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Sunday, August 2, 2015

Your DYing Spouse 38 - Stages of Grief - Denial

During this long goodbye, you're going to go through a prolonged grieving process. It's natural, and unavoidable...and necessary for what they call 'closure'.

Man, do I hate that word. It suits losing a girlfriend. It feels wildly inappropriate for losing a spouse, and losing the world and the life you knew. How do you get closure on that?

And should you?

But that is a topic for another day. let's talk about grieving.

Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, identified five stages of the grieving process, and everyone probably knows them...they're called the DABDA model...

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance
While not everyone goes through all of the stages (and some psychologists have developed other, analogous models that they claim work better) it's likely that you'll experience some of them...and so will your dying mate, though in a different way.

Today let's talk about denial.

As in Cleopatra, get it? Queen of de Nile?

Ah, well...

Anyway, denial..."this can't be happening, so it isn't happening..." is almost a sure thing, if a fatal illness is caught early. Randy Pausch, in The Last Lecture, described how he was feeling just a bit down, and had some jaundice...and was told he had pancreatic cancer, which is (as I well know!) a stone-cold killer.

He couldn't believe it. The moment after he got the news was just like the moment before...the sun was still shining, the birds were still singing, and there was only that cloud way down o the horizon, no larger than a man's hand. This can't be real, because it doesn't fit what I feel and see...so it isn't real.

And you, as the caregiver, will feel something similar. Unless it's been perfectly obvious that things are going downhill fast, actually getting the news, as the result of a routine checkup or (as in Dr.Pausch's case) the investigation of a minor complaint is such a shock to life's paradigms that it simply can't be processed all at once.

And, you know what? That's actually OK. Don't process it all at once.

As long as you're not doing something that's preventing treatment or making it harder to alleviate symptoms (like pain and nausea), it's OK to believe...while you can...that things are really going to be OK, that this is some sort of horrible mistake.

It' called giving yourself a soft landing.

The Tough Guys of Psychology will say that "You haff to face ze fects!" (please imagine a corny Prussian accent).

Fine. Let them face them, and they'll be crying in the corner...just as you do, when you really think about it.

Denial, in the beginning, can also be called "being nice to yourself".

Cleopatra had a bad end, but it must be remembered that she had a nice time getting there.

So let yourself have that time of gentle, and intentional ignorance. The facts will come soon enough, and you will find that Cleopatra is fighting on your side.

When the time comes to face them, denial will have been your ally, for you will be ready.

What do you think? Do you think you'd rather take a harder-edged approach? Or is a gentler,more gradual coming-to-terms better for you, and for your spouse?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 37 - Try To Remember {Five Minute Friday}

Five Minute Friday again, that keyword-writing-challenge hosted by Kate Motaung.

Today's word is TRY.

So...let's try!


There will come a time, when your spouse is slipping from this life, down the weeks and months and perhaps years, that your paths will start to diverge.

You'll be in the workforce, involved with church, involved with family, and if you have kids of school age, involved with their activities, while your spouse is turning inward.

The turn inward comes both from the battle with a terminal illness, but as things progress to the point where one has to leave the workforce, cut back on travel, cut back on social engagements...he or she is going to be finding a different paradigm to make the rest of their life worthwhile, or at least bearable, and it is likely to be quite different from yours.

So try to remember.

Try to remember the times you shared, the fun you had, and the challenges that brought you along the road to today. Pull up the memories, open the scrapbooks, sit down on the sofa and talk about them.

And try to remember why you married this person in the first place, why you pledged your life and your heart, till death do the two of you part...at least for a little while.

Try with intention, because sometimes the remembering will be hard. I am very different from the man Barbara married; in trying to make sense of this, in trying to put something horrible into a positive context, I've slipped away from what I was.

Would she have married the man I am now (well, if I was like this, but not sick)? Hard to say, and I'll never ask.

But she has to try to remember the man I was in the wedding pictures on the living room wall.

You're doing it for your spouse, yes, to stay connected, to give him or her the sense of being loved in a continuity...that's something you owe, part of the vow you made.

But you're also doing it for the you that will be...after.

The you that will be going on alone, leaving a memory frozen in emotional aspic. If you turn away from the memories now, while they can still be touched, while they still have warm blood in their veins, you'll be killing a part of yourself; killing the validity of years of your own life, because if you say goodbye from a distance that's already become great...

...it's a tearless goodbye.

And you, dear reader, deserve better.


This was a tough one. How'd I do?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Lost Prophet - #BlogBattle

I missed a week due to illness, but am more or less back to participate in this week's #BlogBattle, hosted by Rachael Ritchey. The keyword for the short fiction piece is...prophet.

Wish I were Khalil Gibran...then I'd already have it written.

And here...we...go.

The Lost Prophet

To leave Oceanview for points south, you've got to follow a very precise path to the surf zone...in the tracks of the vehicle that preceded you, because he...hopefully...didn't hit one of the multitudinous mines, or other pieces of assorted ordnance that this part of Viet Nam has accumulated over the years.

And why the surf zone? Because salt water is really good at neutralizing land mines, that's why. Get to the hissing wave-wash, and you can turn south for the bright lights. Well, the rear, anyway, to not get shot at so much for a few days.

There was one fly in the ointment. We'd had a storm,. and the most recent vehicle to pass had been an APC, which had a narrower track. Which meant that The Dude would have to choose which side of the tank would be exposed to a possible mine by running over virgin soil.

"Which side, TC?" He stopped the tank and tried to pass the buck.

"You're driving," I said, and feigned a yawn. "Home, James, and please drive smoothly so the children aren't awakened.

"Who's James?" asked Sonny. He was sitting on the edge of the loader's hatch, enjoying the South China Sea breeze.

"The Dude's changed his name. He wants to be normal," I offered.

Biff, from within the turret: "When my rabbi goes to mass."

Sonny was perplexed. "So y'all really James?" he asked The Dude over the i/c.

"Yep. Brother of Jesus, and leader of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement after my 'Bro got the axe."

"That's blas...uh, blast-feeny."

"Blasphemy. Yes, it is, and I apologize. Now, Sonny, are you in the loader's hatch?"


"Then we shall expose the left side of the tank, to elevate your consciousness should we encountered an unplanned and exothermic chemical reaction."

"Uh...well, thankee!" said Sonny. 

And The Dude carefully placed the left track in the APC-blazed path, ensuring the safety of our beloved Son of Dixie.

Of course that meant that any mine we hit would be on the right - my side - so I dropped a little lower in the cupola.

Fortune smiled, and after the slow progression through the dunes and down to the water, The Dude executed a smart fifty-ton right-face, and punched the throttle. This was fun, riding all that good American steel and power down an empty beach, throwing roostertails of water and sand high into the air.  The suspension bearings would have to be repacked, of course, but they were due for that anyway, and we could enjoy the ride with a clear conscience.

Biff tapped me politely on my shin, signaling that he wanted a bit of air, so I scooted out of the commander's hatch and sat crosslegged on the turret roof, while our gunner blinked in the sunlight, like a groundhog on a sunny February day.

This was freedom, married to authority...roaring high, wide and alone...well, wait. In the distance there was a man, standing, right in our path. "Dude?"

"I see him. Beach or water?"

"Water. Let him stay dry." We angled left, into deeper water, to give the mystery man a chance to dodge us by going toward drier sand.

"Well, TC, now what?" The man had matched our movement, and was holding up his hand in the classic signal, Stop.

"Sonny..." But the loader was a step ahead of me, and he placed the binoculars in my hand before I asked for them. The figure resolved into an old, old man...one hand was raised, and one held a walking stick. "Dude, stop for this guy. Biff, get on the coax, just in case." I didn't think it was some kind of weird trap, but Charlie had his own way of doing things, and I wanted Biff on the 30-cal.

The Dude brought us down from the high of our seaborne rush to a gentle stop, ten feet from the old Vietnamese. He lowered his arm, and stood there, quietly regarding us. He neither smiled nor frowned, and the nearest village was miles away, and how did he get here, anyway?

"Want me to talk to him?" The Dude was the only choice, since he knew the language.

"Yeah, go ahead. Ask him if he needs a lift." We weren't supposed to carry Vietnamese on joyrides, but we couldn't leave the guy here.

The Dude slipped out of his hatch and down the glacis armor, dropping into the eddying surf, while Sonny took his place at the wheel, just in case a quick getaway was needed. One did not live long by trusting circumstances that seemed benign.

I couldn't hear the conversation over the idling engine; not that I would have been able to follow. The Dude gestured with hos hands, and with shoulder-shrugs, and the old man used his free hand, leaning still on the stick.

Then he spoke sharply, and I heard him, lifted the stick to tap The Dude on the shoulder, and pointed it at me. I flinched.

And that was it. The Dude politely put his hands together under his chin, and bowed. He received a nod in return. and a gap-toothed smile. The the old man turned to his left, ANd started truding up the beach, toward the dunes.

Sonny vacated the driver's position as The Dude remounted. "Well, that's a first," The Dude said when he was back on i/c.


"He said he was waiting for us. He was here to tell us our fortunes."

I watched the old man make his painful way across the sand. "And?"

"Well, Biff's going to college, and he's going to be a teacher of souls. Sonny's going to be a doctor."

"Ah hates needles."

"Well, yes, Sonny, and I'd hate to have you give me a shot."

"What about me?" I didn't believe this stuff, but I wanted to be included in the game.


I didn't like the sound of that. "Uh, what?"

"TC, he said you're going to be here for a long, long time."

I really didn't like the sound of that, so I changed the subject. "What about you?"

I heard the i/c click, but before The Dude could speak, there was a WHOOOM! from the beginning of the dunes, and a geyser of sand rose high into the sky, along with what looked like bundled rags.

"Yeah," I said. "And we were listening to our fortunes from a guy who just blew himself up. Let's get outta here, I hear the ice cream machine at the club's working again."

The Dude gunned the engine, and we thundered south, toward the ice cream and cold beer that would make us forget the prophecies that now rode as fragments in the air, and swirled in the rising sea.

Your Dying Spouse 36 - Caregiver Limitations

We're linked to Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday...drop by for some excellent marriage resources!

We would do anything for our spouses, especially when they're in distress, and even more so when the hourglass is running, running, running...

But there are things you just can't do.

You can't keep their spirits up.

You can encourage and support, you can storm Heaven with prayer...

But for your dying spouse, staying positive is a choice, and it's one he or she has to make.

It's not easy, because when death nears, the things one once enjoyed can start to seem useless, mere time fillers to keep the mind distracted.

After all, what's the point in planting flowers you won't see bloom? That others will see them bloom leads to the answer, but the doorway that leads to that answer is a hard one through which to pass...because it requires an abrogation of anticipation, desire, and even 'selfhood'.

In this metaphorical case, you can help. Just say, "Thank you. I appreciate your doing this."

Recognize the effort your spouse is making to keep his or her head up...without referring to it directly. Call it out specifically, and it becomes condescension.

Instead, just thank them for the little things, the things you would have overlooked in that long summer when no one was sick.

That kind of support can be construed as supplying an emotional crutch...but would you make a dude with a compound fracture of the femur walk without one?

Another thing you can't do is give someone else faith.

Dying is scary, and the most important question in life becomes - "Is there really a God?"

It's not "Am I really saved?" When the chips are down, you throw yourself on God's mercy. Period. The legalisms completely lose their meaning and weight.

You can't help by trying to convince. Don't quote Scripture, don't keep the TV tuned to Trinity Broadcasting, and for Heaven's sake don't start talking about what Heaven might be like.

Just be steadfast in your faith, offer to read the Bible together (not stuff about death and dying...the Psalms are good here), and keep going to church, even if you have to go alone.

And there's one thing, above all else, that you can do.

You can listen.

Listen to the description of their day, and be engaged - ask questions. Listen to their sorrows, and listen to their fears.

Listen to the hope for tomorrow, even if it's unrealistic, and never quash it.

That hope for tomorrow is the one thing you CAN give them.

By listening.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 35 - Homebound

We're linked to Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday...drop by for some excellent marriage resources!

I think we all would like to maintain an active contact with the world around us until, literally, the day of our death. Unfortunately, that isn't the way the world works. Terminal illness is very often a long, slow decline, and eventually your husband or wife is going to become homebound.

Getting out and about for routine errands, and even for fun stuff like eating out, will become too painful, and excursions will be limited to the medically necessary. (I'm there, by the way, and don't even do the medical stuff...for three reasons...one. riding in a car hurts too much...two, no insurance...three, the docs have said that all they can offer is pain control, and I don't want to silt up my brain with narcotics.)

There are obvious risks to being homebound, as socialization is a use-it-or-lose it sort of thing. It's very easy to become a recluse, without the give-and-take and feedback (not always direct and personal) from the wider world.

Recluses are no fun. They lose perspective, and can easily become the center of their own nasty little universes. Terminal illness is not tragic, it's unfortunate, and it does not bestow entitlement. (It does demand and deserve consideration, which is not at all the same thing.)

So, how can you, the caregiver, help?

  • First and foremost, do not become a recluse yourself. Even if your homebound spouse demands (or seems to demand) your presence there every possible minute, draw a line, and nurture your own outside interests. Do be compassionate; your spouse is most likely reacting not from jealously controlling your company, but from a position of fear, the fear of loneliness which goes hand in hand with the fear of death. Be kind, but keep a place free for yourself.
  • Try to keep friends coming to the house on a regular basis. This will both keep your spouse's social muscles toned, and will help avoid the carelessness with which many recluses regard their appearance and personal care.
  • Most churches have a ministry team set up for the sick; let them know your situation. If your mate can't go to church, church can come to you. (There's also religious TV; I usually have the set tuned to one of the Trinity Broadcasting channels. They're not perfect, and regularly air programming which causes me to shout "False teacher! Bad pastor, BAD!" at the screen, but on the whole they do a good job.)
  • Encourage connection with a former job or profession, if possible; if your spouse had professional certification, encourage them to keep it current if possible, and not let it lapse from the "I'll never work at that again, so why bother?" mentality. (Again, a personal note - I was registered as a Professional Engineer, and for want of enough money to renew, let it lapse. I could not have done things differently, but still feel bad about it...I worked so hard for that!)
  • Encourage physical activity, and hobbies that 'have a purpose'. Doing crossword puzzles doesn't give you much by the end of the day, but building birdhouses provides a tangible, useful result.
  • Encourage reading, and don't begrudge the time it takes. This is not the time for "put that book down and talk to me!" The terminally ill need to escape.
  • Subscribe to Netflix, There are more great movies than ever available, and they can provide a surprisingly useful window on the world. Far better than television; commercial TV tends to be awful (and the commercials can emphasize the sense of losing touch with the world, in a very depressing way (been there!). PBS can be good, but many of the programmes take an atheistic view of the world, either explicitly or through an implicit downgrading of religious values. Atheistic propaganda is the last thing they dying need.
  • Get a dog. Dogs interact with people more than do any other domestic animal (well, horses are up there, but you can't really keep a horse in the house). The interaction demands involvement, and requires full participation. Dogs are also good listeners, and can give early warning of a medical crisis.
  • Read (depending on your beliefs) the Bible, Qu'ran, Torah, Bhagavad Gita, or Guru Granth Sahib together...every night, aloud. Hearing the words spoken brings them to life; speaking them yourself writes them on the heart.
And when your mate wants to bear the pain and go shopping with you, or just to the McDonald's on the corner for a cup of tea...don't be discouraging, for worry about how they might feel for the rest of the day if the outing's physically tough.

Because one of these days, there will be a last outing together.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 34 - The Last Battle {Five Minute Friday}

We're back with another Five Minute Friday, hosted by the illustrious and delightful Kate Motaung. Please click on the link to see what real writers write!

We are also linked with The Weekend Brew. And we're linked to Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday...drop by for some excellent marriage resources!

Today, the keyword for five minutes of extemporaneous writing is...wait for it...TEN.

Huh? Yeah, and I did a double take, too. But, well, ten it is, and here we go...

In April of 1945, the United States had finally invaded the Japanese home islands...Okinawa, in the Ryukus, south of Japan proper. Okinawa was the bloodiest and most savage battle of the Pacific War, and it featured - if that's the right word - the last sortie of the Japanese fleet, a pitiful remnant built around the battleship Yamato, which was (along with sister ship Musashi) the largest battleship in the world. Ever.

The name was Operation Ten-Go, sometimes translated as Heaven One. Fitting, because it was a suicide mission - if Yamato reached Okinawa, she would be beached and used as a static fort.

But that never happened. Yamato's departure for the south was noted, and she was met by an aerial avalanche of American airpower, and summarily sunk.

What does this have to do with dealing with a dying spouse? Sometimes quite a bit, as it turns out.

We all leave things undone in life, but we expect that most of the loose ends will be wrapped up by the time we die at a venerable old age...and those that aren't will have been filed away by the passage of time.

These include things we'd like to do (the 'bucket list' stuff), relationships we'd like to mend, and sometimes getting square with God.

But when your mate's faced with a terminal diagnosis, these things go from 'someday' to 'NOW'.

And in many cases, you'll have to help, even if it's killing your husband or wife to accomplish this last great mission in life.

You'll want them to conserve their energy, to rest, to live within their physical means...but in dealing with the important stuff, you have to ask yourself...for what?

The diagnosis isn't going to change if they rest, and the appointment with the undertaker won't be put off for long.

But when you help, when you arm them and support them foir that last fight, you can give those final weeks or months a touch of glory.

You can help them to go out...for they are surely going out...with honour intact.

And that's why Japanese sailors fought for a place on Ten-Go.

Losing was death, in the calculus of Bushido.

They wanted to die gloriously.

So do I.


Midnight postscript...please leave a comment, if you have a minute. I'm on the ropes. I need your prayers.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 33 - The Suicide Option

We're linked to Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday...please drop by and see some other marriage blogs, by some really thoughtful people!

This is a post I've tried to put off writing, because it's a subject I deeply loathe...assisted suicide. As you undoubtedly know it's legal in several states (including mine), and made the news late in 2014 with the Youtube coverage of the decision of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who had terminal brain cancer, to kill herself. (I wrote about this at the time on my other blog, Starting The Day With Grace...please click here if you're interested.)

It's hard to be objective, but I'm going to try, since some of you reading this may come up against this issue...your spouse may one day simply have had enough, and be tempted to reach for the hemlock.

First, some background - the patient has to have a diagnosis that's terminal within six months, and has to have two doctor visits, at least fifteen days apart, before the prescription for the suicide "cocktail" of drugs is issued. The waiting period is to ensure that depression isn't driving the decision, though anyone with a terminal diagnosis is bound to be depressed.

Once the prescription's issued, it can be filled, and the fatal dose taken at leisure.

The proponents of this protocol say that it's a chance for a dignified farewell, that one drifts off to sleep with friends and family gathered around. That it's a choice, the last earthly act of self-control.

Unfortunately, for Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs (among others), it's also a sin. Kind of a bad one; the one they say lands you in hell. Forever, and they don't even let you out on weekends.

I have two problems with the scenario...first, making family and friends watch you die as a deliberate act is a bit heartless. I've seen people die; it's never pretty. The body does not want to give up, and you'll never see this described on the "suicide is painless" websites. It's something I would not want to see, I would not want my wife to see, and I would rather that you, dear reader, never see it either.

My second issue is that suicide removes the possibility of the good that can still be done. A kind, encouraging word from the suburbs of Cancer Hell can mean a lot to someone who just had the nightmare doctor visit.

The terminally ill still have a lot to give, and they should not be thrown away...by society, or by themselves.

That line really says it all...I'm rather proud of it, so I'll stop here.