Thursday, December 22, 2011


On Thursday, October 20th, I was taking my time getting ready for work. I didn't have any good reason to be running late, just didn't want to get ready. I was... lingering. And I know now that I was sensing something.

My wonderful companion, Mick, was diagnosed with lymphoma on Friday the 14th. It seemed almost immediately after that he took to spending most of his time out in the backyard, only coming through the pet door to get a drink of water. He quit eating and playing. He no longer slept beside the bed at night. He seemed to be unwilling to allow me to see him feeling poorly.

Then on Thursday morning he came inside the house. He didn't have the strength to follow me from room to room as he used to, so he chose the hallway to lie down. I sat with him for a long time, but I had stepped into another room at the moment he chose to pass. I'm not one to personify pets, but I think he wanted to be near me at the end and yet spare me the agony of watching him die.

There have been two other times in my life in which I have sensed, nearly to the moment, the passing of others. I knew the night before my mother died that I needed to stay in Killeen one more day, but my husband at the time insisted we return home so that we could go to work. On the way home we replaced a flat tire and a water pump. I kept saying, "I think we need to go back." I skipped work the next morning and stayed by the phone, and I got the call from my dad pretty much when I expected it.

When I worked for a church in Fort Worth, I was befriended by a retired parishioner. I was able to take baby Monica to work with me every day, and he would come to the church and keep me company. He was crazy about Monica, and she him, and he counted her as one of his grandchildren. We visited him regularly at the hospital when he battled cancer. Monica was one of the last people he spoke to the night before he passed.

As I was driving to work the next morning, a song came on the radio that just seemed to clamp down on my heart. I had to pull over on the shoulder of the freeway. I cried and cried. The minute I sat down in my cubical at work the phone rang. It was another church member breaking the news. It appears he died about the time I was pulled over. That same song was played at his funeral.

I do not consider myself psychic - not even sure I believe in any of that stuff. But I do believe that some relationships run so deep that you can be connected in inexplicable ways. And the severing of those relationships can cause excruciating pain, the kind of pain that makes you late for work.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Lessons Learned

After a year and a half of applying and interviewing (and being rejected) for counseling jobs, I started one three weeks ago. And God, in His infinite wisdom and otherworldy sense of humor, made sure it was one that would ensure my discomfort. I am part of a team that provides psychological services to residents of nursing home. The case load is unreasonable. The patients are challenging. The facilities are crowded. And my brain is likely to explode.

I've learned a lot about what "is medically necessary" and "requires expertise." I've learned to work around the activities schedule and chase down missing charts. And I've learned some things I never expected...

1) Not all nursing home residents are elderly. I have three that are in their early 30s. They have crippling diseases. Their spouses and/or families have abandoned them. They no longer have access to their children. They will not be recovering, and they will not be returning home.

2) Patients suffering from dementia or senility will likely not remember you from one day to the next. At least not until halfway through the session, at which point they suddenly smile and say something like, "Hi! I'm fine! I don't have anything to talk about. Go away!" I can't bill unless I spend at least 20 minutes with a patient. That can be a long 20 minutes...

3) You really do get used to the sights and sounds and smells.

4) Sometimes there is no good way to respond, at least not without sounding condescending. OF COURSE they are depressed. OF COURSE they experience anxiety. OF COURSE they feel hopeless and helpless. OF COURSE they lose track of time. Who wouldn't? My new motto - when in doubt, be kind.

5) At first glance, nursing home residents look pretty much the same. But they are not the same. Beneath the confusion and frustration is the person that always was. The uniqueness of each individual is evident if only one will take the time to wait for it to surface.

6) "Therapeutic" takes on a whole new meaning in this setting. It may just be the same old story to everyone else, but to the dementia patient it may be the one thing that prevents the decline of what little memory is left. Hey, it's not about me. I truly can survive hearing Mrs. Jones (not her real name) tell me about her childhood dog one more time if it helps her to do so.

7) Tears come. I try to fend them off until I get out of the building, but they are sneaky little devils. It hurts to hear some of these stories. The walls threaten to go up to protect my dadgum marshmallow heart. And yet I hope I never get callous. I hope I always have the kind of heart that welcomes these souls.

8) In the private setting, if a client were to tell you that they love you, you would have to address the inappropriateness of that statement. In a nursing home sometimes a confused 90-year-old woman will hold out her hand, longing for human contact, and say, "I love you! Come back and see me!" I see no benefit in "correcting" her.

9) In the private setting a therapist would point out delusional thinking and assist a client in recognizing the difference between reality and fantasy. So far I have had no luck convincing Mrs. Smith (not her real name) that she does not actually work in production, that she is not actually going on a Hawaiian vacation when she can get time off, and that she is not purchasing tickets for everyone who is nice to her. And I am not convinced myself that patients who accuse the nursing home staff of stealing their personal belongings are suffering from paranoiad delusions...

10) And finally, there will be no therapy during lunch or bingo. Period.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


It's all around us, this focus on differences. Democrats and Republicans. Christians and Muslims. Blacks and Browns. Men and Women. We're different. We should accept, even embrace, these differences. Celebrate diversity. I do, by the way, and I appreciate others allowing for my differentness.

And then I see the coverage on the devastation in Japan. It looks a lot like the coverage of the devastation in Haiti. And New Orleans. Same.

The faces, reflecting all those emotions - despair, worry, fear, anguish, numbness, relief - all those same emotions you and I feel and express. All those same emotions people in every culture everywhere feel and express everyday. Sameness.

Maybe it isn't morbid curiosity that compels us to watch this type of news coverage. Maybe what holds our attention is an identification with those feelings, those reactions. We can only imagine how we might feel in those situations, but we CAN imagine it. Because at our cores, we truly do want the same things for ourselves and our loved ones.

I can't help but wonder if things would improve if we were to celebrate sameness.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011


I'm up past my bedtime, watching Jay Leno read crazy news headlines. One was a classified advertising the sale of a Satan Wedding Gown. Love it!

It reminded me of the years I worked at a psychiatric hospital for teens. There was this one mixed up, misunderstood youngster that decided he was going to start worshipping the devil. He paid homage to the dark lord by vandalizing the wall in the common area. In huge black letters he had scrawled, "Satin rules!" I advised him that if he wanted to find favor with Satan, he should learn to spell his name.

Then there was this other patient with a shaved head that wore combat boots and camo everyday. The Skinheads were popular in those days, and he claimed to pledge his allegiance to them. One day during a session, as he was lashing out at me, I asked him if he realized that the group for which he had such admiration would probably not allow him to join their club. He glared at me and asked why I would say such a thing. I simply said, "Dear, the Skinheads are white supremacists, and you are not white."

Those were fun times.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Filling the Gaps

Somewhere, at this very moment, a young woman is giving birth to a child. She is not from here, and she made the decision to sneak across the border to have her baby in this country. Did she become pregnant at the hands of a family member, only to find herself shunned by the rest of her family? Was she impregnated by a man who purchased her from another? Did she give herself over to a boy, desperate to feel as if she mattered to someone, even for just a little while?

Somewhere, at this very moment, a haggard looking fellow is wobbling towards a car, his outstretched hand brushing against the driver's window. Did he suffer a stroke? Did he part ways with reality during a personal trauma? Did he finally decide that alcohol is more reliable than most people?

Think these are highly unlikely scenarios? Although they are probably not as unlikely as you might think, that is not really the point. The point is that we don't know everyone's story. We will never know. And maybe we don't need to. The Bible says some pretty clear things about looking after "the least of these." It also says a few things about judging. Interestingly, the Bible does not instruct us to only give to those we have judged and deemed deserving.

I've been reading and hearing a lot of discourse lately on the evil nature of our current government. Folks seem to believe that they deserve better treatment than they are getting from our national leaders. Folks also forget that being born here doesn't make them deserving. We receive blessings in this country without having earned them, in other words.

I find it fascinating that a number of the individuals sharing their opinions receive assistance from some government-funded program (I only know this because they have told me). When I think about it, it occurs to me that hardly anyone can say they've never benefitted from government funding. If you attended a public school or drove over a bridge, you were the beneficiary of government spending.

I certainly do not know the answer to our nation's problems. I am neither an economist nor a politician. I am a human. And I am rather grateful that I live in a country in which the government attempts, in its awkward way, to honor the dignity of its human inhabitants by shrinking the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" and filling those gaps when it can. We as individuals haven't always done a great job of taking care of that.

I am also somewhat worried about living in a country in which government makes no attempt to protect the dignity of its citizens. Because those entities that would happily take our money in exchange for their services might just forget about humanity as they look over their monthly spreadsheets. And this human doesn't want to be overlooked.