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Have It Your Way by:
Don Dunham

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Barfly Tales From The Barstool By: Clint Lien

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In Memoriam
By L.N.P.

Monday, Oct 30th, was a glorious day. The sky was a brilliant blue, the sun shone fiercely golden, the roses bloomed in splendid pinks and reds. My mother died at 6:25 that morning, and I was holding her hand. I know, somehow, that she waited, because Sunday had been so bleak and rainy. And she waited, too, for me to wake and enter her room. The hospice nurse told me that my mother had been ready to go for about an hour. Quickly I took her hand in mine, and she breathed her last breaths within minutes. She knew I wanted, needed, to be holding her hand when she left.

Last month I described the agony of discovering that my mother had pancreatic cancer, and the shock my whole family felt when we heard she only had months to live. As it turned out, she only had one month, but what a month it was. What a beautiful, painful, illuminating, heart-breaking, and inspiring month it was.

It was the most difficult thing I have ever done. Yet, it is possible that I learned more about life in this last month than I have ever known. The process of dying, it turns out, is the most intimate thing, as intimate and loving as the process of giving birth, and just as much a part of life. There are moments, for the dying, that must be enriching, ennobling, embarrassing. There are moments, for the caregivers, that are gratifying, empowering, frightening. For everyone, there are rewards: the priceless gifts of a smile, a touch, a loving glance, a tender mercy.

I learned a lot about people too. Perhaps most significantly, I discovered in my mother such courage, such bravery, so much strength that it blew my mind. I never knew that about her. I knew how much she loved me, how much she loved us all. I knew how little it took to make her happy, and how little it took to throw her into a total panic. When her remote control wouldn't work, when she had to fill out a form, when her lamp broke, my mother was a total weakling. But when she had to deal with cancer, and unimaginable pain, and impending death; she was a pillar of strength. What a wonderful thing to learn about my mother.

I saw my family bond even closer together in their love and support of each other and for my mother than I thought possible. I learned that I could lean on my magnificent daughter and she would be there, every day, like a rock, a rock I could hold, and hug, and share tears of sorrow with. I learned, yet again, how deeply sweet, and kind, and loving my husband is, how sensitive, caring and vulnerable my son and brother are, how thoughtful and generous of time and spirit all their significant others proved to be. I found out that many of my friendships, as well as theirs, were so strong that we could never have suspected their collossal depth, and that some people can embrace this kind of situation and bring you comfort in so many different ways, while others simply can't; they have their own unique wounds and life experiences and must keep their distance.

One of the most valuable things I learned was about hospice, and this is something that must be shared, because it can help others. When we first brought my mother home to live with us, she was still able, with our help, to walk around, to eat at the dinner table, to enjoy her beloved Yankee games. Within ten days, however, she became bedridden, her strength ebbing, her normal interest in the news and sports and everyday life waning. My daughter and I began the serious care-giving, changing rapidly from fetching meals and root beer floats, to feeding her ice cream from a spoon and changing her diapers. Our backs were breaking, our nerves were shattered, our hearts were breaking. We had called hospice on the advice of my cousin and another close friend, and they began to visit. At first it just seemed overwhelming (too many names and faces; we could manage on our own) but within days we knew we couldn't go on without them. There was the Team Manager, and the Team Nurse, the social worker, the triage nurses, and finally, the continuous care nurses. There were constant deliveries of supplies and medicine; the bedside commode replaced by the diapers: the morphine pills replaced by the sub-cutaneous pump: the wheelchair replaced by the hospital bed.

But thank God for hospice. When the time comes and you find yourself in this situation, be kind to yourself and call them. They will save your life, and in the process help your loved one go from this world to the next with respect, dignity, and peace. They are all about pain management- for the dying, who need it desperately-and, as it turns out, for the living. They are compassionate, spiritual, practical, and thoroughly competent at what they do, because that is what they do. So, let them do it and be grateful that people like them exist. I want to thank VITAS, and in particular, Carol Rees, Lisa Alarcon, Carolyn, Iris, John, Lewis, Eve, and Floyd. I apologize for not knowing most of their last names. They came in the day, and in the middle of the night; they entered our lives briefly, but they impacted our lives eternally.

Missing my mother has become a part of my life. Sometimes I wonder how I'll get through a day without calling her. But I take great comfort in the fact that I was able to surround her with love until her time on earth was through. And, I take enormous comfort in the words from a poem by Henry Van Dyke, contained in a book given to me by Carol Rees. It describes a ship with beautiful white sails heading out to sea, until she is only a speck on the horizon. Suddenly, she is gone from sight. Yet, just at the moment when someone says: "There, she is gone!" there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout: "Here she comes!" I know those who were eagerly awaiting my mother's arrival must be suffused with joy.

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