May 27, 2013 - Uncategorized    Comments Off

Memorial Day — Miracle of Resurrection

(The following Memorial Day column, written in 1957, has found its way into many family scrapbooks.)

By Hal Boyle

America today wears a sprig of rosemary over its heart for remembrance.

A miracle of resurrection takes place in millions of households as the dead come home again–and walk the earth once more in gladness.

Their presence is invisible to the eye, inescapable to the spirit.  For this haunting day of return they are as alive as we.

The loneliest man in the land is the man who has a no one to remember on Memorial Day.  He is indeed a soul lost — a stranger on the earth–a pilgrim going from nothing to nowhere.

For it is the memory of the dead that in great measure keeps us human, that sets us apart from stone and star, moss and mole, and all other feeling an unfeeling prisoners of the great jailer, Time.  “What is Memorial Day?” asks the child.  “Will I get a present–like on Christmas or my birthday?”

It is a hard question to answer.  How can we, who are ourselves childishly bewildered by the mystery of both life and death, explain the puzzle of that living-loving death we call memory?

Perhaps the best answer you can give a child is to say, “Memorial Day is the day when everyone anyone ever knew is alive, and nobody is dead.”

Isn’t that about as close as you can get, anyway?

The dead have far more power over our lives than we ordinarily realize.  We read dead men’s books, sing dead men’s songs, obey dead men’s laws.  Dead men taught us to sow the earth and reap the harvest.  Dead men won us our present perilous safety–we especially honor them this day–and to dead men we owe our finest visions of heaven.

Every step upward we take in life has been made possible by the sacrificial steps taken by our guardian dead.  As the preacher man says, what is our own breath but a brief mist on the surface of death’s endless deep.

Earth is pocketed by more tombs than there are living men to journey to them.  And so it is one must pick and choose which dead to revisit on Memorial day, which to spend a moment with–or talk to for an hour.

Mostly, of course , we spend the time with those dearest to us through personal grief–the lost relative, the absent friend, the cherished neighbor who moved away forever.

But on this day I like also to pick up old books and bring to life again old comrades of my spirit I never knew in the flesh–fellows like John Keats, Thomas Hardy and Thomas Wolfe;  girls like Sara Teasdale, Emily Dickinson and Mother Eve.

May 17, 2013 - Uncategorized    Comments Off

Does Anyone Have An Answer?

Some people suddenly become experts on suicide prevention…after the suicide has taken place.  That was obvious at our staff meeting today.

Recently a volunteer worker said to me, “Listen, I want to ask you something.  Just what is it that could cause anybody to want to take his own life?”  She was not asking for an explanation.  She was expressing grief over a young person admitted to Emergency that morning, an attempted suicide.

Looking  through some old notes I found a verbatim report of a conversation I had several months ago with a very young woman who had tried more than once to take her own life.  Here is part of it:

She:  “You know, I just hope they don’t let me out of here before I’m ready.”  (Earlier she had said she wanted to go home and hoped she wouldn’t have to be in the hospital very long.)

I:  “Are you afraid you’ll con them into letting you go home before you’re ready?”

She:  “Yes!  Because I’m so good at it…But I want to live!”

She did live!  The part of her that wanted to live won out.  She underwent psychotherapy (a word which suddenly sounds strange and makes me think of the parodoxically simple  / difficult learning and growth that can take place), made a new beginning, and now praises God for being with her all the way, in dark days and sunny.

The man whose suicide we talked about in staff meeting today was different.  He appeared happy, friendly, calm, helpful, but his death evidenced long & careful planning that caught everybody off guard. Does anyone have an answer?  Really????

May 13, 2013 - Uncategorized    Comments Off

And It Worked!

At the state hospital today…LaVonna W.’s dramatic recovery!…And I had a part in it!…but surprise!…the way I helped.  After all those hours of listening, counseling, praying with her…to think…I helped her most when I left her alone!

But I wasn’t the only one.  We were in it together – - doctor, social worker, attendants, all of us.  I don’t know who first suggested the plan, but eventually all agreed to try it.

She had already been caught working one person against the other – - both patients and staff.  But it really came to a head that day she suddenly announced to Dr. J. she had changed her mind about going through with the planned therapy…after he had spent considerable time (and the state’s money) getting ready for it.  That was the last straw!  So he “fired her”…turned her over to another doctor.  Her social worker followed suit.  LaVonna seemed desperate as she pleaded with me to take her side against them.  When I refused she cried…said she needed somebody on her side..she felt all alone.  I tried to reassure her…told her how much I trusted those who were treating her…but to no avail.  So I joined the others in purposely ignoring her.

And it worked!  When I talked with her today she was a new person — one who will likely be leaving the hospital soon.  I have to admit it was somewhat deflating to think I had helped her most by leaving her alone.  But then I realized…our withdrawal would have meant nothing had we not first cared enough for an intimate relationship to develop.  It worked because we were important to each other!

May 13, 2013 - Uncategorized    Comments Off

The Golden Rule…Do Unto Others…

It appears to be the common denominator in most human anguish — G R I E F– “the human response to significant loss.”  Losing a loved one, your health, self-respect, your youth, faith, a job…having to leave one place and move to another, undergoing radical surgery, getting a divorce…ALL INVOLVE LOSS…making grief a natural reaction.

Recently in our “Hospital/Shut-in Ministry Group” I asked each member to picture this situation:  “You have confided (maybe confessed) something to your best friend.  Then one day you learn that your friend has told your secret to someone else–some one you don’t even trust.”  We took time to visualize the situation and each wrote down our feelings about the experience.  Then we compared notes and compiled a list:  “hurt, anger, loneliness, rage, fear, disappointment, embarrassment, disbelief, shock, sadness…”  Emotions that are all experienced in grief.  The exercise helped us see grief in a wider sense, and as something not at all limited to the loss experienced at the death of a loved one.

We want to learn how best to minister to grieving persons, and we have talked about “loving listening,” empathy, “being with” the person…all very important.  But I suspect I make it more complicated than it really is.  It probably boils down simply to practicing Christian love (“The Golden Rule”… treating the grieving ones as I would want to be treated), and common sense.  Would I want to be babied, pitied, argued out of my grief, lectured on how I have so many things to be thankful for that it’s practically a sin for me to be depressed?…”Do unto others…”  If I cannot deal with a grieving person in such a way as to help bear his burden, may I at least refrain from adding to it.

Apr 21, 2013 - Uncategorized    Comments Off

“Uh, he was poisoned”

As I look through the Church File at the hospital, I see a card for an Ernest P. whose address is listed as Hobbs, NM.  When I enter his room he is asleep and his wife begins trying to wake him.  I suggest it might be best to let him sleep for now, but she insists.  In fact there is something frenzied about the way she must wake him…almost as if she needs him awake…to protect her…or so she won’t have to talk to me alone.  As he is waking he begins to hold his head in both hands as if it hurts baldly, but when he is fully awake he neither does nor says anything further to indicate any pain.  “I noticed you were both from New Mexico,” I explain, “and wanted to see if there was anything I or the church could do for you.”  They answer that they have a son here in town and that they need nothing.  I leave a card with my phone number just in case.

As I walked out of the room I feel uneasy.  Before his wife had awakened him, I had asked about his being in Austin with a New Mexico address.  she had said something to the effect that he needed treatment they couldn’t give him at home, so they had come to Austin, since their son lived here.  But she had seemed afraid to talk, evasive…and he was overly polite.  I almost bump into a nurse whom I know, and I ask her about Mr. P.  she looks at her chart and says, “Oh!…Earnest P.!  Uh, he was poisoned.”  Caught off guard, I ask, “Poisoned?  What kind of poison?”  She says she doesn’t know and adds, “But he’s a lot better now.”  And she laughs!…loudly and inappropriately.  “Was he poisoned in New Mexico or here?” I continue.  She says she understands he was visiting someone here in town when it happened.  I thank her and start to leave when something finally reaches my consciousness.  And I go back to his room for another visit.

I explain that I have more time than I had first thought, and now that he is awake I would like to visit further.  I try to get him to talk about himself, his recent retirement, his mood, I want to learn whether he feels hopeful about the future, what his plans are…He finally opens up some.  I tell him he seems depressed to me.  He says it’s from being in the hospital.  I leave, but I want to visit him again.  Because I have a strong hunch I know now who it was that poisoned him.

Apr 21, 2013 - Uncategorized    Comments Off

“But I can’t afford not to either”

I kissed Josie A. this afternoon…one of those spontaneous things that turned out right.  She’s almost 75 now…a gracious lady.

I had mixed feeling when I first saw her name in the hospital file…joyous anticipation of seeing her again…but fear!  Why was she back?  Enroute to her room I almost collided with her daughter, Martha, who was leaving.  She said her mother had been doing fine until she had somehow dislocated the joint of her artificial hip.  It was now repaired and Josie was recuperating.

Martha herself looks so tired.  She says it’s the chemotherapy.  She has told her mother about herself, so it’s ok to talk about it now.  As I entered her room, Josie was all smiles as usual.  “I saw Martha down the hall and she told me what happened to you,” I explained.

Yes, but I’ll bet she didn’t tell about her own horrible illness!”

Well, yes, as a matter of fact she told me about it back when you were recovering from surgery, but she did not want you to know until you were stronger.

Tears appear as she tells a story I’ve heard before.  A long story…she doesn’t want to ruin Martha’s vacation of a lifetime but Martha tries to call her at home in Florida, learns she’s in the hospital, cancels her vacation, flies to her bedside, brings her to Austin.  To make a long story short, it is about how she is blessed with the kindest, most loving daughter in the world.

Then her mood changes.  She talks of how she is a burden to Martha.  She’s a burden to everybody.  I want to say, “Josie you know you’re not a burden!”  Somehow I can’t. It wouldn’t help, even if I shouted it. I will not give such talk the dignity of a denial!  I want to say something, but it has to be something Josie knows is altogether true.  Finally it comes…”I know one thing, you and Martha truly love each other.”  She smiles, nods, and a flood of tears breaks loose.  When she can talk again says, “I know I can’t afford to let myself get upset over Martha,” and in the next breath, “But I can’t afford not to either!”

I may not have been logical reasoning, but I felt I understood what she meant, and that’s when I found myself bending over to kiss her forehead.

Apr 18, 2013 - Uncategorized    Comments Off

“Are you letting it get to you?”

Driving home from the hospital today I couldn’t help weeping.  Maybe I’m being defensive, but, by George, I say it’s all right to weep!  How could anyone be with people who are suffering so much and not have to weep at times?

I guess I am remembering times when friends have said you  can’t afford to let yourself get too involved with people who are suffering.  For example, there was that time some years ago when I was waiting with a woman when the doctor came after surgery to tell her that her mother’s tumor was malignant.  In the elevator, a colleague noticed my tears and asked, “Are you letting it get to you?”  Then he warned me that people who do not maintain some detachment are asking for trouble.  It sounded reasonable, but there was something about it I didn’t like.

Long ago I read some of Spurgeon’s lectures to his students.  In one of them he says a minister needs to be often at the bedside of the very ill and dying — that it is a necessary part of the education of any man who would preach God’s word.  It seemed good advice then, and from that time on I tried to follow it and make it a point to be with the dying when they have actually died.  And I believe Spurgeon was right.  Some who have died (or recovered) and their families have taught me more about God and life and human courage, and what’s important and what’s not, than I could have learned in any other way.

They have also helped me overcome some of may selfishness.  I have found myself growing very close to them.  It is only natural, then, to grieve for them and with them.

As for weeping, I am convinced it is one of God’s best gifts.  In fact, if I ever get to where I so not weep, I think that will be the time to start worrying!

Apr 16, 2013 - Uncategorized    Comments Off

Maybe it has something to do with timing…

I had visited her and her baby a number of times and had not prayed with her.  I used to make it a practice to ask everyone if they would like for me to pray with them.  But a number of things have caused me to change that.

For example, when my father was very ill, dying, in fact — I was with him one afternoon when a number of ministers came to see him.  Each one of them ended his visit with a prayer.   It was great of them to come — and to want to pray — but after a while it seemed to become too much.  Besides, he and I had already prayed together earlier, and since he had always been a man of prayer, I suspect some of their visits interrupted his own silent prayers.

I could tell of other things, but the point is, I now find myself approaching the matter of prayer with caution.  But that day, she and I had dared break through the surface and talk about things we usually fear to mention — doubts…her suffering child…the seeming injustice of it all…her and her husband’s fears and anguish…and God.  Prayer just naturally followed.

Afterwards I said, “I don’t plan to mention prayer to you again.  Please feel free to mention it to me any time you want.  But I know that you all have your own prayers, and that praying together like this can be emotionally upsetting; and I don’t want you thinking, every time you see me, ‘Oh, no! Here he comes again!”

“No!” She interrupted, wiping away tears.  “I needed that.  That’s the first time I’ve prayed with another person since my baby got sick.  I know my husband and mother and I all say out own private prayers, but I don’t think we could pray together.  We’d break down.  But I needed that prayer today.”

We have not prayed together again.  But weeks later, she thanked me for praying with her that day.  Maybe it has something to do with timing — a time to pray together, and a time to be silent.

Apr 15, 2013 - Uncategorized    Comments Off

So I had not written.

It is hard to believe, but it was only two weeks ago that Tammy G. went home from the hospital.  Somehow it seems much longer.

Every time I get off  the elevator on Pediatrics I think about the G’s.  After visiting room 416 for about two months, it’s hard to break the habit.  Sometimes I have had the urge to rush in and begin telling the present occupants the past history of that room.  I would tell them something of the courage that lived there, of struggles of faith, tears shed, times of joy, sharing of sympathy and love, and prayer…and of how Tammy’s mother and grand-mothers would stay there day and night, caring for her.  I’ve wanted to tell how beautiful Tammy is with her long curly eyelashes and sweet smile.

Other times I begin thinking about so many different people were brought together because of Tammy.  There are the women from the Highland Village church who took Tammy and her parents to Holy Cross for Cobalt treatments each day, those from Brentwood who took home-cooked meals or sat with Tammy so her parents could leave the hospital for a while, and those of us who waited with Johnny and Phyllis while Tammy had that second surgery “How would it be, someday, to have a Tammy G. reunion?”  I have wondered.

And the thought always comes, “I must write to the G’s!”  But then I think again:  “What if my writing should only bring into their present lives some nightmarish memories of the past?”  Then I would rather not write.

So I had not written.  Until today.  Today I got one of the best thank-you notes I have ever received, and I knew it was okay to write.

Apr 14, 2013 - Uncategorized    Comments Off

Maybe I didn’t want to know

Why do I keep thinking about Janet T.?  Our meeting was rather accidental.  I was almost to the elevator when the picture registered on my mind–a picture of a little girl sitting up in bed smiling at me as I passed her room–and I turned and went back to meet her.

She reminded me of my niece–a beautiful brown-eyed, black-haired little princess.  When I asked her age she held up six fingers and grinned.  Noticing her IV arm board, she asked, “Do you have one of these?”  When I told her no, she said, teasing me, “they’re for girls.”  And then, “Would you like to sit and watch TV with me?”

But we did more talking than watching.  After wondering if I might be a doctor or a policeman, and learning who I was, she said proudly that her friends, Alex and Gabriela, took her to Sunday school and church.  I asked which one; she thought a while and said, “It doesn’t have a name.”

Next time I visited she had changed rooms and had a little roommate. She showed me a card on which she had printed her mother’s phone number.  She asked for mine too, in case she wanted to call me, and borrowed a pencil from her roommate.  When I went home for lunch, she called.  I almost didn’t understand her mother, who had dialed for her, and thought she had a wrong number.  Janet said, “Hi, what are you doing?” and later, “Well, I just got tired and thought I would call you.”

One day at Woolco I saw some pencils with angels and Santas on the eraser end.  I took one with an angel to Janet.  But I had forgotten about her new roommate,  so I promised to bring her one the next day.

It was about 7:00 when I stopped by the next evening with the other pencil, and both girls were sound asleep.  I propped the pencil up where I thought Donna would see it next morning, took one more look at Janet’s sleeping face and left.

As I was leaving it occurred to me that I didn’t even know why Janet was in the hospital.  Maybe I didn’t want to know.

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