Part 1: The Rabbi and the Traveller

A rabbi, a social worker and a minister
walk into a house…..

Mercy Hospice and other VNAs provide a lot of extra services besides skilled nursing.

Annie, our nurse told me that the hospice chaplain and social worker would be paying us a visit. Medicare requires them to make a visit to see if there is anything we need.

I asked if it was a Catholic thing? Mercy is a Catholic hospital but Annie said the hospice is totally non denominational. The chaplain can offer to help if we want it. The social worker, Steve did the initial contact session with us. He would check that we have all the supplies and equipment we need. He would know about other services that we/I can use. The hospice may be able to lighten my load as a caregiver.

The Rabbi: As I’ve probably mentioned I am not a “religious” guy. I have a number of spiritual beliefs and I am always curious. What I believe is that I do not know.

I was brought up Roman Catholic. I had nuns in grade school and was taught by brothers at a Catholic high school. Kathy was brought up Lutheran. We probably both have differing concepts of God or gods.

I have always been interested in faith and differing beliefs. A number of years ago Kathy and I started thinking about “going back to church.” I think I was interested in “the search” and the social aspects of it. I thought it might help Kathy come to terms with what I suspected was in our future. We took the Belief-O-Matic Quiz, which is a fun way to see if you are more one thing than another. It asks questions: How you feel about this?; Do you believe in that? and comes up with your religion. If you give them your email address it comes back as a series of percentages. Kathy and I both had Unitarian Universalism as one of our top ones. Buddhism and Atheism were in my list. Kathy had Mainstream Protestant in her top five. But I had Neopaganism at the top of mine. What in hell is Neopaganism? I guess it means I believe in many gods or mother earth.

We did go and visit a few nice local churches in our Tour de Faith. We went to two Unitarian services, an Evangelical Lutheran service, and one at a United Church of Christ. The people were all very nice and welcoming. The last two were moderate Christian (not obey or be doomed). At that point Kathy and I were still having big problems. Kathy’s Huntington’s Disease was undiagnosed. She refused to discuss it or try any meds. She was getting terrified of people and felt I was pushing her to do something. I think I was hoping a minister of some sort would counsel her. So, I backed off. It was also around the time that I found out I was Jewish and didn’t know it. My dad was a devout Catholic but my grandparents were Jewish. No wonder I feel the way I feel! Oy.

Rachel, the chaplain came on Thursday. Since she was the female chaplain of a Catholic hospice, the only thing I knew was that she wasn’t a priest. We talked about different things: Kathy’s medical history; how long we were married; where we lived and all about Marty.

Kathy was drifting in and out of sleep. Rachel asked me if we practiced any particular faith. I told her, “Not really.” I told her about our church tour and Belief-Net. She liked it. I started to ask her what faith she was when she wasn’t non denominational.

She preferred to not tell us. She said that when she is with us and with the hospice she is whatever we want her to be. She is non denominational and all-purpose. I think she said she would just as soon not tell me what she was unless it was really important to me. We talked some more about faith and religions. I was enjoying the conversation and finally asked her to tell me what she was.
“Well, I am a Rabbi…. I hope that is OK.”

I think I said “Very cool” or something odd. I told her the story about my Jewish-Catholic roots. She talked about being a chaplain for a Catholic hospice. She said she hopes she always works for hospice, but she could be a rabbi with a congregation. She did clarify that it would be a more liberal one though. I’m guess all faiths are à la carte in practice.

We talked about Kathy and her family. I showed her some of Kathy’s art and talked about my intermittent design business. She asked how I was doing and what support I have. I told her I was doing pretty well almost all the time. The occasional moments of sadness pass pretty quickly. I told her I can feel a little overwhelmed by the crap I will have to do immediately after she passes. Funeral and memorial expenses, finances and the house are always rolling around in my brain. I am chipping away at stuff and that helps with keep it in perspective. Blogging helps, too. If I can put it into words, it forces me to organize my thoughts. I come from a long line of list makers.

I said that there are times I get distracted. Doing work on the computer. Reading. House projects. I forget to check on Kathy. I’ll look to see if she is still napping and find she is awake; all alone; looking at the ceiling. I feel guilty. I told Rachel that I think guilt comes from growing up Catholic.
She joked “Or… could it be, because you are Jewish?”
I said I thought it was a Catholic thing.
She said “No, we invented it.” She also said distraction is good. The mind needs a rest.

Rachel asked Kathy if it was okay to pray and Kathy nodded “Sure.” She gave Kathy a prayer shawl made by volunteers at the hospice. I invited Rachel to come back so we can brainstorm memorial services, and probably cremation. She is also does counselling so I figure it can only help.

The Traveller: Later that day one of the other nurses, Marsha came to check on Kathy.  I really have to control the traffic here because of the parking situation. Marsha is an older nurse with reddish hair and nicely dressed. Some of the nurses come in scrubs others come in regular clothes. She explained that she had been retired, but still works per diem when the nurses can’t cover all their cases. I started telling her about the visit with Rachel and how I was trying to trace my genealogy back to Austria. She told me she was Polish and she can’t get back very far because the records got destroyed during the war. She talked about how much she loves to travel. She had a bucket list of places she wanted to go and those are all done. I can’t remember all of them, but I remember Egypt and Israel were on there and she has been to Italy a few times. It turned out she is 75.

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The hospice comfort pack of meds to keep on hand.

fingercotsShe checked out Kathy and admired some of Kathy’s art. Then I asked her about the comfort pack that had arrived the previous night. She went over each medicine and what it was used for. I know I need to go over it again and I’m not supposed to use anything without calling the hospice. She said many people end up not using most of it. Things like morphine, Haldol, Tylenol, laxatives and anti-anxiety meds. Since Kathy can’t take anything my mouth, all of the meds are delivered under the tongue, on the skin or as suppositories. Marsha reminded me to use the small white finger condoms (called finger cots) before I spread the medicine on her skin. “Otherwise you will end up flat on your rear.”

(continued in part 2)