Poems and Personal Stories

Today was a Beautiful Day

I was by the lake and contemplated
the serenity and beauty of my feelings and surroundings.
Once more I thought of you. The loss of you.

Surprisingly, you were tucked away in the shadows of the trees….
in the rhythm of the leaves falling on the water’s surface…
amongst the ferns, as soft rays of light filtered
through the trees and penetrated the forest floor.

I am full of joy. I have found you again.
Now you will never leave me,
for I will always find you in the beauty and wonder of the world.

Author Unknown

The Volunteer

There are few situations in our lives when we are more vulnerable and intimate than dying. To be welcomed into be a part of this last stage of life is an honor and a privilege. What I have found is that people want to be heard and comforted. When my last client was in the hospital she had periods of being unconscious and times of being lucid. For me I wanted her to wake up to someone she knew. I knew that it would be scary waking up in pain and in the hospital. Being alone would not be good. Some of her family had busy lives, jobs, children, one lived so far out of town they couldn’t always get in to see her. It was a comfort to them to know that someone was with their mum when they couldn’t be there. Little things like getting her a drink or fixing her pillows; asking the nurses for more pain meds, just sitting holding her hand, listening to her when she was anxious and worrying about her family, was something I could do. It was just good to be an ear she could rely on to keep her trust. It was nice to be a consistent part of the team right through to the funeral. It really is a special place that we volunteers have in this life drama and one that I wouldn’t trade.

Nanci Harvey

Top 5 Regrets – By Bronnie Ware

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learned never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people have had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honor at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying. Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

And This Is How We Grieve (Download)

And this is how we grieve:
It begins with the pianissimo of disbelief
And crescendos into a cacophony
That hurls questions
Toward the heavens where Mercy is mute.

And this is how we grieve:
Incompletely and with little understanding,
Half limping, half crawling, dazed and disoriented,
In a restless ritual around the rim
Of the black hole that was once our soul.

And this is how we grieve:
With anxiety and with whispered doubts
That want Grace to account for
The unyielding darkness, the endless ebony,
That makes us believe we have gone blind or mad

And this is how we grieve:
Not all at once, but intensely and to exhaustion;
Then we heave ourselves, spent and silent,
Into grief’s arms to await
The next anniversary of the calendar or of the heart.

And this is how we grieve.

Janet G. Tharpe, D. Min.

Autumn Psalm of Fearlessness

By Edward Hayes

I am surrounded by a peaceful ebbing,
as creation bows to the mystery of life;
all that grows and lives must give up life,
yet it really does not die.
As plants surrender their life,
bending, brown and wrinkled,
and yellow leaves of trees
float to my lawn like parachute troops,
they do so in a sea of serenity.

I hear no fearful cries from creation,
no screams of terror,
as death daily devours
once-green and growing life.
Peaceful and calm is autumn’s swan song,
for she understands
that hidden in winter’s death-grip
is spring’s openhanded,
full-brimmed breath of life.

It is not a death rattle that sounds over
fields and backyard fences;
rather I hear a lullaby
softly swaying upon the autumn wind.
Sleep in peace, all that lives;
slumber secure, all that is dying,
for in every fall there is the rise
whose sister’s name is spring.

My Hospice Experience

By Coryll Harwood

Shortly after moving to small town Ontario, I was asked to sit with a gentleman in the nursing home while his family went to Church Christmas Sunday. The family did not expect him to see out the week end. I was asked to stay from nine until noon.

The nurse at reception escorted me to the room and with a wave of the hand towards the bed, departed. The gent was comatose and lay quietly, his face turned toward the door. Looking at him, I caught my breath. It could have been my father lying there, the resemblance was so strong. My dad had been dead for 21 years!

I went in, pulled a chair up beside the bed, took his hand and quietly talked to him, to reassure him of my presence. He seemed peaceful. I stroked his wrist and focused on him, surprised that the only thing I knew was his name. Dozens of questions tumbled through my mind. Where did he live? Was he a farmer like my father had been? Was his wife still living? Who was his family? What had he done all his life?

After an hour, I explained to him that I was going to go around to the other side of the bed. My reason was simple; I wanted to see his profile. My dad had a hooked Anglo-Saxon nose and I wondered if this gentleman had the same nose shape. He didn’t. I couldn’t help but smile. Then I noticed how much his hands were moving, as if searching for something. He seemed suddenly agitated. I returned to my chair, took his hand again and talked quietly. He settled down again immediately.

I hummed hymns to him and Christmas carols. Another hour passed. Getting bored, I picked up a pocket-book sized magazine I had brought in. With one hand in his, I began to read, holding the magazine in my other hand. In short order, he seemed to get agitated again! Setting the book down, I focused back to him and marveled that there seemed to be some form of miraculous communication going on between us. Not a word was spoken but he seemed to know when my mind wandered off in some other direction. I thought about this phenomenon for a quarter of an hour, mesmerized and thrilled with the prospect. I had to test this theory again. I picked up the book, still clutching his hand and began to read. Within a minute, his hands searched and agitation resumed.

I have never forgotten that exchange. I hated to leave and stayed until well after 12:30 pm. The man never opened his eyes. He died at 5 pm that afternoon but he left me with a legacy that I truly cherish. I love the idea that as spiritual beings, we have the ability to communicate at some profound level that transcends our intellectual knowledge. I never think of this gentleman without a warm smile spreading across my face.

– Coryll Harwood

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