To elicit from Ecclesiastes (1)

I’ve been feeling the need for wisdom, so I naturally thought of the so-called wisdom literature of Hebrew scripture.  I’ve never been much of a fan of Proverbs (don’t laugh), so I bypassed that collection.  The other main canonical wisdom works—Job and Ecclesiastes¹—are more to my taste.  Now, I had just received a quarterly periodical from The Bible Project,² and the particular issue happened to be devoted to wisdom literature.  I gleaned some very good things from the periodical, and I’ll come back to a few of those.

A couple Saturdays ago, I spent a couple hours reading Ecclesiastes in a new-to-me version, The Voice.  This Bible had me hooked with the first line of the editors’ introduction:  “One of the most enigmatic books of the Old Testament, . . .”  Then “the teacher” of Ecclesiastes itself drew me in much further.  At the end of chapter 2, I was overwhelmed by the mounting up of all the things it’s possible to be enthused over.  No surprise if you’ve read it before, but no possibility turns out to be a lasting one!

Chapter 5 offers, “It is better to quietly reverence God” (5:2 and 5:8).  After trying to ignore the split infinitive, I thought of the proliferation of words in the worship music industry, which displays anything but quiet reverence.  Some contemporary worship leaders just won’t shut up.  (I have been one of those.)  I thought, too, of Matt and Beth Redman’s song “Let My Words Be Few.”  The song is not in my top 150—I never prefer such expressions as “in love with you” when referring to adoration of deity—but the song did come to mind since it stresses sparing words as we stand in awe.  You can listen here to Phillips, Craig & Dean’s version if you have the time—overlooking, of course, the irony of the fact that the “few words” message is carried by words!

Back to Ecclesiastes.  Chapter 6 mentions that it is better to have been stillborn (“an untimely birth” in the RSV, and a “miscarriage” in the NASB) than to live without the soul’s satisfaction.  The “study note” comment in The Voice version seeks to divert attention from the starkness of this “wisdom,” but I rather think the editors might be embarrassed at part of the philosophy here.  “Believers pray for a good life for all of God’s creatures,” they assert, as they amplify the comparison between (1) one who doesn’t find good in this life and (2) a child who never draws breath.  That does seem to be an emphasis of Ecclesiastes.  Still, I think it is wise to hold onto eternal values while attaining to the worldview of the Teacher.  When he says something so patently unpalatable as “it is better if it had been a miscarried birth,” it might be poetic hyperbole, but it also might bear the wisdom of a focus on the eternal life over the here-and-now.

Tomorrow:  part 2


¹ Some wisdom literature may be found in various Psalms.  My mother encouraged me to read Psalm 30 recently, for instance, and there was wisdom there for me.  The Song of Songs is classed here, as well, but I would say the category has then been morphed to “poetry,” not “wisdom.”  Among the influential wisdeom writings, we shouldn’t discount some of the “apocryphal” writings such as Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach.  These books were included in the Septuagint, which was the Greek version of the “Old Testament” in wide use around the time of Jesus.

² Editors-teachers Tim Mackie and Jon Collins of TBP have a “unified and linear” motif in their videos, believing that the Bible is a “unified story that points to Jesus.”  Personally, I am cautious about both the “unified” and the “linear” ideas, although there are clearly unifying elements and themes among the various documents, and although I certainly believe Jesus is central in human and redemptive history.  I don’t think these concerns play into the content of this issue of the periodical—or of this post on wisdom literature.

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Solemnity and sleep

When I see my dad’s sleeping body in a picture now, I feel more of an emotional pull than I did during the initial days of heightened activity and responsibility that came immediately after his death.

Around the casket, clockwise from bottom right: Greta, Mom, (Jedd), Bailey, Karly, Hannah, Rebecca

Although the picture gives me an uncomfortable feeling, I remind myself that it is only his body.  My dad’s soul rests, but I take that part of him to be very much alive.

Asleep in Jesus (Margaret Mackay, 1832)

Asleep in Jesus! Blessed sleep,
From which none ever wakes to weep;
A calm and undisturbed repose,
Unbroken by the last of foes.

Asleep in Jesus!  Oh, how sweet,
To be for such a slumber meet,
With holy confidence to sing
That death has lost his venomed sting!

A living, undisturbed repose sounds good, doesn’t it?  Would you even go with “sweet”?  “One Sweetly Solemn Thought” is a rarely used, death-aware song; it has the distinction of being the only hymnal song I’ve ever seen that has a stanza that ends with a dash, strongly connecting it to the next stanza.  The first stanza expresses a sweet reality:  “today I’m nearer to my home than e’er I’ve been before.”  The final two stanzas are below.

One Sweetly Solemn Thought (Phoebe Cary, 1852)

4. Savior, confirm my trust. Complete my faith in Thee,
And let me feel as if I stood close to eternity—

5. Feel as if now my feet were slipping o’er the brink,
For I may now be nearer home, much nearer than I think.

I think I will always be able to quote those words from memory.  What a splendid, solemn thought—to be secure in “slipping over the brink” into restful sleep in Jesus.

Finally along these specific lines, I am reposting some commentary and the words to “Still, Still With Thee,” which will probably always be a go-to death-and-new-life song for me.¹

So, what will the first day be like — that first “day” after Jesus’ return? ²  What might we imagine in terms of our own presence in that moment of all moments, that event to end all earthly events?  How will it be for me?  I have no idea, really, but I know, by faith, that my spirit’s awareness of God will eclipse all else.

Still, Still With Thee (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1855)

Still, still with Thee, when purple morning breaketh,
When the bird waketh, and the shadows flee;
Fairer than morning, lovelier than daylight,
Dawns the sweet consciousness, I am with Thee.

Alone with Thee, amid the mystic shadows,
The solemn hush of nature newly born;
Alone with Thee in breathless adoration,
In the calm dew and freshness of the morn.

When sinks the soul, subdued by toil, to slumber,
Its closing eye looks up to Thee in prayer;
Sweet the repose beneath the wings o’ershading,
But sweeter still to wake and find Thee there.

So shall it be at last, in that bright morning,
When the soul waketh and life’s shadows flee;
O in that hour, fairer than daylight dawning,
Shall rise the glorious thought, I am with Thee.

Stanzas one and two:  The first two stanzas, unified, poetically express the encounter of the eternal in terms of a resplendent, earthly daybreak.  All the beauties of the dawning of a new day while in a natural surroundings are, however, eclipsed by the breathless adoration of our stunningly brilliant God.

Stanza three: As death appears imminent, and even potentially in the actual experience of dying, the believing soul casts his eyes in faith toward God.  As a foreshadowing of the final rest, for the human who experiences the Lord’s protective peace, a certain rest may come.  Yet a humanly experienced peace is neither satisfying nor absolute.  The waking—the arising to a consciousness of a Presence like no other—this is the completion.

Stanza four:  There is no more lofty, no more finally fulfilling thought than to be with God forever.  Come, Lord Jesus, and take Your bride home.

It is happenstance that all three of these poems were written during roughly the same period in American history.  Perhaps I have simply not been looking for death-related poetry written more recently.  Or perhaps there are other reasons for an uncommonly rich focus on death in the Lord during the middle 1800s.


Find other posts on death and dying here, beginning with my father’s death notice here and a tribute to his caregivers here.


¹ I learned “Still, Still With Thee” as an arrhythmic chant for male quartet.  Unlike “Crossing the Bar,” featured here, I have never come across a better musical match for the “Still” words than the male quartet music.

² Then, days may not exist, as such, but they might not have existed during the creation of the world, either.

Memories, poetry, and music

Last fall, the Benedictine College bands presented a program of instrumental music with a Veterans Day theme.

As it happened, the concert occurred shortly after the death of Karen Soyland, the wife of another member of the Brass Band, which is the ensemble in which I perform.  The memorial focus of the concert was therefore expanded to include not only deceased soldiers, but also, one known more personally.  I became inspired, and I offered, and the conductor of the ensemble (Director of Instrumental Studies Ted Hanman) graciously interjected my trio arrangement within the published brass arrangement—complete with the suggested oral reading of Tennyson’s poem, which may be seen here.

The Parry tune was new to me, and I find it a better marriage of music and words than the male quartet music I had learned as a youth.  There is a plethora of tunes and arrangements available, and apparently no one knows or sings the quartet arrangement I’ve known for decades, because it’s available nowhere on YouTube.  At any rate, regardless of the music, my favorite line in the poem—both the culmination and the closing—is this:  “I hope to see my Pilot face to face when I have crossed the bar.”  The imagery, which I don’t claim to comprehend fully, is nonetheless rich, and the members of the Brass Band knew personally this one who had “crossed the bar” very recently.

Below is my arrangement.  (I started to retake the photo when I saw the light streams, but they struck me as a potentially inspirational symbol, so I left them in.)  I chose three instruments/players that could carry this off in little rehearsal time.  Each instrument has at least a few measures with the melody, and the counterpoint and harmony are somewhat more complex than in the full-band arrangement.  All the instruments in my arrangement are Bb instruments, meaning the written pitches you see below actually sound a whole step lower.  Note that the euphonium part is written in treble clef, as per convention in British brass band music.  The euphonium part sounds a major 9th lower than it appears here.

You may access the live performance sound file here.  The above “trio” portion, with oral reading, begins at 1:16.  The reader did not rehearse with us and did not read especially effectively, but the balance at least makes both elements audible.

 

It was my hope that this musical tribute to the dear, believing spouse of a believing friend would be meaningful and eventually be a good memory for him, for the deceased’s family, and also for others.


Find other posts on death and dying here, beginning with my father’s death notice here, a tribute to caregivers here, and a mention of the exceptionally poignant funeral for Karen Soyland here.

Mourning and music

From time to time I hear funereal music I wish I had come across during my graduate research.  (Although my cumulative list of funeral marches and lament music was marginally impressive, it was anecdotally developed and limited in scope.)  Once in a while, I also come across others’ related writings.  Below are extracts from an interesting article on mourning practices and singing.  This research may deal only directly with practices in the United Kingdom, but it would seem applicable for most Western countries.

I will now discuss funeral music in some detail because it was the one occasion on which mourners in Britain used to be actively involved in musical performance, but — at least among the majority white population — this is now being rapidly replaced by music consumption.  Funerals in many Western countries have recently become more personal (Garces-Foley and Holcomb, 2005) and/or secular (Walter, 1997), and in the UK one major way this is achieved is by listening to two or three of the deceased’s favourite CD tracks or to a piece of music that in some way captures the deceased’s personality.  This is replacing communal hymn singing.  Singing hymns was once the norm, but recent surveys in the city of Hull (Adamson and Holloway, 2012) and at one London crematorium (Parsons, 2012) indicate hymns now being sung at only a quarter of funerals.  9 (orig. 81)

Religious singing together is being steadily replaced by listening to secular (and occasionally religious) CDs, driven by personalisation and secularisation, but also reflecting the general decline of communal singing in England.  9-10 (orig. 81-82)

Singing together was once the main way in which the whole body of mourners participated in the funeral, engaging together in one of the performing arts to perform words of sorrow and hope.  According to Davies (but he may possibly here be influenced by being Welsh), “Singing is, fundamentally, a community activity which sets group hopes and power over those of the individual.” (Davies, 1997, p. 58)  But with the decline in church attendance and the familiarity with hymns that goes with it, and with the small numbers at many elderly people’s funerals in Britain, many people report finding singing hymns at a funeral to be excruciating, embarrassing and/or tedious (Caswell, 2012).  

. . . the CD capturing the essence of the deceased individual becomes the funeral’s emotional powerhouse.  . . .

In the months and years after the funeral, recorded music can continue to retain powerful associations with the deceased.  I am doubtless not alone in going happily about my business when a track comes on  the radio that reduces me to tears, reminding me of someone I care for who has died, years or even decades ago.  10  (orig. 82)

– Tony Walter, “How People Who Are Dying or Mourning Engage with the Arts, ” © Music and Arts in Action/Tony Walter 2012 | ISSN: 1754-7105 | Page 87. http://musicandartsinaction.net/index.php/maia/article/view/dyingmourning

Various cultures and ethnicities will naturally have various traditions and expectations concerning bereavement, funereal engagement, and mourning.  At my own father’s memorial, I know there were tears, but no wailing occurred, for instance.  Perhaps that is good (we grieved as those with hope), or bad (we were busy and distracted), or indifferent.

There were hymns, however—hymns in the lyrical sense and also a couple in the strictly musical sense.  I had kept my vest-pocket copy of this program in sight in my office for a time (see here) in order to remind me of the life and of the death event.  On the reverse side appears the program order itself.  Here are the titles that feature hymn lyrics (addressed to God in worship/adoration):

God Himself Is With Us *
On Zion’s Glorious Summit *
Jesus, Wonderful Thou Art
I Behold You
Still, Still With Thee
* In both these cases, the initial lyrics are not addressed to Got but rather set the stage for direct worship in the latter part of the song: “O Thou Fount of Blessing . . . may I ceaselessly adore Thee” and “Holy, holy, holy Lord! God of hosts, on high adored,” respectively.

There were comments and a prayer of adoration led by three friends of nearly six decades, and the 95-year-old former president of Harding University made comments, as well.  Dad’s brother read Psalm 121.  Songs were led by Dad’s nephew, a brother-in-law, the son of one of the above-mentioned friends, and me.  Recordings were played of my hymn “I Behold You” and my mother’s beautiful song “Silence,” which is about finding God.  In all, six songs were sung congregationally, including “It May Be at Morn,” which I recall that Dad introduced to the Cedars congregation in Delaware when I was young.  This song is not musically a hymn, and the stanzas are introspective, not directly worshipful.  However, in my estimation, the chorus includes one of the top ten expressions of worship in that hymnal:  “O Lord Jesus, how long? . . . Christ returneth!  Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!  Amen.”  This is not the material of mourning.  None of this particularly invites sadness, yet there were mixed emotions, remembering my dad as a man who worshipped God with all his heart, and who as a leader encouraged others to do the same for decades.

On the matter of reminiscing through a dead person’s favorite music:  my mother recently found the CDs that Dad had chosen to take on their last trip together.  I will probably always associate Pavarotti’s famed rendition of Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” with Dad.  That music brought tears to his eyes many times.  He was also very fond of a championship barbershop quartet’s song “I Still Can’t Say Goodbye.”  (Here is a YouTube recording of the same rendition.)  I suppose one could say this is a song of mourning, but perhaps more, a song of tender memory.  It will bring emotion to just about anyone!  Dad had asked both my sister and me to play that for him during his hospitalization.  Other music Dad chose includes Pachelbel, John Denver, western/pop songs of yesteryear by Sons of the Pioneers, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, which he had loved for more than a half-century.  My mom will always associate many of these selections with her husband of nearly 58 years.

Dad’s Travel CD Choices, Summer 2017

Find other posts on death and dying here, beginning with my father’s death notice here and a tribute to caregivers here.

 

Funeral music research

My broadest, deepest graduate research dealt with funeral music.  (I always feel funny when mentioning that, figuring I need to apologize for it, but perhaps not.)  Funeral music can be very rewarding, actually, and I periodically come across funeral or lament music I wish I had known in 2005-07.  One soul actually wrote to me in the context of her own research, purchasing a complete e-copy of mine.  Previously, a student asked to read (and actually read!) the entire thing, but these levels of interest are rare.

Despite the tendency to avoid talking about death, it has obviously been part of the cycle of things, ever since the first humans.  My personal cycle of life has involved a return to a town where I knew people in the past.  Two of those folks have recently lost relatives, and I attended the memorial events.  Last month, the family of another spiritually minded friend marked the anniversary of the death of their son/brother, and I was again reminded of the protracted nature of life-and-death memories.

Here is a passage from the introduction to my dissertation:

Although funerals and related ceremonies take different forms—depending on ethnicity, affiliation, preference, and other factors—death is universally experienced.  We most often perceive death as a time for reflection, for reverence, and for sobriety, if not gloom.  Yet death events are more emotionally varied than is frequently presumed by a casual observer. ¹

When someone dies, it is often possible to learn something valuable and/or inspirational, and the personal growth may come in different shapes and hues.  I first became interested in funeral music after having been introduced to a remarkable musical work written after the death of a friend of 19C Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg.  Perceiving the genuine pathos and artful composition of that funeral march led me to investigate other works, in pursuit of a thesis (that I ended up essentially disproving).

An abstract is generally a crystallized summary of a research article or paper and can aid a reader in grasping the paper’s purpose.  Below is the abstract from my dissertation.  Please ponder with me the implications, both human and musical.

The universal experience of death has for millennia been associated with music.  Wind instruments, in particular, have been the media of choice for many funeral music genres.

A proper historical outlook on funeral music begins prior to biblical history and continues through the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque, stylistically culminating in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  The Classical-to-Romantic transition years ultimately became a defining period for the Funeral March genre as the musical language was crystallized.

Funeral music types include both processional music and graveside subtypes—functional categories that intersect with two super-genres, the Funeral March and the Lament.  The Funeral March class includes the Dead March, the Pompe Funèbre, and the Equale; the Lament includes a broader range of genres such as the Planctus, the Déploration, the Dump, the Elegy, the Tombeau, the Threnody, and the Nanie.

The slate of musical topoi (topics) common in the Classical period includes the Funeral March, which in its purest form may be clearly defined in terms of rhythmic, melodic, and other musical characteristics.  Although the Funeral March is readily described and delineated, such music was not confined to functional, independent works; it was also found re-appropriated in many other genres—including opera, keyboard sonatas, and symphonies—that were intended primarily for the concert hall.

It is because the funeral musical codes were distilled into a style—and ultimately became a set of funeral genres—that most listeners can recognize funeral music, apprehending the Funeral March genre, in particular, without uncertainty.  Many funeral pieces are emotionally evocative and worthwhile, deserving of study and performance.

A decade after the original dissertation, I self-published the lion’s share of the prose, minus the actual musical transcriptions and minus the paper-waste required by graduate publishing conventions.  The paperback book is now available here

In reconsidering utilizing the material above, I am reminded anew of the historical association of funerals and mourning with wind instruments, and of the developmental connection between style and genre.  Musical coding—with such components as triplet rhythms, the sospiri (essentially a melodic sigh), and the subconscious or intentional utilization of keys such as D minor and C minor—continue to interest me.  Still, it is the authenticity aspect that draws me most:  when funeral or lament music draws from genuine human emotion in the face of death, the result can be evocative and compelling.


¹ Brian Casey, Funeral Music:  Historical Perspective, Genres and Styles, Semiotics and Musical Lexicography, and Exposition of Transcriptions (2nd ed., © 2015), 1.

Dying and death

When I was in my twenties, a random adult Bible class ended up on a rabbit trail¹ about death.  I commented that I was not afraid of death but was afraid of dying.  An intelligent, hardened woman in her early 50s looked at me cross-ways across the table, apparently annoyed by the distinction I drew. 

My thoughts were not changed by the woman’s glare, and they have not really been altered since.  I still do not fear the death state, and I’m still afraid of dying . . . yet it depends on how the dying occurs and how long it lasts. 

Will there be long-term pain?  Morphine? 
Will there be aloneness or memories shared with friends?
Will there be recovery through the miracles of modern medicine, followed by worsening conditions? 

I hear about intense pain, and I have my own sporadic pain.  When I see stories on Netflix that involve physical pain,² I sometimes wonder how I will die.  Despite impressive storytelling and videographic techniques, though, a certain distance exists between TV/movies and real life.  Last fall, when my father was hospitalized for a month and then died, I thought with new intensity about pain and “palliative care,” hospice care, dying, and death.  I haven’t spent enough time with medical ethics and philosophy to gain the right to delve too deeply here, but I might just delve anyway.

Since the first humans, death has been a part of life on this terrestrial ball.

Both mystery and science are involved in death.

Some may fear (or be “spooked” by) death, whereas others may take death almost stoically in the course of medical duty.

Some may irrationally live as though death will never occur, and others may rationally long for it.

I take death as not-final, but, clearly, there is a final aspect to it.

Often, when I leaf through a local newspaper, I notice the death announcements.  Is there anyone I know, or a relative or friend of someone I know?  Whose funeral is going to take a coworker out of the office?  Funerals and other memorial events help the living to acknowledge and process the passing of those they have known and loved.  Here, in a brief post, I shared a thank-you note from a family acquaintance after my mother and I attended a funeral for his mother.  This is but one indication of the meaning that funerals can have.  Funerals, of course, are not for the dead but for the living.  Funerals are a common feature of existence, but they do not always have the same “personality” or viable connection to God and the eternal.

I’ve been to some really good funerals in my days, and I’ve seen programs from others that were probably just as good.  During my college days, significant funerals included Lou’s and my grandfather’s.³  Years later, a funeral in SE Tennessee honored Kathryn, who was something of a mentor to my parents; another memorialized the father of Carolyn, an even closer friend for more years.  I distinctly remember the casketed bodies of good people like Sybil, Bob, and Henry.  I’ve had the honor of contributing to funeral music in song (leading and/or singing) for probably three or four dozen funerals.  All told, for three+ decades or so, I figure I gained a pretty good sense of one type of church funeral.  Among the top ten funerals of my life (an odd phrase, I know) occurred last fall, effectively beginning a new focus on death for me.  Among the best elements of this memorial time was the minister’s message.4  He apologized only briefly for reading the entire raising-Lazarus pericope (John 11), following that with “but it’s worth it” . . . and proceeding to show not only effective oral reading but also good insight.

The oh-so-human narrative of John 11 is quite provocative and “real.”  The minister made mention of multiple, real-life aspects that might be ignored by the casual reader.  For instance, the grave did stink, just as Martha predicted it would.  (Such facts can escape those of us who are more comfortable with theology and/or churchianity than with living in the shadow of the Rabbi.)  It was doubtless a horrible odor.  It was death inside that tomb—a tomb I have supposedly seen personally, according to the tourist-targeted sign (but I don’t hang my hat on the sign’s veracity).  Imagination and thoughts about the story run wild.  This was a very special relationship, and it shows not only Jesus’ human connections but the Son of God’s divine power.  For my money, the Lazarus5 story is more apropos of funerals and memorials than Psalm 23 or the notion of “many mansions.”  In John 11 the reader finds a belief in resurrection and life that meets even the deepest, most personal grief where it sighs.  Actually, such belief does better than meeting grief.  It ascends from human grieving with hope.

I am always, always stimulated and enriched by spending even the tiniest amount of focused time in any one of the gospels.  I know a good deal more about Mark and Matthew than Luke, but not nearly enough about any of the gospels.  There will always be more riches to mine!  John seems more philosophical to me than the others, even as it simply encourages belief in the incarnate One.  It makes sense, then, that John’s thoughts of life and death would draw me in.  I note that Mark’s gospel uses the word “life” 4x; Matthew, 7x, and Luke, 5x.  By way of comparison, John’s gospel uses ζωή | zoe—the word typically translated “life”—36 times (spread throughout, in 11 different chapters, from 1 to 20).  This word count alone suggest at least a motivic, if not thematic, focus within John’s particular gospel portrait.  (The word “death” is used almost the same number of times in each of the four canonical gospels.)  Surely, along with an appropriate consciousness of death can also come a deeper awareness of eternal life.

During the next few weeks, I want to offer various thoughts about death and dying.  My thoughts range from the preeminence of the Kingdom of God to the Hippocratic oath, and from euthanasia to the Passion of Jesus, and from life insurance to music.  I would be honored to hear from readers on this topic, as well.

Find other posts on death and dying here, beginning with my father’s death notice here and a tribute to caregivers here.


¹ Such meanderings can be rewarding, instructive, and memorable, but they occur too often when the stated goal is “Bible study.” 

² I do avoid “action” films built around gratuitous violence.

³ It was reported, in connection with my grandfather’s death, that his last words were “Lord Jesus, be merciful.”  Such a statement strikes me as an entirely appropriate utterance.  I imagine the words as something of a humble reflex born out of lifelong devotion, not a desperate prayer.  If nothing else, an appeal to Jesus shows faith.

This is a remarkable statement me to make, really, given my general aversion to formalized ministerial roles.

5 Lazarus, by the way, is one very strong candidate for the title of “the one Jesus loved,” and also a candidate for having written at least portions of this gospel we know as “John.”


 

Learned in a hospital room

I learned a few things during the hours in my father’s hospital room.  Below are a few thoughts, developed a little since then.
  1. The motion of time seems different when a loved one is in a hospital room.  Sometimes it stands still, and sometimes you have no idea where the time went and why you never picked up your book to read.
  2. One should never underestimate the relief potential of water or ice.  When you can’t have water because of pending or past medical procedures, even a moist, cool swab on the lips can be appreciated like a good meal, a neck rub, or a thousand dollars.
  3. It is possible for a large proportion of a hospital staff to be caring, knowledgeable, warmly “connected” health workers.  There might be one favorite nurse or aide.  In our case, 4, 6, or even 10 rise to the top, depending on who you talk to.  The bottom of the heap was far above average.  Exceptional courtesy and warmth of personality can also play important roles in patient care.
  4. I’m a bit squeamish when I think of some of the things medical people have to do, and I recoil even from thinking about the pain of certain procedures, but blood and fluids are things I can deal with.  We can usually manage and get through what we have to, and it certainly helps to share the experience with multiple family members.
  5. No matter how knowledgeable, devoted, and caring the healthcare professionals are, it is quite possible and even likely that communicational misfires will occur.  Some of these may affect a patient’s ultimate health or even threaten life on occasion.  I attest to the fact that, on multiple occasions, information bits were missed by pros in our experience.  It is inevitable, no matter how good the technology and intentions.  Several of us helped to connect dots on occasion, most often with the thanks and attention of the docs and nurses.  It is important to read reputable web pages and to be informed, but I think it is even more important to be attentive in the moment, in the room.
  6. Being on the night crew has its benefits, and I suspect that night medical workers also require some additional skills in order to do the things they do in relative isolation all through the wee hours.
  7. Medical machines are fancier and more numerous these days.  Various equipment and supplies¹ for patient care seem to ease things a bit.  Technology advances, but there is always, always great value in a simple hand-massage or a genuine smile.
  8. Hospitals seem to have eased up on some of the visitation restrictions of the past.  At least in some units, relatives are encouraged to be there, not shooed out when “visiting hours” are over.  Many stay nights in patients’ rooms.  At some point in the last couple of decades, hospitals must’ve begun to realize more that having your own loved ones nearby is important.
  9. Wires and tubes and machines and hums and beeps are less mysterious than they first seem.  I learned some abbreviations and initials, e.g., NG, IV IG, and NPO and could readily use medical and anatomical labels when it might help in communicating.  After a while, I started pushing the IV silence button, having learned to recognize a few of the flashing codes.  I played with the position of the tubes and felt free to take the oxygen lines out for a little while for Dad’s comfort or so we could read his lips when he spoke quietly.  When the nurses or aides saw what I was comfortable with, they would sometimes ask me to help with something.  Partnership and teamwork were and are to be valued.
  10. Compassion tends to surface in a hospital room.

¹ There are automatically inflating calf “socks,” minty swabs for oral care and comfort, increasingly automated IV machines, and more.  Packets of this and that must fill many supply closets.  Perhaps these items are not so much new as new to me.)  Sometimes, another prop pillow or extra blanket was just the thing.  I shudder to think of the expense to the insurance company, not to mention the fights that may be ahead because of duplicated procedures and things that some actuary might unknowingly deem medically unnecessary.  In the room, though, all these things were good and used intentionally.

Caregivers and healthcare pros

Words cannot express my family’s gratitude for the physicians, nurses, aides, and technicians that cared for my dad during his month-long hospitalization.  Upon Dad’s hospital admission, his lifelong friend who was also his primary physician quickly called in another specialist —an oncologist (who was not dealing with any cancer in our case).  This doc brought considerable investigative gifts to bear as he put the pieces of this “Dr. House” case together and consulted with others.  Both of these men are highly respected as skilled, caring doctors, and also as committed Christian men.  That devotion was shown in multiple ways, including their giving their cell phone numbers to us.  They asked for, and responded to, our updates, even a couple of weeks after my dad had been transferred to another hospital for state-of-the-art treatment.  The primary physician/friend later signed my dad’s death certificate and also spoke at the memorial ceremony.

A general surgeon did excellent emergency surgery in the abdomen, and Dad healed well from that.  A neurologist read the initial radiology report in great detail and spoke with another specialist who was in transition to another hospital.  Two cardiac specialists saw Dad on rounds and monitored the circulatory system (only a side issue in this case), carefully considering the possible impact of each step taken.  We have two relatives with high-level biochemistry/medical university teaching experience; it was a blessing to be able to rely on their advice.¹

I had my favorites among the nurses and CSAs (Clinical Support Associates/aides) at this first hospital, but I loved and appreciated qualities in each of them.  The charge nurse Jennifer, for instance, showed above-and-beyond, sincere concern for Dad as he was administered a sedative prior to the second attempt at a lengthy series of MRIs.  Tracy connected with both my mom and my dad, and she prayed for us, as several others did.  Alicia, serving as an aide but about to graduate with an R.N. degree, gave amazing relief to my dad with skilled tissue massage.  I cannot recall a single caregiver at this hospital who responded with anything other than attentive, helpful care and promises kept.  Sure, some were a little quicker or slightly more skilled than others, but every one was good.

Some nurses and aides seemed to travel in pairs, working closely together.  Callie & Susan and Stephanie & Emily made for great teams in the daytime, and Jason & Robert at night.  All the nurses and aides regularly asked if we needed anything, and when asked for something (ice chips, pillow, a med check, or whatever), each one responded willingly.

Brad the radiology tech stayed 3-4 hours past his shift to give my dad the benefit of his personal skill, seeing him through the 2nd painful, anxiety-laden MRI.  I don’t think we’ll ever forget Kristy from dietary, who, upon hearing Dad tease Mom in a whisper, grinned and said if her husband said that, she’d get “butter in a sock.”  It was hard to imagine that sweet person putting a stick of butter in a sock and chasing her husband around, beating on him.  With a grin, Kristy said, “It doesn’t leave marks.”  I’ll bet she’d heard that country “solution” from her grandmother.  This was the kind of personality and warmth that existed in my dad’s room for most of the time he was hospitalized.

When we transferred Dad to a 2nd hospital, I was only there for one evening since my sister arrived then.  I personally experienced one rather arrogant internist who proved to be nearly worthless in our case, except in that he eventually called in a specialist when he finally humbled himself and listened to a few things my sister said.  We had the distinct impression that a couple of key people, including this “lead,” really needed to have read the medical chart thoroughly first.  A neurologist seemed attentive, and a physical therapist or two helped Dad sit up one time and encouraged him, but the week+ in that hospital was essentially wasted time.

On the other hand, the hospital above was very fine.  Finally, a bed had become available at this university hospital, so Dad was transferred to yet a 3rd institution.  No caregiving duds existed in this bunch.  Skilled docs with strong communication gifts included a CCU/ICU attending that we liked very much.  Jackie, a day nurse, could be slightly businesslike and gruff but also took good care of dad and had a strong hug with Mom one evening, mentioning her prayer for us.  Randy, another day nurse, holds a special place in our hearts because of his years of experience and obvious expertise, but also because of his faith statements and appreciation of our hymn singing on Thanksgiving evening.  Randy told us, “Every day I work for God.”  He also said one morning, as my dad had turned a corner positively, “I usually take care of really sick people, and you don’t need me anymore.”

My favorite nurse was Kelsey.  Her perfect pacing, her wide-open attention, and her consistent, thorough care through the night provided reassurance.  Each task (e.g., turning/wedging, leg/foot treatments, and bed changes, which she did herself instead of relying on an aide; not to mention the IV monitoring and more medically crucial items) seemed perfectly executed.  It was Kelsey who by her ways and spirit gave Mom the peace of mind to leave Dad alone for the night for the first time.  Rebecca, another day nurse, talked openly with me about Dad’s worsening condition near the end; she was very caring and attentive, as well.

After Dad’s death, a dear lady with whom Dad had worked commented, “I will even miss getting him a bottle of water every day, and the gratitude he showed.  He was a gentleman.  Completely.”  In the hospital, too, Dad’s gratitude was shown in his whispers and eyes, and most caregivers got to experience that.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone more adept at showing gratitude than my dad when he was a patient.  Although his voice was weak, no one mistook his genuine appreciation.

For all the aides, nurses, and doctors, we the family members now give thanks.  We had at many points hoped to return to the 1st hospital (at least) with Dad in a wheelchair, showing them the good news that he was recovering.  That was not to be.  Now, we give thanks for the Lord’s mercy in not allowing Dad’s earthly life to continue in a difficult, depressing, burdensome way.  We grieve, but we do not grieve as those who have no hope.   While Dad’s memory will live for quite a while in those who knew and loved him, it is infinitely more important that his soul will live eternally with God.


¹ Our medical vocabularies quickly grew—perhaps too quickly for our own good, because the terms would sometimes fly over the hospital bed faster than we could take them in or jot down notes.

My father

After a complex set of illnesses and a period of hospitalized treatment by many expert physicians and nurses, Gerald Casey’s earthly frame was exhausted, but his spirit continued, even through his final hospitalization, in worshipful focus on his eternal Lord.  He died on November 28.

The son of Max and Ruth Casey, Gerald was born January 1, 1940, in Pangburn.  He is survived by his wife of almost 57 years, the former Bettye Ritchie; a brother, Lanny (Linette) Texas; three children, Brian (Karly) of Kansas; Laura (Bruce Finnie) of Pennsylvania; and Greta (Neil Floyd) of Washington; and seven grandchildren.

GWC


The past five weeks have been rather intense—and intensely rewarding, as well.  I’ll surely have more to share on this blog about relationships, death, dying, hospital caregivers, and more.