I was recently learned about Dr. Harvey Chochinov who is an inspiring Canadian doing pioneering work in palliative care.
It is truly exciting to discover these forerunners who have worked so actively and lived so generously, giving an example to new generations about the kind of humanizing care that is possible.
Dr. Chochinov is a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba and Director of the Manitoba Palliative Care Research Unit, CancerCare Manitoba. He has been doing palliative care research since 1990 and has explored psychiatric dimensions of palliative medicine, such as depression, desire for death, will to live and dignity at the end of life. He has also pioneered “dignity therapy.”
According to this paper of his, “Dignity Therapy, a novel, brief psychotherapy, provides patients with life threatening and life limiting illnesses an opportunity to speak about things that matter most to them. These recorded conversations form the basis of a generativity document, which patients can bequeath to individuals of their choosing. Client Centred Care is a supportive psychotherapeutic approach, in which research nurse/therapists guide patients through discussions focusing on here and now issues.”
In this brief YouTube clip, Dr. Chochinov describes what he calls “The Patient Dignity Question” and the significant impact that this open-ended, personalist question can have for patients and those who care for them:
Recently a friend of mine introduced me to James Baldwin (1924-1987), an American author who wrote books, essays, and memoirs on the experience of Blacks in America.
I just finished reading Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, which contains two essays exploring race relations in the U.S. in the early 1960s. “Color is not a human or personal reality; it is a political reality,” he says.
Continuing to reflect here on what case there is for suffering being redemptive without sliding into any justification of (or indifference to) real injustices, Baldwin offers a credible voice.
Here is an excerpt on how suffering can be a school in maturity:
Recently a friend of mine said something to me that was an epiphany. She reflected, “I don’t know anything about suffering being redemptive without others’ suffering being open to me.”
This immediately struck a chord and resonated within me profoundly.
Sometimes we need a friend to speak the truths we’ve known all along with the credibility of living witness.
In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI explains the way in which suffering that is shared becomes transformed:
Indeed, to accept the “other” who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love. The Latin word con-solatio, “consolation”, expresses this beautifully. It suggests being with the other in his solitude, so that it ceases to be solitude.
Something else that comes to mind in thinking about this is the line from the Anima Christi prayer which says: “Within your wounds hide me.”
What is it to be hidden within another’s wounds?
How can a loved one’s wounds actually be a shelter for us?
Have we considered the ways in which a wound creates the actual space for greater openness and depth?
Without attempting to justify any evil, hurt, or injustice, how can revealing our woundedness to others create the hospitality in us for others in their woundedness such that “suffering is penetrated by the light of love”?
I have been captivated by a recent audition on America’s Got Talent.
It is worth every second of your next seven and a half minutes to watch it, here:
Since watching Nightbirde’s audition a few times, I have also watched a couple interviews that she has given in recent days, checked out these podcasts between her and Virginia Dixon, and perused some of her blog posts.
This evening I watched the film “The Father” – a drama that follows an elderly man’s experience of dementia.
The film is masterfully done and its artfulness consists in the way in which the disorientation and confusion of memory loss is simulated for the viewer.
Take a look at the trailer:
This film caused me to wonder: Why do Alzheimer’s and dementia happen specifically? I don’t mean biologically and physiologically, but rather existentially. What does it mean for humans to be the kinds of beings who, at the end of a long, successful, flourishing life can sincerely ask, “Who are you?” and “Who am I?”
In the chapter titled, “With the Martyrs’ Families”, Mosebach recounts travelling to visit the homes of the families of the Coptic Christians who were martyred by Islamists on the coast of Libya in 2015.
These poor Egyptian Christian martyrs did not have Twitter accounts. In fact, Mosebach gives us a sense of their lifestyle by indicating that these men didn’t sleep on sheets, didn’t have bathtubs, and were likely acquainted with fleas and lice.
One of the most amazing speeches I ever had the privilege of hearing in person was delivered by Gila Sacks, the daughter of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Gila delivered this speech to honour her father on the occasion of him being awarded the Templeton Prize in 2016.
A few years after that event, just this past fall, Rabbi Sacks passed away. When I watched the eulogy (below) that Gila delivered, many of the same qualities I had so admired about her Templeton speech shone through this one as well:
In this eulogy, Gila speaks to her father’s conviction that things can change and people can be responsible for changing them as well as to his character in forging his own children to become who they were created to be.
These are not mere words of sentimentality. What makes the eulogy so compelling is how Gila weaves the lessons from her father together with anecdotes from her ordinary, daily life along with what she learns and grapples with in the Bible.
I was struck by how well this eulogy fulfills the Jewish custom of eulogizing and lament, which has its basis in when Abraham eulogized and mourned his wife Sarah.
According to Jewish tradition, as discussed in this article, “When composing a eulogy, the goal is to praise the deceased, evoke an emotional reaction from the listeners, inspire listeners to improve their own lives by finding the qualities mentioned within themselves, and to consider their own legacies.”
Gila’s eulogy of her father is exemplary of this in every respect. She honoured her father well by reminding her listeners of their own capacity to build the world from love and responsibility.
In the highly interactive and exceptionally curated Museum of World Religions in Taipei, there is a permanent exhibit called Awakenings. As described by the museum, “This specially commissioned film includes interviews with world-renowned religious leaders, well-known laity, and other visitors. They bear witness to personal experiences that led to important changes in their lives. The aim of the film is to generate a resonance in visitors, irrespective of their time of life, and encourage them to actively seek changes at all opportunities.”
In the clip below, which I took during my visit, Cardinal Francis Arinze reflects on the formative persons in his life, mainly priests and teachers. One thing that struck me about this brief interview is how much affection he has for his teachers and how, even about teachers who have died he says, “the link remained because they made a change in my life, these people.
When persons instill something of there character, when they teach in such a way that, as Cardinal Arinze says, “you [cannot] be indifferent to [them]”, then these people do not disappear when they die, but rather remain in their students in whom they have made such an impression.
This evening a friend of mine shared with me about how she had led what she described as “a pretty death-free life” until the death of her grandmother.
Since my friend was a already adult when her grandmother passed away, this experience led her to make a few observations.
First, she noted that this grandmother, who had been a quiet, trusted presence in the family until the end of her life, was somewhat taken for granted by the other family members who presumed that this matriarch would somehow always be there.
Then, when she passed away, my friend said, “She became her whole life. Suddenly, everyone was pulling out family photos and trying to piece together the narrative of her early life. She became 5-year-old her, and 20-year-old her, and wedding day her, etc. seemingly all at once.”
The other realization my friend had was about all of the things that she didn’t know about her grandmother; her grandmother’s death became a reckoning for what my friend had and hadn’t taken the time to learn about her.
After losing a loved one, many people wish that they had taken the time to interview the person, to ask certain probing questions that never seemed urgent before, and to really capture a person’s story in their own words.
Accordingly, think of those you love the most and set out to encounter them in their depth and to record this encounter through writing, audio, or video. In the future, you may be very grateful for having done so, but the activity will also present the occasion for an encounter of depth during the relationship while you are both alive.
Photo: Screenshot from an hourlong video interview of my Zaida telling the story of how he came to Canada from Poland in 1937.
This evening, over a dinner reunion with a dear friend of mine, she confided to me that she did not consider herself to have been up to anything interesting lately.
As soon as I heard this, I objected because my friend most certainly has been up to a very many interesting things, and it is only a matter of clarifying what “interesting” truly means.
If you have ever had the delight of reading – or, even better, having read aloud to you – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The Little Prince, you will remember the Little Prince’s reproach of the those grown ups who are ever concerned with matters of consequence: