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I am 62 years old and have lived in the Atlanta area since 1971. I am Catholic and my faith is important to me, yet as I age the mystery continues to deepen, so I read broadly and try to keep things somewhat open ended. I work with the aged and the dying. I was in the Navy for four years and I guess I am life of center when it comes to politics, but not too far left. Actually, I am kind of a political moron.I am the third of 11 children; ten still alive, one died in in 1958, three days after birth.
Number of posts: 65
Email address: email
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By Mark Dohle:
The Dying Process
It is my experience in working with the elderly and dying that the common human experience of waiting is intensified as their life nears its end. A feeling of being trapped can be the beginning of this process. Being confined to a wheelchair or bed can force one to simply ‘be.’ Often the desire to read or to watch TV is gone, yet there is something pulling them. They seem surrounded by silence. By that I don’t mean a lack of noise, I mean that something seems to be working on them. From what they express to me, they are reliving their lives. Which, of course, is not always a pleasant experience.
In working with the elderly, there are many rewards that come with the job. One of perks is the humorous exchanges that can take place at unexpected times. I not sure anyone could stay in the care giving profession if they did not have a sense of humor and were unable to laugh, not only at themselves, but also with those that they take care of. It certainly helps with the stress which can be extreme at times.
Luke is 100 years old and still gets around on his own. He needs little care and uses his rollator to zoom around the facility here. In fact I have to tell him at times to slow down. He just laughs at me and says; “Mark you worry too much, I don’t plan on falling.” So we have the same conversation about that. I always ask him when he is going to plan his fall, so that I can stop worrying about it until then. He looks me up and down, laughs and speeds off for who knows where. I always smile at these little talks, but I still worry, it goes with the job. In the last year his health has become more fragile, so I think my worry is warranted, but happy he doesn’t, one worrier is enough in any relationship.
There are many personal frustrations that I have to deal with on a regular basis. One such aggravation is my inability to comprehend politics. This in turn leads me to make simplistic, black and white judgments’ on those who participate in this cryptic way of life.
The main problem for me, I believe, are the labels constantly being thrown at me. I know there are dyed in the wool liberals and conservatives; what I am not sure of is if they are the majority. The simple fact that independent voters are growing in number would point out that most are moderates. It is interesting to note that Rush Limbaugh has a strong dislike for those who do not consider themselves too far left, or right, in the political arena. Perhaps it is the moderates who think for themselves and Rush and other pundits on the political scene don’t like that.
It is true that growing up in a big family can be rough. I had 5 brothers and 4 sisters, so there was a lot going on in our household. The boys fought a lot, the sisters liked to watch. There were chores that were also squabbled over, so what would take a mere 30 minutes to finish, was often stretched for more than an hour or even longer. My parents would often be tired and grouchy, which is understandable, but they were never abusive towards us. There was a few times when dad lost it and started spanking a little more than he should have, but mom would always say, “That is enough Bob” and he would stop. They were actually very patient with us and loving most of the time.
There are also lots of fond memories and many of them revolve around our TV set.
Memories of the past are usually nostalgic. Ordinary moments made perfect with out traces of pain, suffering, or regret. When I allow myself to make one of these reflective journeys to my youthful past, most will fall under this category. Not all however. I have to go quite a ways back to remember one of my fondest experiences that took place with my family. It is in Panama, Canal Zone and I was 14 years old. I guess that would be 1963, when I was a freshman in high school …
Panama had the most beautiful full moons. I would often go for long walks by myself so that I could enjoy the beauty of the night. Some nights were so bright, that there were times that I could actually read from a book if I wanted to. It was also on full moons during three months of the year that sea turtles would crawl onto the beach to lay their eggs. So once or twice a year some of us would go out and see if we could catch one. There would usually be six of us that went.
Those who speak the truth, who unmask and show their listeners what is underneath, are often hated, reviled, hounded and killed. Martin Luther King, for instance, is still hated by many because he stripped away the mask of segregation and demanded that dignity be restored to his people…. in order to do this he often quoted from both the Old and New Testaments of the bible. He would not be silenced and the fear and rage he engendered was great; for to ask a culture to look at its collective undersides is dangerous business.
The truth he brought us to was not an unknown truth, it was just put aside. Evil becoming ordinary and so the worst kind of prejudice was made the law and achieved respectability…. well, it did for those who benefited from this social evil. For anyone who belonged to the majority class, the stronger element in our society (white, in this instance), a conversion of some kind would have to be endured, if participation in this kind of unjust system was participated in, when the call for change was responded to.
I would suppose that as time moves forward, we seem to learn more and more about who we are and the ‘why’ of how we often do things. In the past the vast majority of mankind needed to spend so much time to fight for simple survival that not much energy was left over to deal with some of the deeper issues of our race.
Juan (not his real name), has been a friend of mine for almost 20 years now. He was born in Cuba, but came over as a very young boy in 1960 and his family settled in Miami. He is a very intelligent man who has a master’s degree in psychology and for awhile he worked at rehabilitation clinics, which dealt with both drug and alcohol addiction. Being an addict himself, with other serious problem (he being bi-polar, that can become full blown paranoia if his medicines do not do their job), led him to believe at the time to be the perfect career choice for him. I said he worked for awhile as a psychologist and he was very good at it. He had to quit because he identified so strongly with the sufferings of those he was trying to help and he burned out quickly. He never could build strong boundaries, so was vulnerable. So he left the profession and I think it was a good decision.
He calls me from time to time and I often don’t have time to talk to him. I have never known him to voluntarily end a conversation over the phone and once I had to actually hang up because he would not take my three very strong hints that I had to go. In spite of this, I love the guy and have a deep respect for his struggles and how he deals with his ‘issues’. He is humble enough to call for help when he needs it and as far as I know over the last 10 years has never stopped his meds.
All throughout history, our species has experienced breakthroughs from what we call the spiritual world. Shamanism is a prime example of this, and all around the world, from time immemorial, this type of spirituality (or relationship), with a wider world beyond the senses, has been lived out. In fact shamanism is going strong all over the world to this day, even in first world countries.
Within the Catholic tradition there is a thread of spirituality called “Private Revelation”, which is not the same as public Revelation, that which is revealed through the scriptures and for Catholic’s, tradition. In order for this type of breakthrough from the other side to even be considered, it has to be in accord with the Catholic faith. For instance at this time there has been alleged apparitions going on in Medjugorje that have persisted since 1980; the longest event of this kind to have happened in church history, as far as is known today.
Today for Catholics is the feast day of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is a time set aside to celebrate the full, complete and perfect humanity of what Christians believe to be the Incarnation of God on earth. The Word, the Eternal, the Infinite, shown in a way that the human mind can fathom at least in part. It is not important to me any longer what others believe about Jesus, but my own relationship with Him and how it affects my connection with others as well, is what is central in my life.
Generalization usually are the death of any kind of communication, for in order to speak in that fashion, the opposing group has to be reduced to a stereotype, which in fact, probably does not fit any real person, no matter how strongly one’s opponent may seem to fit into it.
I remember one day, as I was driving into Atlanta with one of the people I take care of for a medical procedure; I overheard Glenn Beck say something that got my attention. Truly being the type of person who does not know where I fit in the political spectrum, (I think it may be some kind of brain thing, for I am really kind of stoooopid when it comes to this sort of thing), I can pretty much listen to anyone on the radio….be they liberal or conservative. So this one morning I tuned into talk radio “640” and listened to Glenn Beck for awhile. I knew I got him because of the “dead air” I encountered. I think it went on for about 20 seconds (or it seemed that way), he so loves dramatic long pauses. Then I heard his voice. I think he made a statement that is common from both the right and the left along political lines; a sweeping generalization that made me laugh at first, but then it really bothered me.
I have never been able to accept a materialist account of reality. I guess the brain weighs about 3lbs, wet meat, enclosed within the skull. Yet what goes on in the interior of this organ is truly astounding; well if it goes on there at all, for perhaps what we call our minds, is non-local, not situated anywhere. The human mind is truly a creative piece of work; for we humans are self aware, questioning creatures, seeking meaning in our lives. I would suppose self consciousness is truly something astounding, and along with that the deep interior inner life, (invisible to all others) that humans live, only adds to the mystery.
Grieving has never been easy for me. Some people grieve deeply, with tears freely flowing and it could take years for the feelings of sorrow and inner emptiness to lessen and heal to the point where they become bearable. I have never been able to do that, grieve the way many people do. I think it is a gift to be able to feel deep emotions of that nature even if they are painful, for they show that there is life and the ability to love deeply. I have often wondered what it would be like for me to experience true grief in my life. I am not saying I don’t grieve, but that I repress much of it. So perhaps I have a lot of unresolved issues yet to deal with. Perhaps, one of the reasons for our lives and all that happens in them, are to allow us to develop the ability to not only to love, but to grieve as well.
I was reading a story this morning about a woman who was ill with breast cancer. It was a very harrowing experience for her, with a great deal of pain. A few days before her death she told her sister that an Aunt came to her (who had died a few years previously) and said soon she would be taking care of her. This allowed the woman to die in peace which was also a consolation for her family, especially for the sister who took care of her. For some reason reading this moving story, opened up to me some memories from the past.
The other morning, as I was working with Richard, who is on Hospice, but may be taken off of it soon (He seems to be doing better than expected), I felt sadness well up from within. It happens sometimes when caring for others, I guess it is inevitable. This feeling continued as went into Williams room and took care of him as well. Feelings are different from emotions; at least they are for me. Many people use then interchangeably and perhaps when speaking, I do the same, but when trying to sort things out, I find it very helpful to make them first cousins instead of brother or sister. Later that day I had to leave someone off at a doctor’s office for a procedure that would take a couple of hours. Usually I don’t mind waiting, but this particular waiting area is not conducive to reading, so I decided […]
The problem with the world cannot be summed up simply. Though perhaps there are ways that we can get some understanding of the root cause, though of course in doing this there is the danger of being naive. Because people are complex and cultures being a manifestation of man’s inner life, a root cause may be impossible to find. Through it is easy to see that we have as a species a deep, abiding, self destructive streak within us. It is manifested in our religions, politics and of course our family situations.
A friend of mine, who is a devout Christian, will often talk to me about his studies in Buddhism. He tells me that the Buddhist tradition has for over 2500 years been studying the mind, how it works and how much suffering flows from it. He often talks about loving kindness, and how Christ shows how to be truly loving, forgiving and accepting of others. I love hearing him speak, for I agree with him much of the time when he talks about the benefits of studying Buddhist writers.
When speaking about mercy there can be turns in the road, or forks even, were different aspects can be pondered. Like many other topics on the spiritual life, different facets can be dwelt upon, to the exclusion of others. Sometimes the best way to try to understand mercy, both human and Divine (though the mystery of the Infinite will always be that; mystery), is to contemplate how we experience it in our every day life. Both on the receiving end and in the giving as well… also observing it being distributed in the dramas played out around us.
When talking about prejudices and bigotry, people will often speak of them as if they are the same. They belong to the same genus, but a different species (at least in my opinion). I had an interesting experience at the doctors’ office yesterday, while at one of the Emory’s clinics. I made a statement about my anxious concern over Bin Laden’s being targeted and killed by government’s forces that were from the United States. When I started to make this statement, I made a Freudian slip, for this is what I said: “I am worried over Obama being killed”. The doctor and friend I was with of course laughed at my slip and I guess I became very red if not purple from embarrassment. This experience showed me two things about myself: The first one was that even though I thought it nonsense (at least on a conscious level) that people actually thought that Obama was Muslim; yet I obviously absorbed it and out it came in a verbal slip. Perhaps it shows me my real prejudices that I have over people from other races. I have no doubt that I have them. For they are irrational; yet they are part of me, just like other unreasonable aspects of my inner life.
When meditating on one of the final prayers of Jesus on the cross- “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me”; if pursued with diligence, can be transforming in how ones relationship with God is looked upon and also perhaps, how this is shared with others. For Christians, Jesus is an actual revelation of God. Christianity is more about a life and a person, than about the Bible by itself. The New Testament is a faith document passing on to those who would come after, their experience of the risen Lord. The Church was around for over 200 years before the Canon came into existence.
So after Jesus died, his body was placed in a tomb. Just another human being (or so it seemed at the time); unjustly treated, tortured, mocked and horribly killed. Yes an everyday occurrence in our world. Very little has changed over the last two thousand years. Christians themselves, as history testifies, my own church (Roman Catholic) has done great evils in the past, like most (or is it all) other human institutions. The longer any social entity exists the longer the list of evils done in the name of one cause or another, an endless line of skeletons in a very large closet.
She was a youthful woman, 31 years of age, though she looked much younger. Highly educated, good job though she was struggling mightily with her life. I noticed the tattoos that she had, which were quite beautiful. She had them on her arms and around her neck area, each a work of art in their own right. I have never had any trouble with tattoos, though I myself have never gotten one. Who knows it is not too late, hope springs eternal. I wonder what kind of a tattoo a 60-year-old should get.
She talked about her journey, her beliefs, and what she was striving to be and also to do. So earnest, so determined, so conflicted.
Francis has been living in the assisted living quarters for about two years now, needing little care, but gradually getting weaker. During this time he has been using a concentrator at night to help him with his breathing while he sleeps. Over the last year his ability to breathe normally has gradually decreased, causing him some distress, though he would never admit it. He loves his independence so he never tells us anything about how he feels, or how he is breathing; he leaves that up to us, knowing that we are watching him. He has known for awhile that he is moving towards full time care, dreading it, but he is compliant when the time comes for more help, which of course has been slowly growing over the last couple of years.
About two weeks ago his breathing became more labored during the day. We took his pul-sox and it was 96% lying down, with the concentrator on 5%. The percentage is good, but once he starts moving — he uses a walker — the percentage drops quickly. Fearing congestive heart failure, Theresa, the head nurse, got him an appointment with his primary physician, so I took him to Dr. Manning’s office to get checked out …
Airports are interesting places to go to. Since Atlanta’s airport is so large, it is a wonderful area to just visit if watching people is an interest. Sometimes I will just sit back and watch the endless ebb and flow of people as they hurry back and forth. While I never have been interested in photography, there are times when I wish I did have that interest. Faces are truly great works of art and quite often I see one that I wish that I could capture on film. Photos have a way of making the perceiver see one particular moment, one scene and in doing so making the mundane come alive with meaning and beauty.
A friend of mine, James, is a very good photographer and I am amazed at some of the things that he will capture on film. His first book, which he wrote and accompanied with his photos, sold very well and another is coming out in which he worked with another author, she the writer and his photos used for emphasis. One of my favorites, from his first book, is a picture taken of an old window with dirty panes, filled up with junk. Yet the photo comes across as something very beautiful …
When I was in the 5th grade, I was having trouble reading in front of the class, so I had the honor of meeting Mrs. Johnson, a very nice grandmotherly looking woman who taught public reading skills to students at South Margarita, in the Panama, Canal Zone. She only taught once a week; or to put it more precisely, she taught me once a week. She had a real gift in making each child under her tutelage feel like they were the only one that she taught; such was her dedication to each one of us, a dedication that we returned to her by the effort we showed in our work.
I remember one day she told each one of us in her class — there were only four of us — what we would each do when we got older. She was right about me, how she knew I don’t know or understand; if she guessed rightly for the other three I have no idea, but I would not be surprised if she did. It points to her having a deep intuition about others, perhaps that was why she was such a good teacher; having small classes she could adapt to each one as needed and strengthened and deepen her positive influence she had on us.
Everything looked so small from the great height of the aerial view of the tsunami, as it made its way through the city, carrying much of it in its wake. I could not believe that I was watching the destruction and so much loss of life as it was happening. I had to keep reminding myself that this is not a movie, but in the massive amount of debris were people dying horribly and others watching as their possessions and perhaps loved ones were being swept away. I saw trucks pushed off the highway, and then two other very large trucks trapped with waters swirling on both sides; the commentator said as the filming passed over “That perhaps they have a chance of survival.” How tiny everything looked as the waters continued on their journey, yet so many dying or trapped. It almost looked like a toy city being washed away by high tide, put there by children.
On the morning of the earthquake, people getting up going about their business, then suddenly the earthquake and soon after, the water…..everything swept away. From one moment to the next, everything lost forever, buried under tons of debris.
To think of ash is to enter into the reality of endings, absurdity and temporality; bringing to mind that everything in life that we often work and strive for is in reality a dead end, a waste of time and even if truth be told, if actually thought about, not worth the effort. I think of the ash fallout after an atomic bomb has left devastation in its wake. People, going about their business, driving, working, eating and laughing and planning; all suddenly ended, in a flash of light, blasting everything to just dust swirling in the air. From one second to the next, what was once solid and real suddenly becomes ‘as if it never existed’.
No wonder I don’t like ‘Ash Wednesday’; who really wants to be reminded that we are just like the ‘grass in the field’; green one day and the next dried out and brown. There are still moments when I am surprised that I have actually aged and now with some exceptions, the next in line (in a generational sense) to get my ticket punched and to become one of the many, the majority, who for the most part have been forgotten; not even a memory; yes, as if they never existed. Yet in spite of this bleakness, there is much in life that is beautiful and worthwhile, deep and enduring and those things are related to love, beauty and truth. Not sure which one is the most important, perhaps they are in reality one.
It was one of those wonderful Georgia days in mid-February, which resembled more a day in spring than one in the middle of winter. Bright sun, no clouds in the sky, a wind yes, but not very cold; just a very nice, slightly bracing day, mood elevating, just like spring. I got off at the Turner Hill exit here in Conyers, Ga.; it is the turn off for Stonecrest Mall. It is a large mall, which is like all the others and has a great many stores that have grown up around it. I was on my way to Sam’s. As I was driving up, I saw a man sitting at the stop light, and I could see his sign from way back. Now there are three places that I have chosen to give money if I see someone there asking for help. These places are far from downtown, so hopefully most of them are really in need. In any case I think I give more for myself than for those who are asking. Why, you may ask? Well speaking only for myself, I feel that it would in some way harm me, if I on a daily basis passed by those in need without giving anything. I just notice them too strongly to pass all of them by. Besides outside of Atlanta, they are not that common, not actually rare, but not at every other stop sign.
There are different types of beauty that are often noticed by individuals but perhaps ignored by the overall culture. There is the vibrant beauty of youth, which is of course noticed by our culture and idolized to the point of actually causing harm. Young men and women with an inner glow and vibrancy that perhaps only those who passed through that phase actually notice and learn to admire without regret or envy that their time for being part of the younger generation is now over; having moved on to another stage of life.
When I was in my late thirties, I started to notice the beauty of those from the generation before mine. Men and women who had gentle smiles, wise and loving eyes, filled with understanding and compassion for those younger than themselves. They seemed to enjoy listening to the young and by their simple presence, allowing those with whom they are with to feel valued and also secure. Many older people have this gift. In fact it is quite common and often ignored by our society; which is a shame.
Scott Peck started his book “The Road Less Traveled” with a quote: “Life is difficult.” I found this first sentence strangely comforting when I read that book in my early thirties. Perhaps it made me feel less unique, or alone in my own struggles with life. For the truth is, life is difficult. Something we all know. Everyone, if they live long enough, will in different degrees have difficulties in life. The one that is the most life altering is of course the death of those we hold dear.
We gain much in life. We grow, learn, make choices, some of course are more important than others. Perhaps the most important choice that we can make, towering over what career we will choose, or what religion or philosophy of life we will follow, is how we will relate to the world and those who come into our daily lives. In the end, the most important decision we can make is what to do with our heart, the symbol of mankind’s deepest longings and desires.
I have known William for just over 20 years. We have always been close, though there was a time in the mid-nineties that he stopped talking to me for a couple of years. It was over something that had to do with his outbursts with some of our guests. So he was placed elsewhere and he blamed me for it. However one day he walked up to me, looked me up and down, frowning and said, “You know Mark, I can’t stay mad at you, so I am going to start talking to you again.” So it went, we talked and I have always liked his open childlike personality, which could also be childish at times…..sort of like me, well the childish part that is …
In his younger days, way back in the ’50s and ’60s he was a saxophone player; in fact, at one point in his career, he played in the band with Chubby Checker, when the ‘twist’ was such a popular dance.
Well I got Agnes’s ashes today. They arrived in a white cardboard box and inside was a plastic bag filled with about 10 pounds of what remained of her. Just ash and some bone fragments. I tried to think that this was her, but I could not get myself to make that jump, it was just carbon, remains after the body burned to powder. Yet they are hers anyway and I will treat them with the respect that they deserve.
Agnes’s daughter will come down in May and then we will do with her ashes according to her wishes. I don’t mind holding them till then, for it is important that the daughter be here for the spreading of the remains. She wanted it done in the forest or perhaps an open field, she did not really mind where I put them as long as it was in nature. She did not want to be put in some kind of grave, just the scattering.
It was Christmas afternoon, about 1:30 (2009) and I was helping an old friend take his luggage to his car. As we were leaving the retreat house, I saw a man outside the front door who looked very familiar to me. So I stopped and asked him if we met before. As soon as he started talking, I remembered who he was, though not his name. He used to come out here many years ago when I was still in my early 20’s and would stay over for Christmas. So we shook hands and I continued on my way with my friend to his vehicle. As I was coming back towards the front door I saw that he was still standing there and I could tell that he wanted to talk. So we conversed a bit about life in general and how we both were doing. He then asked me if we could go into one of the conference rooms so we could converse some more. I had the time so I said yes.
I was in the front office this morning talking to Pattie the lady who helps keep things in order in the administration department. I went over to see if they needed supplies for the upcoming week. She told me that because of the weather, there was no need to get anything for them this week. She has the mostly beautiful dog, a small one, with long fur that is off white with streaks of grey, that stays in the office with her…..yet it is house broken. I tease the dog and call it a rat and she just looks at me and wags her tail, wanting more attention. The dog is about a year old now and is good for Pattie, since she just lost her husband to cancer a few months ago. She is adapting, but it is of course still difficult. So the dog is good company and also has a very positive link with Michael her deceased husband.
I have had a relationship with Janet (not her real name) that started in the early ’90s. From the very beginning I knew that there was something different about her. Her problems, all of them, were expressed in descriptions that can only be said to be extreme. Her problems with her daughter and her grandchildren, with whom she lived for a few years, to the problems with her health and her relationships with others, all of them, were painted in very bright colors of red and orange, nothing soft about it. Everything was an emergency.
She was seeing a very good friend of mine who is now deceased, at that time in the early ’90s. In fact he was one of the elderly that I helped to take care of from about 2002-2006, when he finally died of a massive heart attack. The last three years of his life were very difficult because his Alzheimer’s then became very pronounced. Janet found this very difficult to deal with and stopped seeing my good friend because of that. I sort of became a go-between.
Love, the desire for union and also the suffering that flows from this longing, is often spoken of as centered in the heart. The heart does respond to human emotions in a powerful way, be it from love, hatred, anger or fear. Often when someone is under great emotional stress, the heart is often felt as a pounding against the rib cage. However, it is the area of relationships that the heart is meant, when speaking in terms of the heart being broken or wounded and in need of healing.
When in my early twenties, I would say I was either 22 or 23, there came a time when I actually felt like my heart was an abyss of pain and darkness; it felt like an untended, sore, oozing infection. I felt a great deal of pain in my chest area, a great weight actually in which I could not alleviate in any way. If I tried to find some surcease it only made the pain worse, so I learned from experience that it was best to simply sit with it, though it was of course very difficult; I simply had no choice. I would often just sit, praying and looking into this abyss wondering what was going on and if there was anything I could do about it.
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