I am taking a bit of a sabbatical from working at hospice. It is not from burnout or disbelief in a wonderful discipline. It is just a time to step back to see if there is a better way to use my crazy talent for dealing with death and those that it affects from patient to family to friends. I wish I could tell you why the thought of the final days does not give me the willies. I guess I just view it as much a part of life as being born.
I have spoken many times of the fact that I don’t know of anyone who has beaten the rap. We have all been subject to the gut wrenching suddenness of a car accident or an airplane crash to a relative or someone we know. Death by disease is more commonplace but when it strikes a child or beautiful young mom or dad, the poignancy is magnified and find ourselves asking the perennial question of why? I am always amazed that people question how God could let this happen?
I am looking at all this in a variety of ways. Is there a better way to do Hospice? More importantly how do I get people to understand it better. It was always a bit of deep frustration to see a gurney roll through the front door and know that person had only a little more than a few days if not hours to live. We were glad they came but we could have made things so much more comforting if the had talked to us weeks and months earlier. I remember an eighty something man who accompanied his wife and the sheer acquiescence in his voice as he sobbed,”I just couldn’t do it any more.” Why have we failed to get the message out properly? Dunno.
Understanding comes with the exchange of ideas. Words like death, mortality and even hospice cause a drastic tune out of the senses. It is said that many people who receive the bad news from an oncologist or cardiologist never hear what is being said past the first few fateful words. So many of our patients over the years said they never had the conversation. Docs are an egotistical lot and that is a good thing. They think they can cure you of anything and to tell you that you are going to die is a devastating prognosis that no one wants to tell another human being. Even more so it is an admission of defeat. Finally we are teaching in med school how to improve one’s bedside manner. They are making progress but it is slow in coming.
A friend sent me an article about a group out of New York (where else?) who have put together a series of seminars called, “How to Live This Year as if It Were Your Last.” It actually runs nine months but who is counting? It is not so much for just the dying but for everyday blokes to contemplate mortality. From Wall Streeters to housewives. Now if you look into this it is actually done by two Buddhist monks. Here and now thinking. Don’t put your life on automatic.They probably get a little too mystical for me but I love the idea. What the hell would you do?
To begin Kathy and I have travelled a lot lately so I will not be visiting the Taj Mahal. I am growing weary of long flights and besides the slums and crowded streets of India aren’t exactly beckoning. I would go back and hang out in Amalfi or Hawaii for at least a month or two.Got to have my water fix. I could then eat plenty of pasta without any guilt. Nice glass of red and perhaps a cigar after dinner. Would I opt for the $250 vino? Probably not. Not being frugal but practical. A good question to ask though.
I would of course have my buddy Kath by my side if she could stand it. We just celebrated 45 years last Saturday and at dinner she was still smiling. Do you think she was acting? I have had so many wonderful friends over the years I would at least want to let them know how much they have meant to me. Undoubtedly I would try to wrench every last fun time out of my kids and grandkids but I would have to do it without being maudlin.
I would want to write. A lot more than I do now. No, don’t worry, Ted’s Head won’t become a daily occurrence. Just something to be put away and looked at someday. Then you could decide if I had anything worthwhile to say or if this guy was really as whacky as he seemed.Somewhere I would have to sneak a letter to my wife telling her just how much she has meant to me. I would want to figure out some way to reach out to people I have wronged in some way. Try to just make it right but then again that it might be a tad selfish to think that way. “What the hell took you so long, asshole ?” might be a very valid reply. Hold that thought.
Lastly I might try to put together a course like those far out priests of Zen did in the Big Apple. I would try to free people of their fears and prejudices. That is the most striking thing of knowing the end is near. You would no longer have to put on airs. You could bring out that crazy whatever that resides inside of all of us but convention says no way you can let out. You might want to sing or act. Critics be damned.
Isn’t life nuts?
Alright, enough of this madness or as friend told me my stream of consciousness. I hope I don’t bore you but on the other hand it is fun to look at life from a totally different slant. Just letting it rip. As if I had one year to live. It is wild and crazy and well, liberating. I hope in some way you can enjoy that same type of zaniness I put on these pages. With that end so poetically near I can’t tell you how alive it makes me feel. Life is good. I hope you can taste all its beauty. One year to live? I have a lot to do I’ll let you know how I progress.
Ted The Great
When we are near death we don’t worry about how much money we have, whether you are white or black or Muslim or Christian. I don’t care what you think of me. There is a strange devil may care attitude which in the most ironic of moments is the first time in our lives that some of us actually live.
Every day 250,000 die for one reason or another.
In that seminar in NYC one couple divorced. He wanted to buy a motorcycle and she said he was riding alone because she was moving to Paris…without him. C’est la guerre. Another woman with breast cancer went to live with her sister in Hawaii.
With death facing one in the eye we say we want to do this and that. We make our laundry or bucket lists. Why do we have to wait? Why not now? Oh that’s right. You are too busy.