post on this blog. He was right, as he so often is, and here is the story.

Talking to each other

Communication can be a great form of help

I first met Helen shortly after she had been diagnosed with ALS, a progressively debilitating and usually fatal illness. As a long-time trauma counselor, I had frequently worked with people who had terminal illnesses but it was never easy. Helen surprised me though. Her biggest concern was not for her own all-too-brief future; it was for her husband, who was performing more and more care-giving tasks. Helen was afraid that her long-term illness would have a crushing effect on her husband’s health and spirits. Helen had nursed her first husband though his long and ultimately fatal illness so she knew exactly what her husband, Frank, would be up against in his attempts to care for her as the disease took its toll.

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