Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Beware the Super Moon

The second full moon of the month, a blue moon, was also a Super Moon, and I experienced the effects of it when I visited my mother. From the moment I walked it, I could feel an awkwardness in the room. The people who usually greeted me glanced away or sat sullen. I looked across the room and couldn't find my mother. The nurses were not around, though a staff member was on hand. Ah, there's my mother, sitting near the door to the deck, head slunk over, arms dropped by her side.

A kitchen work entered the room and saw my mom, "Connie, wake up. You have a visitor." Little movement. Eyes could not open, head could not be raised. I talked with my mom and asked, "Am I bothering you?" "Yes." "O.K. Keep sleeping."

As I sat there, a woman approached me and started conversing in groans. No staff was nearby to redirect her. Another woman kept asking me to open the door so she could leave, and I confessed I did not have a key.

After a while I got a chocolate ice cream out of the freezer in case my mother woke up and wanted her chocolate, but a woman stood over me and shouted, "Take my food. Take my food. Let me bite it. I want it." I tried to explain that I cannot give anyone any food but I could get someone to help her. She just repeated more loudly her phrases.

As I stepped away from her to let her compose herself, one woman grabbed me and another uttered a swear word. I kept moving to safety. Another woman came up to me and said, "You are the only one who can help me. All the others left." Each person seemed to have their own drama.

Then the once-mute woman wheeled up to me and said, "Hey, what's up?," and then went on her way. A woman with intellectual difficulties kept shouting praise for me and saying "You are the only one to talk to me."

Then I sat near the empty nurses station and a different intellectually challenged woman sat down at a piano and started to play songs while a song leader inspired many to sing. The pianist was certainly a happy savant.

I visited my mother over the course of the hour and a half and only once she lifted her head and said, "Hi Baby," and sunk back to sleep. I might want to try a different time to visit when she is alert and full of spunk.

I left and drove back to Boston to face massive traffic delays.

My sister selected a hospice service this week. No substantial changes will occur with my mother's care. She will remain in the same place and the hospice service will visit her twice a week and will set a plan for her medication and comfort.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Funeral Planning: A Meaningful Gift from the Deceased to the Bereaved

There is a subject that many people simply do not want to discuss, Death. Most people postpone planning for death for various reasons. No one wants to consider another person's death and it often puts the person in touch with their own mortality, for which most are unprepared.

I've been to many funerals and counseled many people as they deal with the death of loved ones. The funerals that go smoothest are the ones that are planned in advance. If a person is over 40, it makes sense for the person to put together a funeral plan, which may or not include a funeral service, details the burial plan, selects a gravestone and gravesite, and gives instructions to the mourners. If a person has written a will, they need to consider putting together their funeral plan.

Too many people fear death enough that they will not plan. Even for the person who suffers from a lengthy illness, the caretakers often think about funeral planning when it is too late. I've seen too many times moments when people expect death to come and they call in the priest when it is nearly too late. Death still catches them off-guard and they haven't done their important work of closure.

By doing so, the deceased is giving the bereaved a meaningful gift. Instead of family disagreements and lack of harmony, everyone can say, "Let's respect the wishes of the deceased. This is what our loved one wanted." It makes it so much easier and it reduces the inevitable family discord. It also allows the mourners to do their most important task - to mourn their losses.

Think about what one has to do for a funeral. Writing an obituary can be done anytime after age forty. Most of the person's relationships will be formed by then and it will be easy to update if there are family changes. It seldom makes sense to write the obituary the morning after your loved ones dies, but that is what most people do simply because they haven't planned.

Choosing clothing for the burial is simple as well. What suit, dress, rosaries, jewelry, or shoes does the person want to wear? Making those decisions after death only adds to the stress because we deliberate whether we are choosing rightly for the person.

For a religious service, what music does the deceased hate? Make sure you don't sing it. Ask them while you have the time about their choice of songs for the beginning and end of the service or for a meditation in the middle of the program. It makes it easier for the music director who will be scratching his or her head as the person tries to satisfy the indecisive family.

For the readings as a religious service, find out while you can which Old Testament, Psalm, and New Testament reading they would like to fit their lives. Allow the one who is to be honored to contribute to the shaping of what is said about them and about God. What style, tone, and message do they want to convey to the mourners they are leaving behind? And by all means, it is respectful to give the preacher a couple days notice of the readings so he or she can prepare appropriate words.

Who is going to deliver the eulogy? A family friend, a sibling, a child? Make sure the person knows well in advance so the person has time to prepare. If at all possible, have the eulogy done at the wake service because the wake is the primary moment of sharing stories. It is a natural fit.

Many activities belong to the wake and do not belong at the funeral. The funeral should be simple and dedicated only to the religious portion. It is where the community commends the person's life to God as a completion of one's baptismal journey. It is not the time for their favorite popular song. That can be done at the wake.

As we are people who do not know just how to "Be," we try to "overdo." We insert our own 'darlings' into services because we may not be completely reconciled with the other person or with death. We have to do something.

For the wake, choose a series of photos and mementos of the person's life that can be displayed to others to communicate something about the person's life. This brings joy to the mourners and gives visitors a chance to learn something about the deceased. It takes pressure off the people who do not know what to say at the time of death.

At the cemetery, discuss beforehand that the ritual is short and that it will be difficult to walk away from the grave. Often people do not want to be the first one to leave and there is often an awkward set of time because people just are not ready to leave the body behind. Make certain you have an activity planned afterwards so those gathered can exit gracefully.

And always remember that death will stir up family anxieties. Family dynamics will be heightened, especially if activities around the death, funeral, and burial are not planned. It is uncomfortable and it is what is memorable. The deceased is often forgotten because someone in the family feels offended or unreconciled. Planning can reduce, but not eliminate, the distress the family will go through.

For the deceased to plan his or her funeral, the person is giving a remarkable gift to the bereaved. Everyone can appreciate that the person is well honored because the person's will is respected.

Reconcile with death. No one escapes it, but it doesn't have to be the enemy that we fear.

Cheerful, and in a zone

I had a lot of free time during my visit to my mother today. She was in her bed listening to music. She was toasty warm and content to listen to the music of the 50's. She sang along and nodded her head and kept slipping into short naps.

She was cheerful when she saw me. She pointed out all the photos of her kids = Sharon, Dara, Diane, Dawn Mari, Erica, Dave, Rich, and Jack. She said, "They are all so beautiful."

After she woke up from a little nap, she was worried. She asked, "Where's my white baby?" I asked, "What does it look like?" I got up to look at her belongings and I saw a white stuffed animal and gave it to her. "Is this it?" "Maybe. It'll do."

After she woke up from a little nap, I asked, "Are you comfortable?" "She said, "I am now. Earlier when they moved me I was in such pain because of a cramp, but once they moved me, I felt better." "Where was the cramp?" "On my calf." "Shall I massage them?" "O, yes."

After she woke up from a little nap, I said, "It is Sharon's birthday in a few days." "O, God. How old is she? Eighteen? Is she that old yet?" "I'll ask her about her age."

After she woke up from a little nap, she just sang. Soldier Boy, Can't Buy Me Love, I Can't Help Falling in Love with you, To Sir With Love.

Then she slept for about 15 minutes and I let her be because she was so happy and comfortable.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Sleepy Afternoon

On this persistently snow day, I drove to see my mother after work. I'm shifting days from Thursday to Wednesday because I am taking a MassArt class on Thursday evening. I was expecting my mother to be chipper and very alert when I arrive. It was not the case.

Yesterday, my sister and I talked with some of my mother's caregivers about her condition. They suggested that they call in hospice to evaluate my mother. They reassured us that some patients actually graduate from hospice because of their caring intervention. Hospice will review medications and treatment plans to keep my mother comfortable. She will simply stay where she is, but hospice workers will come in two or three times a week for some extra attention. They will also help the family understand what we need to do to prepare for her eventual death, to plan for burial, and to cope afterwards.

However, life in the nursing home is certainly moment by moment. My sister saw my mother who was chipper and in a good mood earlier in the day. Typically, I see her when she is active and my sister gets her when she is sleepy. Today, it was reversed.

I could scarcely get my mother to lift her head. I wrapped her in blankets because he skin was ice cold. The building was warm, but my mother's legs were chilled. Her hands were cold as well. She did not raise her head. I adjusted her breathing tube, but I could tell she labored from a chest cold.

I rubbed her legs and she said it hurt, so I stopped. She said her head is itchy, so I scratched it for her. She still has such thick hair. I held her hands and warmed them up. She barely moved, head slumped forward. I massaged her back and sang to her. She barely lifted her head.

After half an hour, she came to. She said she felt sick all over. I asked questions about how she felt sick, but she said, "It is a little bit of bad everywhere." "Can I get you something to drink?" She shook her head no. "How about soup?" No. "Some crackers or a cookie?" No. "Your favorite icecream?" No. "Would you like me to stay?" Yes. "Would you like communion?" "I can't." She drifted off.

Fifteen minutes later she came to, but couldn't muster a smile. After some brief chatting where the answers did not fit the questions, I asked:

"Did you know it was Dick's birthday the other day?" "How old is he?" "86," as she winces. "He says hello." "Well, that is good. Is he coming to visit soon?" "Yes, I think so." "That's good. I still like him you know. You know, history is in the past, but I still like him."

"Did you know it was Dara's birthday the other day?" "How old is she?" "60," as she turns away and winces. "We are all getting old, huh?" "Yeah, I must be getting old," she says.

"Did you know that you were a good mother?" "I think so. I tried."
"And you raised us well." "I think so."
"And you were a good cook." "I think so. You all liked to eat."
"And you did well. You had a good life." "I think so."

That was it. Sleep overcame her and she napped again. Then it was a deep sleep. I blessed her and went on my way.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

New Year’s Day 2018.

A poem about snow, oldness, and birth for new year 2018 :

Hard and crusty snow.
It’s 2 degrees below
In the backyard where
Only bundled children tread
Trailing ribbons and scarves of red.

The living room tree bows and sheds
Where last week week Santa left a dolly bed.
Toasts in egg nog or prosecco
Are memory of Christmas revels.
Can you still hear the carols’ echos?

Despite cold and old - the new again.
In love and birth - the new year ordains
A chance, a life, a hope to thrive -
Listen, the newborn's cry - it fills our lives
The frozen tired world revives.

Happy New Year; Blessings in 2018
Mary Lou Ashur MD 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

They feel unloved today

My mother was slumped over with exhaustion when I saw her this morning. I sat next to her and tried to gently wake her and then a staff member came over and woke her up to ask her about her lunch options. He chose cheese pizza, mashed potatoes, and Boston Cream Pie. She was excited about each option, and poo-pooed the green beans and squash.

I put my hat on my mother and many women came over to tell her how stylish and beautiful she looked. She said, "Thank you. It is my son's hat and he has a nice smile." The women then kept telling each other how beautiful they look today. What good therapy for them.

The residents of the center were active and they had a similar theme today. No one felt loved. On woman came over to ask if I liked her. "Of course, I do. Why do you ask?" Crestfallen, he uttered several syllables that did not form any words. She teared up and started rolling away. "Why are you leaving? I want you to stay. I like you and so does my mother. Do you know Connie?"

"Samma, samma, samma," she uttered and she and my mother spoke to one another. My mother turned to me and said, "I don't know what she is saying!" She wheeled herself away with a heavy heart. Then another woman came over to the table. I said, "Hello," and she asked, "Is it O.K. to sit here?" "Of course. Join us." "I don't mean to bother you." "No bother. Are you here for lunch?" "Yes, but if you want me to leave I will." "Please stay. Do you know my mother, Connie?"

"O, you are Connie too? I'm Connie." "I haven't seen you before. Do you like me?" My mother replied, "I don't know you, but I like your name. That's my name too." They both beamed.  The other Connie showed me her necklace that her mother bought her when she was fifteen, but she is feeling sad because her parents won't come visit her anymore. I told her that her necklace was beautiful and that we were glad to visit with her today. She talked on and on about her family.

She said she was from Webster, so I asked if she visited Lake Chargoggagoggmanchaugagoggchabunagungamaugg. "Yes, I used to live nearby." We repeated the name of the lake three times together and the staff laughed and laughed.

Then the previously mute woman rushed by in her wheelchair and shouted, "There he is," and then went back to darting up and down the hallways.

A concerned looking woman came in with her mother and gave the staff many instructions about her mother. She brought her favorite clothing and told them everything she likes to eat and all the stuff she likes to do. Her eyes darted about the room almost as fast as the previously mute woman darted up the hallway in her wheelchair.

I called her over and said, "Just breathe. Relax. This is a good, caring staff. Your mother is in good hands. Just go home and rest well."

My mother's meal came. It looked delicious - very cheesy pizza, buttery mashed potatoes, and a hearty slice of Boston Cream Pie. My mother looked at it and made a face. I'm not hungry. "Well, don't eat it." "I can't." "Did you have breakfast?" "Probably not." "Does the food have any taste?" "The pizza probably has good taste, but I don't want it." "O.K. If you get hungry later, they can bring you something."  The staff came over to get her to eat and one staff member whispered, "I made it myself." "I would probably like it, and I'm sure it is good, but I can't eat it right now." My mother spoke in a raspy voice as she suffers from a sore throat.

After chatting for a while, my mother said, "I hear these negative voices. It is from people, like Ma and Pa, and Betty, wanting me to eat. They are making me feel bad." "Listen, you don't have to eat." "I think they are angry with me." "I wonder if they feel concerned for you. It might not be that they are angry, but they are worried about you. They know if you eat, you'll get healthy. They are urging you because they care for you." "That sounds better." "Listen, you eat when you want to eat. That's all. You do it on your own time." "That's right. Thanks. I feel better."

Another woman came over to eat her meal. She wanted to eat her Boston Cream Pie first, so I encouraged it. She and the other Connie exchanged a few words and called a few names. "Why don't you like me?" "I do like you." "Well, you called me a name." "You got me angry." So I interjected, "She was using that term affectionately as friends sometimes do. She wants to remain your friend."
"Is that so?" "I like what he said. Yes, we are friends." The woman quickly devoured her meal and rolled away.

My mother started dozing and I gently touched her elbow. "Am I dying?" "Yes, you are." "I'm in pain and I don't want the pain anymore." "We will give you something for the pain if you need it." "I don't want any pain, and I'm not ready yet." "O.K. Well you decide when, but it will be important for you to think about the happy place where you are going and the people you will see there again. Ma and Pa, Dawn Mari, and Betty will be happy that you are with them." "OK, but I just need to nap now. I don't want to keep sleeping, but I fall asleep often."

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Jesuit Vocations Website

Jesuit Vocations Website


Stay at home
if idea of becoming a Jesuit makes you unsettled or nervous.
Do not come to us if you love the Church like a
stepmother rather than a mother.
Do not come if you think that in so doing
you will be doing the Society of Jesus a favor.


if serving Christ is at the very center of your life.
Come if you have broad and sufficiently strong shoulders.
Come if you have an open spirit,
a reasonably open mind
and a heart larger than the world.
Come if you know how to tell a joke and can laugh with others and
… on occasions you can laugh at yourself.

Fr Pedro Arrupe SJ,
Superior General 1965–1983

A Low Energy Room

I visited my mother later than I usually do because of severe traffic delays. I arrived at the nursing home around 5:20 p.m. and the residents were finishing dinner. My mother had two uneaten chocolate chip cookies in front of her with a glass of milk and a glass of apple juice. No one was speaking, the lights were dimmed low, the kitchen help were collecting soiled trays, and the atmosphere in the room was subdued.

I asked my mother if she ate any food and she said, "I'm full." "Well, did you eat earlier?" "No, I'm fat." "Would you like something to drink?" "They took it away. I had something on the table earlier." I replied, "Your juice and your milk are here, if you'd like." "Those aren't mine." "I can get you what you would like. I can make you any food that you would like to eat." "No, thank you."

"Did you know that you are quite thin?" "No, I'm fat." "Not really. Your weight is down to 75 pounds and the body gets weak when it is at this weight." "Do you have an appetite?" "Nothing really takes good." "What about the cookies?" "Did you bake them?" "I did." "Well, I'll have one then." Munching away, "What type of cookies are these?" "Chocolate chip." "They are fine."

"I always liked your baking. You were a good cook." "I was? I didn't think so." "Yes, you were very good."

We had a lot of small talk. Women would wave at us and smile. Some women would utter some words that came from nowhere. The woman next to me kept saying about herself, "I know I'm dumb, I know I'm dumb, I know I'm dumb, but they tell me I'm cute." I replied, "I think you are brilliant," and she smiled brightly and rubbed my knee in thanksgiving.

My mother and I talked about egg sandwiches, how to make mashed potatoes, and her like of warm blankets. I asked how her legs were feeling. "They hurt." So, I gently touched them, "That tickles, but it feels good. Don't stop."

"I just want to mention again that your weight is low. Your legs will hurt because of it." "I'll eat someday. In a day or two, I can put it back on." "I think this time it is different. I'm concerned about your weight." We talked about a few other unrelated things, and some nearby women had small bursts of conversations with my mother.

Finally, we prayed. "Yes, I always want communion. You don't have to ask." We prayed the Lord's Prayer and she had communion, and she said, "I pray for the usual things. Good health and happiness."

"How about if I say a prayer of the church for those who are sick?" "OK" I started with the prayers and she said, "Those words are so nice." It came time to anoint her and I asked her if I could apply the sacred oil to her forehead and hands, and she said yes. "You can wipe your hands together." "O, I like that. I like how it smells."

"Let me give you some oil that I received from Jericho. It is perfumed nard, just like the oil that bathed the body of Jesus." I applied it on her forehead and her wrists, and she looked at me and says, "This smells so good." "Wipe your wrists together and smell them every once in a while." "Ooh, I will."

We continued with the prayer. "These are nice words." Then I prayed for her by name and said the prayers for those in their old age and she her face fell. She looked sad and said, "I'm sad. I didn't know those words were for me. I'm not ready to die."

"O, no. This is the anointing of the sick. This is the prayer that helps people get well. This is to strengthen you and to encourage you. The prayer is so you get well." "O, that's better."

We sat and talked about a few other things. The lights were low, some women's eyes were closing, and night was falling. Then a staff activities person came in from the outdoors with a bucket of snow and asked the residents if they wanted to make snowballs. Wheelchairs began to creep in her direction and I sensed it was my time to leave.

Goodnight, dear people. Sleep well tonight.