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With the Psalmist, I pray, Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. It’s working. As I approach the tenth month of hospice care, I love my life exactly the way it is unfolding, one day at a time. I’m almost home.

Like the garden snake that sheds its entire skin for housekeeping purposes, my eighty-four years resemble its transparency discarded upon the grass. That part of my life, examined, owned, and surrendered to God’s mercy, is complete. A corresponding lightness enlarges my spirit for still more growth before my transition. I was delighted to find corroboration of this attitude in the Jesuit Karl Rahner’s On the Theology of Death (1973) in which he decries passivity: Death, the defining experience of our lives, mandates full participation.

Each gift of twenty-four hours quickens my desire for communion with Creator-God, my writing partner. Our intimacy deepens with each blog, with each significant read, and with spirited family and friends. Contemplation opens my psyche for further nurturing. Silence offers its savory fruits, as well.

With minuscule diminishments occurring in my body, however, I’ve no sense of what will happen during the last weeks of life. On my dining room table are six pill bottles, still unopened, for treating anxiety, shortness of breath, restlessness, pain, nausea, constipation, dry mouth, and seizures: clues of how bodies decompose before death. Mine will involve suffocation caused by Rheumatoid Arthritis destroying my lungs.

Weekly visits with the hospice nurse and chaplain continue affording information and support. Because of increasing weakness and breathlessness, I’ve hired a helper to prepare meals, etc. With her guidance, we’re enlisting the help of spirited caregivers when I require 24/7 help.

I often remind myself that this is something I have to go through, the culmination of human existence. A great adventure awaits me. I will not be alone.

 

 

Twenty-one years ago, I bought a significant book that survived many thinnings of my bookshelves. The material stunned me, evidenced by my highlighting large sections, so much so that I modified my role as chaplain to hospice patients. On a hunch, I sensed that I would need this book later and stashed it away in my study. That time has come. I read this book differently, now that I’m participating in hospice. Other sections are now highlighted.

 The Grace in Dying – How We Are Transformed Spiritually As We Die (1998) contains the twenty-year findings of Kathleen Dowling Singh, PhD, as she sat by the bedsides of hospice patients in Florida and listened and loved and remembered. A scholarly book, it concludes with appendices, glossary, notes, bibliography, and an index.

Singh references Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages in dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—all psychological reactions to the body’s dying. Through the lens of transpersonal psychology, Singh delves into the psychospiritual transformation of hospice patients. It’s precisely this material that sets me a quivering, that teases my tears. That this will be my experience?

True, hospice’s role in easing patients’ intractable symptoms, often associated with the dying process, is well placed. But much more occurs with the breakdown of the body. Singh incorporates Kubler-Ross’s five stages within the phase of Turbulence or Chaos; to this, she adds Alienation, Anxiety, Despair, “Letting Go,” and Dread of Engulfment. Such phases, though, have no orderly progression—like “…a raging fire fueled by fear.” Surrender follows, and with it, the Nearing Death Experience and Transcendence, the remerging with the Ground of Being from which we came.

I plan to include more of Singh’s insights in subsequent blogs.

 

 

 

How do I give expression to my shrinking world? Wrap words around this indisputable phenomenon to which I awake each morning, unless graced by a dream that enlarges the sense of who I am? Clearly, I have no control over this process, other than to show up and participate.

My limits are real: shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue. No pain. More body awareness is critical lest I fall, and my hardwood floors are very hard—That, I’ve already experienced, years ago.

Yet each day’s tasks, whether self-care, meal preparation, stretching and breathing exercises, blogging, study, phone visits and those from the hospice team suffuse more-than-full-moments with joy. At day’s end, it’s a relief to climb under my comforter and give thanks to Creator God for what I’ve learned and ask for dreams upon awakening.

Besides the guidance of dreams, I also depend upon excerpts from The Grace in DyingHow We Are Transformed Spiritually as We Die (1988) written by Catherine Dowling Singh, PhD in Transpersonal Psychology. Twenty years of participating in what she calls the Nearing Death Experience of hospice patients illumine her findings of breathtaking spiritual growth. True, their bodies fail them, but only to release their spirits to remerge with the Ground of Being. Such reflection heartens me, and what I’m dealing with will eventually pass.

More and more, I resonate with the author’s conviction that dying is safe. My hospice team will share their expertise when the time comes, but I’m not there yet. There’s still much to learn and I’m so willing …

 

 

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