The Agony of Prolonged Expectations

This post describes, in part, the effects of a degenerative neurological condition called Huntington’s Disease. Any negative behavior on the part of my wife should be attributed to that condition. Any negative behavior on the part of myself should be attributed to my need for God’s ongoing grace.

If you would like to read our story from the beginning, you can start here: How We Got Here…

I got this title as a (perhaps inadvertent) gift from my sister in Indiana. Which is what the Porters are knee deep in right now: prolonged expectations – and not a little associated agony. As I posted on my Facebook timeline, Frannie and I have started a new policy in terms of caring for Janet where one of us is with her 24/7. During the day, I sit next to her, while Frannie handles the “night shift.”

So Frannie doesn’t have to sit up all night, we have an old mattress that we put on the floor next to Janet’s bed. That way she can sleep when needed. She also sets a timer so that even if she sleeps, she wakes up once an hour to check on her mom. This morning about 2:00 when Frannie woke up to check on her, Janet had somehow managed to pull her pillow out from under her head and the pillow was over her face! Janet is okay, but it scared both of us.

In other news, when the nurse came this week, he determined that Janet was not making enough urine to justify the catheter, so he removed it. In addition, he began to suspect a UTI (perhaps caused by the catheter) so he recommended an antibiotic. This event had a couple of interesting side impacts. To begin with, it became clear that Janet heard and remembered the conversation that I had with the nurse.

In addition, while she is continuing to have a lot of trouble stringing thoughts together and speaking, she certainly understands much of what she hears. For example, when the medicine that the nurse recommended did not arrive on schedule she got very agitated, repeatedly asking the time and asking for her medicine. When we eventually got the medicine, she quickly calmed down and slept. Since starting the antibiotics, she has also drunk more water.

As it turns out, this reaction to the medicine is another potential indication of a UTI. Often people with dementia lose the language skills to express physical discomfort verbally so it comes out as irritation, aggression, or agitation. Consequently, when the medications started soothing the UTI, Janet became more calm and relaxed.

Finally, we got our Christmas decorations up this week. While there is no danger of our home being seen from space, we like the little potted pine that I bought at the store.

It’s not very big, but it is placed and decorated with love. Janet can see it from her bed, and that is enough…

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In addition to this blog, I am writing other things. For instance, I am currently working on the editing of a metaphorical fantasy book that I have written, titled simply The Journey. While doing that kind of work I like to listen to music on YouTube. In the comments section on one of the videos, I spied a comment by a young kid (maybe 18) who was talking about being depressed, alone and lacking motivation. The poster was also complaining about catching a lot of “bad breaks” and couldn’t wait to “get on with life.” At that age I know that I wanted – and expected – things to happen fast. The paradox, of course, was that life is already moving very very fast, but at 18 it feels like it is creeping by.

Still, there seemed to be a common thread between my book and the journey he was on, so I decided to reply. The post that the kid left was already 30 days old, so I started by referencing that…


I hope that things are going better for you now than they were a month ago. But looking back from a perspective of having seen 67 summers come and go, there’s a couple things that I want to say.
First, there is no such thing as an accident, random chance, or luck. Those are all concepts thought up by people who figured that they need someone or something to blame for misfortune. The truth is that you don’t need a scapegoat to blame because misfortune is itself a myth. Everything has a reason.

Second, being alone can be a terrible thing. I know because after 35 years of marriage to a woman I would do anything for, at some point in the next month or so, I know that I will be alone again because the woman I love will die from a condition called Huntington’s Disease. However, through my wife’s and my journey together I have learned that I am never really alone – even when the bed next to me is empty. Eyes are too easily fooled.

Third, it’s good that you have big plans, but big plans need big reasons to exist – bigger reasons than you. You want to be fabulously successful in business? Great, but you need a reason bigger than your own comfort or self-gratification. You want to be a great artist? Wonderful, but your art needs to have a purpose beyond having an impressive retail value.

The bottom line is that your life is not about you and what you can get. The only life worth living is one that is about the world around you and what you can give.


My comment has gotten a couple positive responses, but I have no way of knowing whether the original poster has seen it – he or she hasn’t responded.

I wanted to mention this post here because those points are critical for caregivers. Messages espousing self-centeredness are becoming increasingly common – even among those who frequent the support forums. I would be remiss if I failed to point out that this trend counters millenia of Judeo-Christian teaching and practice. For example, consider the Ten Commandments. While there are certainly repercussions when I violate any of them, ask yourself: who is most directly impacted by the transgression of most of these rules, you or the one being lied to (or about), murdered, robbed or sexually betrayed?

The point is that in this mad rush towards a worldview that puts us (individually) in the center of the cosmos, we are abandoning the very things that made our world what it is today.

Another disturbing trend that has at least the potential of impacting caregivers is that I have begun to see exposé articles online decrying the number of unskilled, unprofessional people (that’s us, in case you were wondering) who are caring for ill and infirm family members. The articles then go on to wonder aloud how the government allows (!) this to continue. One article even likened it to practicing medicine without a license. Their “solution” is to force or coerce the aged and ill into moving into government controlled facilities – just the sort of places that government officials turned into death houses during the recent pandemic.

But above all, we must resist surrendering to the fear that characterizes so much of society. Remember that fear is the deadliest virus because it not only steals your future, but your present as well. Moreover, it has this deathly impact whether the thing feared appears or not. What is more, it matters not whether you are fearing a pandemic or autocratic politicians, because neither in the end have any control over what ultimately happens to you.

To attribute the power of life and death to germs and politicians is the basest form of idolatry. So I guess the real lesson is that when the resolution of a situation is delayed, don’t go looking for an alternative solution. The best answer is coming and it is always worth waiting for.

In Christ, Amen ☩

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A prayer for when you grow weary of waiting…

“Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the Universe. It is right that I should at all times and in all circumstances bless You for the ways in which You hold the world together, from the mightiest star system to the tiniest particle of dust. But today I want to bless You especially for the perfection of Your timing. I often feel like something is taking far too long, or conversely, that it flies by without time to even appreciate its passing. Nevertheless, thank You for always having what I need when I need it. Amen.”

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

This post describes, in part, the effects of a degenerative neurological condition called Huntington’s Disease. Any negative behavior on the part of my wife should be attributed to that condition. Any negative behavior on the part of myself should be attributed to my need for God’s ongoing grace.

If you would like to read our story from the beginning, you can start here: How We Got Here…

This week, in the U.S. at least, a holiday was celebrated (Thanksgiving) that had its foundation in the earliest years of our country’s formation, and was celebrated sporadically until it was formally defined by a Presidential proclamation in 1863. Although this event occurred during an exceedingly dark time in our nation’s history – our Civil War – President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November to be a day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” That much is history.

This year, Thanksgiving in the Porter household was a bit different. To begin with, Frannie and I can’t be out of the house at the same time now, so rather than going out to dinner, we decided to do Thanksgiving dinner here at home. I got a 12.68 lb turkey and fixed it with stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. Although the recipe specified 15 minutes per pound, the actual cooking time according to the all-knowing pop-up timer was slightly less that the 3 hours, 10 minutes and 12 seconds that the formula predicted.

In addition, Frannie and I ate on TV trays in the living room so we could be near to Janet – not exactly Norman Rockwell, but it got the job done.

Frannie in her Huntington’s T-shirt

As usual we did the “Five Kernels Of Corn” ritual, and while our mouths were still filled with the requisite thanksgiving and praise to God, this year some of the things for which we are giving thanks would probably seem a bit odd for those on the outside of our “community” who, looking in, might wonder what there is to be thankful for.

For instance, this year my first kernel of corn was, “I am thankful that Janet has started having bowel movements again, and is continuing to pass urine.” Strange, right? Not if you have ever cared for someone in the end stages of a terminal disease.

My second kernel of corn thanks God that things have worked out such that Janet can be in hospice here at home, protected from fearmongers that would isolate her from what little humanity she has left in order to “keep her safe.” Here at home, she has her husband and daughter to care for her, and while we might not be the most professional at times, we love her and care about her as a human being. Moreover, we recognize that the ultimate outcome is not in our hands. Although we might try to ignore the fact, this point is also true for all of us. Worry cannot add a single second to your life: all it does is steal your ability to live the life you have. There are no guarantees, and (with the possible exception of one or two) everyone ever born has died.

The third kernel of corn reminds me to be thankful that Janet is not surrounded by medical instruments and monitors to catalog every beat of her heart and measure every breath she takes. I did that once with my son Larry, who died when he was three days old. Those three days were beyond indescribable because, among other things, it turned his tormented little blue body into a machine that they had to keep going for one more hour, one more minute, one more second.

Unfortunately, that attitude can exist even without the monitors. And seeing humans as but mere machines has other implications, like the recent ruling in Denmark that says it is now permissible for a doctor to sedate a person to keep them from interfering with those who are “assisting” them with their “suicide.” Can you say “Orwellian?”

Kernel number four is for my daughter Frannie. She has been, and is continuing to be, amazing. She is daily dealing with things that women her age should not have to be concerned with. Together we have learned how to tag-team Janet’s care and how to work together to do such things as change the linens on a bed while it is still occupied.

The fifth, and last, kernel is for me a thankful reminder – and reassurance – that the words put down by the founders of our nation are most certainly true, that we, “ … are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights … ” – a truth, by the way, which they did not create. It was another truth that they discovered, not unlike the truth of gravity or the truth of a (roughly) spherical world.

However, this bold statement changed the world, because it made clear the fact that human rights are not given by governments and rulers, but that they come from God. Secondly, the document as a whole proclaimed that that wasn’t true just for the citizens of thirteen British colonies in North America, but rather, this truth is fundamental and applies to all people regardless of who they are or even when and where they live. This point, in turn, should give rulers pause when they try to either take credit for, or abridge the rights of a people. Though it rarely does. I wonder what was the last thing to go through the minds of Benito Mussolini or Nicolae Ceausescu – I mean besides the bullets.

Therefore, while there might be much to be aware of, there is also much to be thankful for even in the hardest of situations. Yes, it is true that Janet’s health is failing day by day. But it is also true that when her end comes (whenever and however it might occur) she will not simply meld into some impersonal cosmic consciousness, evaporate into nothingness, or be patted on the head and told to go back and try again.

When she leaves here she will be going on to another somewhere, where she will meet the Someone who created her. Then, free of the Huntington’s Disease, she will be reunited with those who have loved her and gone before, “ … back a thousand generations, to the beginning of the worlds.”

In Christ, Amen ☩

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A prayer for when you are feeling less than thankful…

“Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the Universe. It is right that I should at all times and in all circumstances bless You for all the manifest gifts that You bestow upon the world that You created. But today I want to bless You especially for the gifts that we remember on Thanksgiving. Please give me a perspective that allows me to see the blessing in all that You bring into my life. Then show me how to share those blessings and truths so as to enlighten the hearts and souls of my fellow travelers. Amen.”

Caregiving Beyond “Fear and Loathing”

This post describes, in part, the effects of a degenerative neurological condition called Huntington’s Disease. Any negative behavior on the part of my wife should be attributed to that condition. Any negative behavior on the part of myself should be attributed to my need for God’s ongoing grace.

If you would like to read our story from the beginning, you can start here: How We Got Here…

It is clear that death is drawing nearer. It would be nice if other things were equally clear. Dying is apparently a longer, more difficult process than I imagined. To be brutally honest, my main experience in watching people die has been via the medium of old westerns on TV or at the movies, where the process takes a maximum of about 30 seconds. True, my mother died a few years ago, but after standing by for 48 hours at her bedside, she waited until I went out for five minutes to get a sandwich, so all I got was a call from hospice that she was gone.

Old memories and attitudes continue to replay this week, though some are far from being “old friends” that have come to visit one last time. For example, this week Janet started to refuse her sublingual anxiety med because she said it made her constipated – and it does no good to remind her that she hasn’t had a bowel movement worthy of the name in several months, long before she started taking the sublingual meds. Her reply is always, “Well, I know my body!” – another very old tape that has been replaying a lot this week. I have often wondered how things might have been different if she had listened to her doctors, rather than fight them every step of the way. No doctor is perfect, but no doctor is 100% wrong, either.

We had to get her Foley catheter replaced because her original one was leaking. She has also become obsessed with the time. I bought her an “Alzheimer’s Clock” a couple months ago with letters big enough for her to read, but I suspect that she can no longer see things clearly that are more than a couple feet away.

This week we also decided to do Thanksgiving at home for the first time in several years. Typically we have gone out to keep things simple, but with Janet so ill, Frannie and I can’t be gone at the same time so I got a small bird and we are going to do it on our own again. In addition, we thought that Frannie’s boyfriend Leroy was going to eat with us, but his presence is required at his own family’s table – though he will be able to come by in the evening for pie and coffee. The end result is that we are going to have more turkey than we need for two, so if you are in southeastern Texas and alone, PM me and you can have Thanksgiving with us. Our place isn’t large but I think that we can fit in one or two more friends.

PS: If you like white meat, that is a “plus.” Frannie and I don’t.

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Maybe it’s the time of year, or maybe I am just becoming more sensitive due to where Janet is in the process of dying, but I seem to be seeing more posts expressing, as the title suggests, considerable “fear and loathing.” For example, fear of the future or the judgement of others, or self loathing rising from an unreasonable belief that you should do more, and complain less. The many other sources of these feelings are well known, so I won’t attempt to list them all here – besides you probably already in mind your own private list of triggers: that thing (or parade of things) that popped into your head as soon as you read the title.

This week I was conversing with a friend who has been amazing, caring for various members of her family for 40 years, yet she described being angry with herself for not doing more, and not being able to simply “snap out of it” when her latest loved one died. But it doesn’t take death to bring on the “fear and loathing.” I have seen the same issues come up when considering various care options for a loved one who is still alive. While the ”big one” is always the issue of whether it is time to consider a nursing home, it can also arise over issues such as needing to go to work, hiring an outside aide, preparing meals, or even asking for help from other family members.

And then there are the loathsome familial guilt-trippers. Like for example, the sister-in-law who lives two doors down and is constantly telling you what you should be doing to take care of your mother but refuses to lend a hand because, “She isn’t my Mom.”

The thing to remember when considering these issues is that there is a fundamental paradox involved. The people who logically have the least reason to feel these negative emotions (and guilt too, we can’t forget guilt!) often feel them the most strongly, while the people who have the most reason to feel them, rarely ever do. Why is that?

There may be many reasons, but a pattern I have observed over and over again is that good caregivers are never satisfied with the level of care they are providing. Consequently, they are constantly critiquing their own job performance and constantly finding it lacking. Combine this type of self judgement with the obvious fact that many caregivers are isolated from other human contact and you have the perfect setup for fear and loathing, with a heaping side dish of steaming guilt.

By contrast, we have what we shall call the good-enough caregiver. These people concentrate not on what the loved one needs, but what is good enough to be able to check all the right boxes. Just as the previous scenario is a recipe for fear and loathing, so this one typically ends in self-proclaimed absolution. “After all,” they reason, “what I’m doing may not be perfect, but it is good enough.”

But are those the only two options? Frankly, neither one is particularly appealing. For a little added insight, I once had a friend who was in AA. It was about this time of year and we were talking about how he gets through the holiday season sober, and his answer was telling. He said the way to get through it in one piece was to not get “too.” When I asked him what I meant he said, “You know: too happy, too sad, too depressed, too carefree, just don’t be ‘too’ anything. To stay out of the ditches, steer for the center of the road.”

So what does steering for the center of the road look like in caregiving? Well, the first step is make sure that we are making the most important thing, the Most Important Thing. Which is to say, making your loved one’s care the central focus of the exercise.

Next, make room for growth. We need to recognize that while constantly looking for ways to improve the quality of care is a good thing, that improvement is itself a journey, not a destination. Whether you are caring for your spouse as I am, or building automobiles like Toyota, the proper goal is not quality, but continually improving quality. So rather than beating yourself up for not as being as good as you will be tomorrow, acknowledge yourself for being better than you were yesterday.

Finally, we need to recognize that we do not have unlimited resources. While there are many things that we as caregivers can and do learn to do ourselves, there will often come a time when our loved one’s needs will out-strip what we can do, or learn how to do. When those situations arise, it is time to call in the people or services that can provide the needed care. In that case, your job as caregiver is to help identify, and set up the services that will provide what your loved one truly needs – which might require a bit of creativity.

For example, there was a situation where a daughter was worried for her parents, Her mother (84) had dementia and her primary caregiver was her father (86). It was absolutely clear to everyone in the family that Mom needed to be in a skilled nursing facility, but Dad wouldn’t hear of it. In his noble mind, it was his job to take care of his beloved, not work for some stranger. The solution: the family found a care facility that they could go into together and share a room. This arrangement gave him the dignity of continuing to fulfill his duty to care for the love of his life, while giving him the support and care that he was increasingly needing too.

So take heart, if you are worried about how good a job you are doing, you are already over the first and largest hurdle: You care and are dedicated to the best of care for your loved one. Now just steer for the center of the road.

In Christ, Amen ☩

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A prayer for when you are feeling guilty and afraid…

“Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the Universe. It is right that I should at all times and in all circumstances bless You for the divine wisdom and care that gives the cosmos its form. But today I want to bless You especially for the reassurance and strength that You provide. Thank You for holding me up when I feel weak. Thank You for the gift of life that You have bestowed upon me, and that You allow me to share with { Name of your loved one }. Show me every day how to do the job better. Amen.”

Waiting on God

This post describes, in part, the effects of a degenerative neurological condition called Huntington’s Disease. Any negative behavior on the part of my wife should be attributed to that condition. Any negative behavior on the part of myself should be attributed to my need for God’s ongoing grace.

If you would like to read our story from the beginning, you can start here: How We Got Here…

Janet got back from her hospice respite time well-rested and well-cared-for, even if a bit confused. She didn’t understand who was picking her up, or where they were taking her. One thought was that they were picking her up to drive her to Heaven. But then she became convinced that she had been “kidnapped” by some shady operators from a political campaign, but she had forced them to bring her home instead.

While it might be tempting to snicker at or worry about these sorts of expressions, they actually show that her brain is still processing information and trying to do what human brains do best: make sense of the world – even when large chunks of information are missing or distorted.

Another example of the wonder of human consciousness is memory, and everyone knows that dementia means to forget. Nevertheless, there are exceptions. For some unknown reason, while the ability to retain short-term memory in general gradually disappears, something will occasionally “stick” and be retained.

A couple weeks ago when Janet was trying to figure out the logistics of how she was going to get to heaven, she asked me what dying would be like. In response, I told her it would be like drifting off to sleep, but when she woke up she would be looking into the face of Jesus. While that answered her question and put her mind at ease, it did create another issue: disappointment.

Every morning now, Janet opens her eyes, expecting to see Jesus, but instead beholds only me. Being understandably disappointed, she asks the one simple question that has been this week’s focus: “Why am I still here?”

Before continuing, I also want to acknowledge the CNA that the home hospice agency we are working with has assigned us. Latonya is a wonder, always kind and professional, but also playful and friendly. For example, this week she brought Janet some flowers to help cheer her up.

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One of the most common faith-based themes deals with the idea of waiting on God. However, in English, at least, the phrase “waiting on” can carry several different meanings. For example, in some usages it is a synonym for “serving,” as in: “I will be just a moment, I am waiting on another customer.” Occasionally this concept is used in a religious context to describe service to and for God. Interestingly, when considering the teachings of Jesus, the distinction between providing service to God and providing service for God, can get very fuzzy, especially when you consider the degree to which God identifies with the weak and powerless – as when he tells us, “As you have done to the least of these, so you do to me.”

Next, there is the idea of waiting on someone to provide an answer, such as God answering a prayer. We are often advised to pray and then wait on God to provide an answer. As an aside, we are told that God answers prayers by saying, “Yes,” “No,” or “Not now.” However, I have learned that other variations are possible, such as, “Yes, but…” Those are the tricky situations because like Cinderella we tend to hear the, “Yes you can go to the ball,” but miss the admonition or condition that follows.

Then finally, there is the sense in which Janet and our family are “waiting on” God. This type of waiting on isn’t primarily about service – though for those of us around Janet, there is that component. Likewise, we aren’t really waiting for a decision, because all the decisions to be made have been made. Rather, it feels like our task is simply waiting for the right time. But why is that waiting needed?

Well, in a world where we are alone and nothing we do or say impacts anyone else, there would be no need for this type of waiting. However, as you are no doubt aware, that is not the world we live in. Rather, we live in a world of unimaginable complexity. In the secular realm, this complexity is why governmental centralized planning has never worked well, regardless of how many times it has been tried, and it is why the phrase “unintended consequences” is now a standard part of the modern political lexicon.

An interesting movie that played with this idea of interconnectedness and the importance of timing, was a 1998 German film named Lola rennt, or for its English release Run, Lola, Run. The plot is really pretty simple: Lola gets a panicked phone call from her boyfriend Manni, who has just lost a bag full of money that belongs to the mob. If Lola can’t replace it in 20 minutes he will probably be killed. Because she has no car, she has to run across town (in this case, Berlin) and come up with a scheme for obtaining the money.

In a series of real-life instant replays, Lola tries three separate times using different ploys to get the money and obtained from the first two attempts different (unpleasant) results. On the third try, she finally gets the money, only to discover that it wasn’t really needed after all. However, for me, the most interesting part was how along the way she encounters the same people over and over again. Although the timing of their encounters varies by no more than a few seconds, the encounters produce dramatically different results in the lives of the people involved.

The obvious point of the movie is to highlight the chaotic nature of life and the unimaginable complexities of all the possible interactions between people and events. That much of the movie, at least, I can agree with. Unfortunately, the larger framework of the picture ends up being profoundly nihilistic in that the ultimate message is that all of life is left up to random chance. While the main characters (Lola and Manni) end up having what might be called a happy ending, the underlying message is despair masquerading as irony, because they just happened to be lucky – this time.

In that view of the world, the complexity of life results in despair because there is no one who sees the big picture, no one has a plan, and no one has their hands on the control levers. In point of fact, in that view of the world, there isn’t even any reasonable explanation for why the complexity even exists in the first place. In that view of the world, Janet and all the people like her are simply written off as unimportant because no one has a real answer to the question, “Why am I still here?” – let alone really hard questions like, “Why are any of us here?”

However, there is an answer that explains the complexity of the world, and which gives meaning to Janet’s life – and your life too. This answer has such power because it starts with the Creator God’s bold declaration at the birth of the universe that all of creation has value and meaning. We can know this because in Genesis 1, at the end of each creative step, the Creator God proclaims that each part of creation “is good” – an idea that the psalmist echoes over and over again in his glorification of God’s handiwork. The one exception, of course, is the creation of human beings, which He describes as, “very good.”

With that truth as the context for life, meaning and value are always available, because it recasts the hurt, pain, and brokenness of life in terms of renewing and restoring the goodness that was in the world originally, but was lost and is now being recovered through the faithful actions of believers. In this context, my wife – indeed all human life – is of infinite value regardless of age or circumstances because God has declared it to be so. Likewise, our service to others becomes a monument to truth and fidelity in a world that is sorely lacking in both.

In Christ, Amen ☩

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A prayer for when you are wondering why…

“Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the Universe. It is right that I should at all times and in all circumstances bless You for who You are. But today I want to bless You especially for how Your nature defines reality for us. Thank You also for not being silent, but speaking out to the world. Thank you for a reality that is plain and open, and not hidden behind esoteric masks. Amen.”

This is a test… This is only a test…

This post describes, in part, the effects of a degenerative neurological condition called Huntington’s Disease. Any negative behavior on the part of my wife should be attributed to that condition. Any negative behavior on the part of myself should be attributed to my need for God’s ongoing grace.

If you would like to read our story from the beginning, you can start here: How We Got Here…

One of the nice things about home hospice is that they offer an option for respite care – which is to say, a chance for the caregiver to get a little downtime to recharge a bit. The way it works varies from one agency to the next, but basically it involves them picking up your loved one in an ambulance and taking them to an inpatient facility for a short period of time of, say, five days.

We had tried once before for respite care, but there were no beds available in the area due to the panic over the virus. This time it worked out. They picked up Janet at 7:30 Wednesday morning and will have her home Sunday afternoon. My biggest two concerns were that A) Janet wouldn’t understand what was happening and B) She could pass while in their care – followed, naturally, by an entire alphabet of other concerns.

In order to address Concern A, we began talking to her about it as soon as I got word that all the arrangements were in place. She was confused at first because she thought they were coming to pick her up to take her to heaven (see last week’s post), but eventually she understood that she would be back home on Sunday.

Concern B has been a harder nut to crack because the truth of the matter is that she could die in the following five days – this is, after all, a hospice program and not an adult summer camp. The way we addressed it was to say our “final” goodbyes when she left the house, and we made sure that we showered her with hugs and kisses – even as they were loading her into the ambulance. But that got me thinking, isn’t that how we should be acting all the time?

Why should we wait for a loved one to be in hospice to make sure that they understand how much they are loved? We, of course, shouldn’t. But we all, of course, from time to time, do.

And what about the rest of the alphabet of concerns? All you can do is acknowledge that despite what culture tells us, we are not in absolute control of our destiny. But the bottom line for us is that these concerns have been our reality this week.

This week has been a chance to begin to experience life as it will be when Janet doesn’t need all of my attention and care. Like I say in the title of this post : This is a test… This is only a test…

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Anyone who has ever bundled up a child for their first day of school, summer camp, college, or basic training has had to face the specter of separation anxiety – which is really just a broad-brush label for responses to situations in which relationships are changing. Unfortunately, changing relationships is the hallmark of being a caregiver for someone with a chronic or terminal disease. To make matters worse, the speed and severity of these changes are beyond our control – even as we try gamely to control them.

However, if you look up the topic of separation anxiety online it is often characterized as a “disorder,” and worse, a disorder that primarily affects children and infants. In other words, if as an adult you are feeling this sort of anxiety, the implication is there that something is wrong with you – and perhaps even that you should just “grow up.”

To be fair, the problem isn’t with psychological professionals, counselors, and therapists as they can, and typically do, understand the nuances of our situation. The real issue is all the folk-psychiatrists that caregivers can encounter on a daily basis – which is to say, family members, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances.

But even if we accept the proposition that these people are doing the best they can, we have to recognize that telling someone who is suffering from guilt-driven separation anxiety to “take it easy” or “give yourself a break” does about as much good as telling someone with depression to “cheer up” – which is to say, none at all. So here are a few things that caregivers need to consider as they fight their way through this situation:

There are no quick fixes: Recovery from this sort of anxiety can be a long hard road because turning around and changing direction can feel an awful lot like giving up – even when we see that the way we are doing things now is not working. Sudden shifts can and do happen, but they are not the norm.

Change is inevitable: It might be nice to fantasize about a universe where everything is static and constant, it is in the end just that: a fantasy. The world changes, people change, relationships change, everything changes. Being in a state of flux is the normal condition of everyone and everything in the, at times maddening, headlong rush from “what was” towards “what will be.”

No one has infinite mental and emotional resources: Simply put, we all get tired and need to rest. Getting the rest that we need in order to function is not weakness, giving up, or copping out. Even Jesus took time to rest.

No one is infinitely wise: We all make mistakes all the time. That is a fact. But it’s also a fact that people usually make more mistakes by failing to act than they do by acting. So do your “due diligence,” decide on a course of action, and then act. A plan doesn’t have to be perfect when you start. Remember that you can’t steer a parked car. Movement, action is called for.

Professional caregivers can care as much as you do: One of the challenges that I ran into when considering putting Janet into inpatient hospice for five days, was the worry that the people there wouldn’t know how to take care of her. They don’t know how she reacts or feels and they don’t know what she likes. While that much is true, it’s also true that the vast majority of doctors, nurses, and CNAs are caring, tender people who will treat Janet like she is a member of their family.

Caregiving is a team sport: In a lot of ways, this point goes along with the last one. As a caregiver I am one (vital!) part of a care team. The other team members may not see my loved one every day, or ever, for that matter, but that doesn’t mean that everything is dependent solely upon me. That is why there is a team – so one person doesn’t have to do everything. In engineering terms, having a team means you as the primary caregiver are not a “single point of failure”.

You are never alone: While this point might sound a lot like the previous one, there is a difference. In addition to being part of a team that together takes care of Janet, I also have backup and support for my particular job on the team. This point is critical because the basis of my relationship with Janet is unique among the team members. Our relationship is based on a covenant between God, Janet, and myself, which means that my not being alone means far more than somebody being there to lend me a hand. It means that regardless of how bad things might seem at the moment, there is a hand on the wheel that is steadier than mine and an eye on the road ahead that is far clearer.

In Christ, Amen ☩

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A prayer for when you are tired…

“Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the Universe. It is right that I should at all times and in all circumstances bless You for the limitless strength to be found in You. But today I want to bless You especially for providing caring and skilled healthcare workers to care for my loved one while I rest, recuperate, and heal for this last leg of our journey together. Strengthen and guide me so that I might remain faithful to the end. Amen.”

The Veil Grows Thin

This post describes, in part, the effects of a degenerative neurological condition called Huntington’s Disease. Any negative behavior on the part of my wife should be attributed to that condition. Any negative behavior on the part of myself should be attributed to my need for God’s ongoing grace.

If you would like to read our story from the beginning, you can start here: How We Got Here…

This has been a week for spiritual conversations – some of which I have been a party to and some that I have not. However, when talking to someone with dementia, you have to always be aware that words do not always mean what they seem to mean at first blush.

For example, this week, out of the clear blue sky, Janet asked me, “How do you get to Heaven?” I first tried to reassure her that she had accepted Jesus many years ago, so there was no reason to worry. But then she started asking followup questions that made me realize that, in this particular case, the answer to the question wasn’t “accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.” For Janet, this question wasn’t about spirituality, but rather was a matter of logistics.

Remember, this is the woman that would not leave on a trip until she knew exactly what roads we would be taking, where we would stop for gas, and which hotels we would stay in along the way. She was asking about Heaven in the same sense that one might ask, “How do you get to The Grand Canyon?”

She is saved, she knows she will be in Heaven. She was wanting to know how she is going to get there? What does she need to wear? Who will come get her? And so on. Think: prepping for summer vacation.

The lesson I learned was that just because I understand the words, I shouldn’t assume that I understand the question. This problem exists in other languages, but in English there can be a certain ambiguity that used to be exploited masterfully by comedians such as the Marx Brothers or Abbott and Costello – and still is by politicians and lawyers.

Sometimes a loved one also needs to be reassured that everything will work out in the end. For example, every morning, I ask Janet how she is doing. One day this week when I asked her, she said, “Not good.” When I inquired as to why, she said, “I grew a conscience overnight.” So I asked her what that meant. She said she was sorry, and she asked me if she was a “bad person.”

I told her that she is sick with Huntington’s Disease and that is responsible for much of what has happened. And the things that she is responsible for have been forgiven, because Jesus died for us.

“So God and I are good?” she asked.

I assured her that she and God were indeed good. That’s when she got hungry, so I gave her some yogurt and she fell asleep.

Finally, this week, I was out in the garage doing a bit of cleaning up. Going through a dusty box laden with cobwebs, I came across an old journal of Janet’s. When Janet and I first met, I had bought her this journal, advising her to fill it with, “nothing but thoughts of love, peace and goodness.”

The thing is, I didn’t think that she had ever used it – but she did. On January 31st of 1985 she used it to make a list of good things in her life. This was part of that list:

January 31st, 1985

This entry is the first record of her expressing love for me. Is this precious to me? You can’t even begin to imagine.

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I thought of this topic for a few reasons. First, veils are a common religious and cultural symbol or metaphor. For example, veils are mentioned numerous times in Scripture. Such as in Exodus, where Moses wore a veil after seeing God.

Then there was the veil used in the temple to segregate the Holiest of Holiest (which represented the actual physical presence of God) from the rest of the temple. And, of course, there was the tearing of said veil from top to bottom when Jesus finished what he came to do.

Finally, there are great hymns like My Hope is Built on Nothing Less, the second stanza of which reads:

When darkness veils his lovely face,

I rest on his unchanging grace;

in ev’ry high and stormy gale,

my anchor holds within the veil.

By the way, if you don’t understand the imagery of the last line, do a little research – it will be worth the effort. Hint: As a Christian symbol, the cross didn’t become common until about 400AD. Before that the primary symbol – especially during the Roman persecutions – was the anchor.

And then there are all the ways that veils appear in popular culture, including wedding veils. Then in literature (and not a few questionable jokes) we see references to things such as The Dance of the Seven Veils where veils are used as a device to actually intensify the meaning or power of that which is being “hidden”. And we can’t forget all the places where it is used in the negative sense, such as the unveiling of statues, paintings and plans.

The other reason that it came to my mind is a common belief that when someone is near death, the veil between this world and the next can grow thin, and this week, we had an experience that was – well, I don’t know what to call it, except that Janet seemed to be seeing beyond the veil.

Janet was asleep, when suddenly she woke up and called me over to her bed. She then asked me what my son’s name is.

I said, “David?” (My son who lives in Virginia.)

“No.”

“Larry?” (My son who died shortly after birth.)

“Yes! I’m in Heaven!”

“Do you see Larry?”

“Yes.”

“What does he look like?”

“He’s a grown man with something around his neck.” (Larry was strangled by his umbilical cord at birth.)

Then she repeated, “I’m in Heaven!” several more times, and went back to sleep.

I guess the biggest question that I have had out of the whole experience is this: Why was she seeing a relative of mine? She didn’t see her Mom or Dad, her late brother John who also had HD, or even her favorite aunt (Em) who was also her godmother.

Perhaps it’s similar to a week or so ago when I related that she included my daughter Catherine (Larry’s younger sister) in a list of her daughters. It would seem that my family is now her family, which makes me glad because one of the promises that we made as part of our vows was for our home to be a “place of healing” – and it has been.

In Christ, Amen ☩

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A prayer for when you are surrounded by strangeness…

“Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the Universe. It is right that I should at all times and in all circumstances bless You for the magnificence of Your creation. But today I want to bless You especially for the glimpses that You provide of the cosmos from Your perspective. Even though many things about the future remain veiled from my eyes, I can be certain that I will have a place in it with You – and I can be certain that it will be better than anything that I could possibly imagine. Amen.”

Momentary Clarity

This post describes, in part, the effects of a degenerative neurological condition called Huntington’s Disease. Any negative behavior on the part of my wife should be attributed to that condition. Any negative behavior on the part of myself should be attributed to my need for God’s ongoing grace.

If you would like to read our story from the beginning, you can start here: How We Got Here…

This week has been a time for clarity – though sometimes it has been a shrouded clarity. Confused? Well, let me explain.

For some reason, Janet has always had a special place in her heart for my daughter Catherine from a previous marriage. This concern was most commonly expressed in Janet’s desire for me to be in regular contact with her. We started with weekly phone calls, and now we often talk a couple of times a day via video calls. Consequently, my grandson, due in large part to my beard, actually believes that his grandfather is Santa Claus.

The depth of Janet’s concern for Catherine only became apparent this week. Lately, Janet’s perseveration has been being expressing itself in the form of a check list of concerns that she feels compelled to constantly re-verify to ensure that everything is organized for her end-of-life:

Life Insurance?   ✓ Check

Wills?   ✓ Check

Body Donation?   ✓ Check

After these standard items, she always runs through the family (including the dogs) to make sure that we are OK. However, a couple days ago, she changed the family list by asking, “…how are the girls doing?” Wait! We only have one daughter.

“The girls?” I asked.

“Yes, Frannie and Catherine,” she replied.

“Oh, they’re fine,” I said.

I have to admit that I was initially confused, but then I got to thinking that, viewed in a broader context, this “mistake” actually made a lot of sense. Janet has always cared about Catherine, though at times the emotional issues associated with HD got in the way of their being really close. Looking back, I think that emotionally Janet had a hard time saying what she felt, and this is how it is coming out now – clarified by Janet including her as a daughter for which she is concerned.

When a loved one with dementia says something you don’t understand, the immediate (and very human) reaction is to try to correct them. But this situation reminds me that to them, there may not be anything to correct. To them, the logic is perfectly clear and there is much that we can learn by restraining our urge to fix their perceptions, and simply hear what they are saying.

In other news, Janet’s weight continues to drop, and for the first time, she has slept for 24 hours straight – which did not help the weight issue. At the end of her long slumber, Janet seemed much better, so I guess she was just getting caught up. We have also gotten a new air mattress for the hospital bed to help with the problem of bed sores.

Janet is now going through periods where she doesn’t want anything to eat, and then suddenly will eat a lot all at once. Continuing a trend, she particularly likes anything that Frannie cooks for us, but I have to be careful to cut up whatever we are having into VERY small pieces. Janet is also asking for more personal contact like sitting and holding hands, saying “I love you” and the three of us praying together. The thing that breaks my heart, though, is that she is also apologizing more and more for being sick – like she has any control over it!

Something that I have often heard is that the one thing that never leaves is the anger. Well, for Janet at least, that is not the case – and I am very thankful.

Finally, I’m going to have to talk to the home hospice agency this coming week. Simply put, my back is giving out. I was diagnosed several years ago with sciatica and even using the proper techniques for moving and working with Janet that the CNA taught me, I still go to bed every night with an aching back.

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Something that seems to be coming up a lot these days is the concept of “value.”

I saw this cartoon months ago and the artist graciously gave me permission to use it here. As a good four-panel cartoon should, the first three panels set us up for what we are sure will be a warm and fuzzy ending, only to have the fourth frame jerk the ethical/moral rug from beneath our feet.

In terms of its ultimate message, this cartoon reminds me of a joke I heard several years ago about two men who were stranded on your prototypical desert isle – you know the kind: small mound of sand sticking up out of the water with nothing on it but one palm tree. One man (the pragmatist) tries to explain to the other one how dire their situation is: no food, no water, not even any shelter. But as each problem is presented, the other man simply says, “Don’t worry, I make ten million dollars a year.” Finally, the pragmatist yells, “You don’t understand! We are going to die!” To which the other fellow (who it turns out is also a pragmatist) replies, “No, you don’t understand. I make ten million dollars a year and I tithe. My pastor will find me.”

But all kidding aside, what does it mean to be of value? For as long as there have been legal systems, liability laws have had to wrestle with this problem: How do you put a price tag on something that is essentially priceless? How do you compensate a widow for the loss of her husband from (for example) an industrial accident? Obviously, there is no way to make her, in the legal sense, whole. So the law got as close as it could to a just answer and invented complex procedures to calculate such things as a lifetime of lost wages, with perhaps a bit added in for “mental duress” or “loss of companionship.”

Unfortunately, over time, society has come to believe that these calculated funny numbers really are the value of a human being. As caregivers, this is a critical issue because around the world, politicians and bureaucrats are beginning to openly question whether keeping certain people alive is worth the cost to society to do so. By the way, who do you think will be the ones to not “make the cut”? Certainly, the incurably ill and those past their wage earning years. While this attitude isn’t exactly the same as the one that drove the creation of gas chambers and mass crematoriums, it is without a doubt close.

So we must ask ourselves, what if the person whose value is being questioned is my spouse, or parent – or in a few years, even me? Suddenly this question is not at all abstract or academic. We have gone beyond actuarial tables and statistics to talk about real flesh-and-blood people – you know, the ones that the politicians like to forget.

What is disheartening for me is that I can remember a time when this question wasn’t even asked because the universal assumption was that human life is of value, all the time – not just when it is useful or convenient or wanted. Now even infanticide is on the table.

The root problem, as I discussed last week, is that only people of faith have the vision needed to see the interconnectedness that demonstrates the value of all human life. Without a perspective larger than ourselves, there is no basis for assigning worth or value to human life, and the resulting philosophy will be based largely on personal greed or authoritarianism.

Next, before closing, the passing of Justice Ginsburg has resulted in a flurry of breathless posts trying to shame people for saying things such as “Rest in Peace” or “She’s in a better place now.” Their point is that since she was Jewish, we shouldn’t be “polluting” her memory with such Christian concepts. The problem is that neither of these ideas are exclusively – or even originally – Christian. While it is true that Christians believe in (and in fact, are counting on) both of these ideas, they were also exceedingly common among the early founders of the faith who were predominantly Jewish, as well as modern day Judaism.

Finally, I know that post is relatively short, but this is a strange time in our household. I have spent many hours in tears and caring for Janet and Frannie.

In Christ, Amen ☩

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A prayer for when you are exhausted and hurting…

“Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the Universe. It is right that I should at all times and in all circumstances bless You for the everyday strength that you give. But today I want to bless You especially for the special strength and reassurance you provide to care for us in times of extraordinary trials. Thank you for the knowledge that darkness is always the precursor to light. Amen.”

Watching, waiting …

This post describes, in part, the effects of a degenerative neurological condition called Huntington’s Disease. Any negative behavior on the part of my wife should be attributed to that condition. Any negative behavior on the part of myself should be attributed to my need for God’s ongoing grace.

If you would like to read our story from the beginning, you can start here: How We Got Here…

This week has been a week about remembrances.

Remembering is important because in some ways our final legacy is the memories that we leave behind us, but what are memories? Science defines them as chaotic blips of electrical energy jumping between synapses, and so are “rewritten” each time they are remembered. On a related topic, I have a recurring dream in which I come back in 500 years and am in a conversation with a scientist of the day who will be amazed that I was actually so primitive that I thought memories were stored in the brain. “My goodness,” they will say, “what a quaint concept! Simply everyone knows that memories are stored in the [            ].” Fill in the blank with something that everyone will know about in 500 years, but which we don’t even suspect now.

The dream then ends with a close up of my shocked face – similar, no doubt, to the face of a proper Elizabethan learning that the heart was not really the seat of emotions, or the face of a noble Pharoah upon hearing that the home of the human soul is not the liver.

But what does any of this have to do with Janet? This week I have been watching Janet’s brain begin the process of shutting down, with the result that memories – or at least her ability to access them – are evaporating. The CNA from hospice is seeing significant changes over just a couple days between her visits. Her speech is nearly incomprehensible at times, and she is no longer eating anything solid – think: applesauce and yogurt.

Her vitals are normal and stable, but from the way she was responding yesterday they suspected that she was in pain so they gave her .5 mg of morphine orally, and she did much better, so it looks like they may have been right. During the day, I sit with Janet so if she needs anything, I’m right there. During the night either Frannie or I check on her every couple hours.

We started that additional precaution after Janet threw up in the middle of the night this week. She apparently didn’t choke, but it is unknown so far whether she aspirated any – a very real concern given that most studies list aspiration pneumonia as the leading cause of death in Huntington’s patients (between 70% and 85%).

When she sleeps, she talks – a lot. And her waking (?) conversations contain more and more non sequiturs like the comment, “I love you… Jackie loved JFK…” – she always admired President Kennedy. But then maybe it is like my sister suggested, and the ideas were connected. Then this morning she told me that, “The doctors are wrong and I don’t really have HD, I’m just very, very tired.”

But this has also been a week for remembrances.

Despite this decline, she still had a couple moments of clarity. A couple days ago she was upset because she realized that she was not going to make it to Frannie’s birthday in November. To compensate, Frannie and I put together a quick impromptu early birthday party for Frannie so Janet could celebrate her turning 30, with family and friends. For the celebration, Frannie found a box of brownie mix (which she fixed) and we were able to do a group video chat so Janet was able to sing happy birthday to her daughter one more time.

I also noticed this week that Janet’s Bell’s Palsy has come back. The last time it was apparent was when she was pregnant with our son. In all our family pictures from that time she has her left eye taped shut because it couldn’t blink properly.

Finally, this has also been a week for blessings.

This week I was here at home when the doorbell rang, unexpectedly. When I went to the door, our visitor was Pastor Regina Wilson, of the Word Fellowship Christian Church here in Pearland. We know her because the church that she leads shares the building with the congregation that Janet, Frannie and I belong to, and because she lives two doors down from us.

When I invited her in, she explained that she had come because when she woke up that morning, God was, “…whispering your wife’s name in my ear…”. So she came to minister and pray with and for us. On a practical level, she brought a thermos of chicken broth – which Janet has enjoyed. But she also came to minister spiritually. First, she anointed Janet with oil and prayed over her.

This simple act comforted Janet greatly. Then Pastor Wilson served communion to the three of us. And finally, in an act of divine service, she washed Janet’s feet.

While ritual foot washing is not something we do in our church, Pastor Wilson explained that it is a regular part of their church’s worship life and they do it for each other as a part of their regular worship once a month. The act is drawn from the Gospel of John when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples to emphasize that if He serves them in this way, how much more should they be serving others around them.

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Something that I haven’t mentioned before is that in addition to this blog, I have another writing project that has been ongoing for a few weeks – but it’s a very different kind of writing. Whereas this blog is (I hope!) very down to earth and practical, the story that I am writing has been since its inception almost like transcribing a dream. I didn’t know what it was to be about, how large it was going to be, or what it even meant – the words just poured out and I wrote them down.

As I added to it, and I got input from a couple of folks that I shared it with, I slowly began to see what the story means and where it is going. As it stands now, it’s over 100 pages in the word processor, and I have identified some of the major characters and themes, but I still don’t know exactly how long it will be, or how it will end – except that the last five words will be:

The End – But not really…

In any case, the reason that I am even bringing it up is that one of the epiphanies that I have had about it is that it is really covering the same territory as this blog, but in an allegorical sort of way. I realized this relationship when I came to a place in the story when one character was writing a love letter to another character. Suddenly it wasn’t two fictional characters, but Janet and I, and I was reliving our meeting and falling in love.

Last week, I wrote about the old meaning of the word respite which is “to turn around to look at” or “to regard” something. The point of this regard is to appreciate and celebrate the good, without needing to add footnotes or content advisories concerning the misery ahead. Or to put it another way, its point is to be in the moment – but in that moment. That moment before the anger started, before the doubts crept in, before the long, slow goodbye.

This week I have been remembering and reliving the good. It’s been a good week.

In Christ, Amen ☩

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A prayer for when you need to remember…

“Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the Universe. It is right that I should at all times and in all circumstances bless You as the Author of all good things and fresh beginnings. But today I want to bless You especially for the beautiful memories with which You have blessed me. Rather than letting me continue viewing roses as flower bushes with thorns, teach me to appreciate them as thorn bushes that you have adorned with flowers. Amen.”

Respite – The Pause that Refreshes

This post describes, in part, the effects of a degenerative neurological condition called Huntington’s Disease. Any negative behavior on the part of my wife should be attributed to that condition. Any negative behavior on the part of myself should be attributed to my need for God’s ongoing grace.

If you would like to read our story from the beginning, you can start here: How We Got Here…

This Monday, Janet weighed in at 87 lbs – and that may be her last “official” weight because she is too weak to even stand up for a moment on the scale.

As the week went on, she became more and more disoriented and confused – symptoms that we have been treating with the occasional 1 mg Lorazepam sublingual tablet and many, many hugs and kisses.

She is still eating a bit, but it is mainly for the flavor – not the nutrition – and we have to feed her as she can’t find her mouth on her own. She seems to be particularly enjoying anything cooked by Frannie. The last two nights she fixed macaroni and cheese, and spaghetti with a veggie sauce. Janet enjoyed them both immensely and, thankfully, there has been no choking.

Saturday, Janet was mumbling about insurance, wills, organ donations, and a whole laundry list of other things that kept running through her head as things she needed to handle. She was worried about Frannie and me, and even whether Rocky and Lawtay (our two dogs) would be okay. Finally, I told her:

“Janet, you don’t need to worry. You have done everything that needed to be done, and handled everything that needed to be handled. You have worked so hard, for so long, and now it is time for you to rest. I am proud of you, and you have earned this rest. So sleep.”

I don’t know if she heard me, or understood what I said, but she seemed less agitated afterwards. Then, a few minutes later, she asked me to hold her hand for five minutes – which I did.

I have called our son and told him he needs to be thinking about heading back to Texas – and the sooner the better.

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The title of this post encapsulates the common meaning of “respite” as it is understood today. And if you can remember when the last part of the title was used as a marketing slogan for a popular soft drink, I hate to break it to you, but you are really old…

However, the word didn’t have that always meaning. In the 13th Century the word is derived from the Latin root respectus which meant “to turn around to look at” or “to regard” something. That is the sense I want to talk about now.

Oh, I had originally planned to discuss respite as a process for getting a break from the load of having to care for a loved one, but that didn’t work out. The nursing homes in the area that would normally provide in-patient hospice services have apparently confused a virus with a 99%+ survival rate with the bubonic plague, and are not taking any admissions. They have said that they are either afraid of giving Janet Covid-19 or are afraid of Janet bringing Covid-19 into their facility. Given that neither excuse stands up to any sort of logical scrutiny, I am at a loss for identifying the real reason, but it smells like lawyers.

So back to the original meaning…

I have written many times about the dangers of living life in the “rear-view mirror” and those warnings are still valid, but as is so often the case with coins, there is another side. Respite, in the old sense of the word, can also be a way to step back from your present troubles and objectively remember the past, for both the good and the bad that it contained.

For the good memories, these moments of “respite” can be an opportunity to relive the happy times without needing to invalidate them by saying, “Yeah that was good, but look what was coming.” Likewise, for the bad memories, your new perspective can lead you to the conclusion that some of the bad times weren’t really that bad after all, for they led to some good outcomes that, at the time, you couldn’t see. Moreover, if you see the opportunity to learn as a positive, you may find yourself in the position of watching all your “bad times” evaporate or slide to the other side of the ledger.

Recently, I read about a university in the US that performed a study demonstrating a relationship between a subject’s ability to perceive interconnections between different occurrences or events, and their ability to believe in a “supreme being.” Interestingly, an identical study was performed at a university in the Middle East with identical results.

That is what the data shows.

The researchers’ conclusion was (predictably) that people with this ability were “making up” God to explain the connections that they saw, but which didn’t really exist. Although a comparison to the mathematician John Nash in the movie A Beautiful Mind was never explicitly made, the implication was there – or perhaps that’s just my “beautiful mind” connecting more dots that aren’t really there.

But starting with a different set of presumptions, a different, equally valid conclusion is also possible. Perhaps the “dots” and the connections linking them really do exist, and people of faith (through the eyes of faith) are able to see those connections.

In the context of our current discussion, people of faith can see connections between events – even painful events – which lead to hope. On other hand, people without the ability to connect the dots see only random events – which leads to the kind of despair that we see around us everyday.

But what if the universe is just random? Well, that is a possibility, but then we would have to ask ourselves why the universe doesn’t act randomly. In fact there is a whole area of mathematics (called chaos theory) that is dedicated to the study of things that at first appeared to be random – but aren’t really. For example, I work with computers and something that you might think should be rather easy is actually very difficult: How do you calculate a sequence of numbers that are truly random (i.e. there are no patterns in the sequence of numbers)?

Note that this usage of the word “chaos” is actually a redefinition of the word. Prior to the 1970s, random and chaotic meant the same thing – and in some areas still do.

Spoiler: You can’t – this is why the biggest lottery in the U.S., PowerBall, uses physical balls in a television studio in Florida. It’s still not random, but its chaotic behavior means that it’s also not predictable, which is good enough for a lottery.

So if the universe really isn’t random – how are we to explain the order that we see everywhere we look? Well, perhaps the answer lies in what people of faith have known for untold millennia: everything has a cause, and The Cause is someone who is knowable.

In Christ, Amen ☩

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A prayer for when you don’t understand what is happening…

“Blessed are You, Lord God, King of the Universe. It is right that I should at all times and in all circumstances bless You for the order with which You created the cosmos. But today I want to bless you especially for bringing order to my life, even when I don’t see the patterns. Give me the grace to experience true respite. Amen.”