Memorial Service

Last night, Parkview Chaplaincy held its biannual memorial service. Each April and October, we hold a service to honor all of the patients who have died at each of our two Fort Wayne locations.

Last night, we lit candles for approximately 300 people. For a six month period.

Let that sink in for a minute.

For our two Fort Wayne locations, Parkview employs five full-time chaplains, four part-time chaplains (24-36 hours weekly), and four on-call chaplains. Add to that our manager and director, as well as four chaplains who are either part-time or on-call at our community hospitals but who also fill in at the Fort Wayne locations as necessary, and two palliative and cancer chaplains. 21 chaplains who were involved in those approximately 300 deaths.

We we are present in some combination of before, during, and after every death at those two hospitals, including miscarriages and still births. It isn’t all of what we do, but it’s the most important piece.

But I digress.

Last night I was privileged to attend the memorial service for the first time since I started working for Parkview. A coworker was kind enough to cover part of my shift so I could attend. I greeted guests and checked names of those they were there to honor. I read a scripture passage from John. I helped light candles as names were read.

There was one person in attendance who I recognized immediately, but it took me several minutes to place the situation. I greeted the person before I could make the full connection. He attempted a half-smile through tears. That expression was so familiar.

As we sang a hymn and I studied him from the side, I suddenly remembered. I remembered who he lost. I remembered helping him try to contract family and friends. I remembered the stories he told. I remembered he was alone and did not want to leave, so the nurse and I spent three hours with him. I remembered it all.

When I had a chance later, I made sure I told him that I remembered and apologized that it took me some time. He said he would never forget that night. We both cried in that moment because his grief was still so raw.

I went to work shortly after. I had two emergency room calls, one spiritual consultation, and two deaths within my first three hours of my shift. It was busy. Back to the work life I’m accustomed to.

I reflected on the service later in my shift with a friend. I told him about the man I had talked with. My friend asked if the encounter reassured me that sometimes we really make a difference here at the hospital.

He was right. We may not save the life of every person who comes through our doors, but that doesn’t mean we don’t impact them. The doctors and nurses, the cleaning and kitchen crews. The police and public safety team. The chaplains. We’re all called, and we’ve all answered. It’s a gift.

And while we may not remember every face and every situation, they do, and we honor that.

Worms

I had a slow walk this morning. There were lots of worms.

I rescue worms, you see.

It all started our first summer in our house in Kentucky. Every time it rained, we would end up inundated with worms that crawled into our garage and died. Worms aren’t the easiest to get off of concrete. It really grossed me out. So I got into this habit. After it rained, I would go into the garage and collect as many worms as I could, moving them one by one out into the grass with the hope that they would stay there.

From there it turned into something I was vigilant about. If I saw worms on dry concrete after rain, I would help them along. I didn’t want them to die and be gross on the sidewalk.

But then I started thinking about it. Wondering if the worms were in pain or discomfort as their poor little bodies dried up from the outside in, slowly killing them. Do they feel dehydrated as it happens? Does it hurt? Is it a slow, torturous death?

My mom says she doesn’t think worms are advanced enough to feel it. Maybe she’s right. She is pretty smart, and she was a teacher for a long time. But I know worms react when I touch them and pick them up, so they must feel something.

These days, I feel like I’m on a rescue mission when I walk around outside after a rainfall. I even have guidelines. If the worm is in water or moving quickly across a sidewalk, I don’t intervene. If the worm is moving really slowly or not at all on dry concrete, or if it is in the middle of a big patch like a driveway, I pick it up.

I wonder sometimes if God is like that. Does he have guidelines for when he intervenes in our lives? I know sometimes it feels like he picks me up and moves me somewhere without explanation, and then I have to adjust course on my own. But I’m still alive, so that’s something.

This morning I moved eight worms from concrete back into grass. Did I move them to the wrong place? Maybe. I usually try to take into account the direction they were heading when I pick them up.

Did it matter? I don’t know. Maybe a bird will get them. Maybe they’ll dry up somewhere else. Or maybe they’ll live out full, worm lives, however long those may be. But I know I feel better for trying to help.

Saying Goodbye to Santa Claus

Today the Deck family lost an old, old friend.

I only ever knew him as Santa Claus. When Jennie texted me today to say that he had died, all she typed was “Santa is gone.” It’s all she had to say. I knew without a doubt who she meant.

I don’t know how long he had been our Santa. I know that he is in my earliest Christmas memories, and probably my earliest Christmas pictures. The Decks gathered at my grandparents house every Christmas Eve, and Santa always stopped by after dinner. We would all take turns sitting on his lap and telling him what we wanted. All of us.

He wasn’t just at my grandparents’ house, though. He was also the Santa Claus at my dad’s work Christmas party. He was the Santa Claus at all of the Christmas plays in our school system. He rode on the last float in the Crawfordsville Christmas parade. He called me by name when I saw him in public at Christmas.

He. Was. Santa.

He was the reason I believed whole-heartedly in Santa until I was nearly thirteen. You don’t argue with the idea of Santa when you know him personally and he knows you. I knew all the other Santa’s were fake. I knew the REAL Santa Claus.

Once Jennie and I had kids, my parents started arranging for him to come to our family Christmas. They would all take turns sitting on his lap, and then he would call my siblings and me by name and tell us it was our turn. I think we three were happier than the little ones, who were in awe that we KNEW Santa!

One fun year, my mom was in the hospital and my dad was with her when Santa Claus came. Dad left us the money for his tip. When Santa showed up, he asked where our parents were. It was like he needed to take care of us, despite the fact that the five adults were all in their 30’s!

He gave up being Santa a couple of years ago when his wife died. She did his scheduling, and it was just too hard for him to do it alone. He may not have wanted to do it alone.

Fred Zimmerman, our Santa Claus, was like an extended member of the Deck family. His passing marks the end of an era in a way. It’s one more piece of my childhood that is completely over.

Merry eternal Christmas, Santa Claus.

Palm Sunday

photo of palm trees during golden hour
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

“So, how is your Palm Sunday so far?” a patient’s family member asked me as I escorted the person to a patient’s room.

I smiled. In my mind, it was the smile of someone with a secret. What the family member didn’t know was that I, the hospital chaplain, had forgotten that it was Palm Sunday. Instead, I replied, “It’s lovely so far, but I’m a bit tired.” Not a lie, exactly.

I suppose I hadn’t entirely forgotten that today is Palm Sunday. I mean I knew it intellectually. The three packages of palm branches in the chaplaincy refrigerator reminded me of it every time I opened the door to get more coffee creamer (which, tonight, was often). Of course I know what today is.

But spiritually I had forgotten.

Palm Sunday, the day of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The day that a multitude of souls cried out with one voice, “Hosanna in the highest!” as Jesus rode a colt through the streets. Palm Sunday, when he was loved and accepted by nearly all. Palm Sunday, possibly one of the highest days of Jesus’s life.

Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Jesus’s death. The Sunday before he was betrayed and denied by those closest to him. The Sunday before those who once loved and accepted him now begged for his death. Palm Sunday, the run-up to Good Friday, on which Jesus was beaten, crucified, and died. Palm Sunday before Good Friday, probably the lowest day of Jesus’s life.

How could I forget the beginning of the holiest week in the Christian year? I have heard that those in ministry sometimes lose the specialness of the holy days. One Sunday seems so much like the next in terms of duties.

Though not in church ministry, I suppose I experience this myself. I work every Sunday morning and evening. Each Sunday is much like the next. In fact, Sunday mornings are often indistinguishable from Saturday or Monday mornings for me. I do the same things: I make the same lists, complete the same chores, see many of the same coworkers. I greet families in the emergency department. I pray with patients. I comfort families who have had a patient die. Saturday morning, Sunday morning, Monday morning. Plain days and holy days.

If anything, this job should remind me of Holy Week. The same reactions that the crowd in Jerusalem had to Jesus’s arrival and the range of emotions they displayed throughout the week are mimicked perfectly in the hospital. Patients and families arrive, praising Jesus’s name out of the surety that he will make everything better again. The anger they feel when faced with the realization that the patient will not get better and will, perhaps, die. The reassurance they feel upon reflection that their loved one is finally experiencing perfect peace. Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter, all in one.

Today, on Palm Sunday, I want to remember the sequence. I want to remember that trials are often bookended by joy, but that the joy after the trial is often sweeter and more complete than the joy before the trial. I want my prayer for the people I meet today to be for the peace that comes with Easter. And I want that for you as well.

Seattle 2019, Day Six — Sometimes things get lost on a plane.

We said goodbye to our hotel this morning. We had a pretty cool view of downtown buildings. It was much prettier at night with all the lights on.

Our flight was so full that the airline was offering people a later flight (like tomorrow) into Indy and lots of cash if they would change flights. The girls thought we should do it, despite my insistence that they had to go to school in the morning. When they airline upped the ante to $1,400 per person to switch, the girls called me crazy for not taking the offer. They would when they had children, even if missing school was involved. I told them that was fine, we all rolled our eyes, and then we moved on.

This was my lovely view for three and a half hours. My seat was so basic that the window seat didn’t have a window. I feel like I may have lost to the airplane somehow.

Emma lost a tooth before we even started moving. She wanted me to look at it up close, despite the fact that I was sitting behind her. “You’re the one who always wants pull out teeth out!” she insisted.

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I want to hang out with them!” I replied, which cracked up the 20-something guys across the aisle who obviously have no children.

The flight itself was quite turbulent. I sat behind the girls and Michael, and I checked on them enough to be annoying, apparently. I just wanted to make sure no one was vomiting.

Back on terra firma in Boilermaker country, we picked up our bags and started north. We got home round 8:45 and within a half hour had both suitcases and two backpacks unpacked, and two loads of laundry started. Why? Because we’re awesome like that!

So yesterday I said I would tell you my two favorite things about the trip, and I intend to remain true to my word.

The first is that I was pleasantly surprised by how well the trip went, despite the fact that I didn’t have it all planned to a tee. Planning really wasn’t even an option for me this time because I was so busy right up until we left, but things turned out well anyway. And as Michael tends to quote from Phineas and Ferb, “Willy-nilly is a plan of sorts.”

My other favorite, and easily most favorite, was how much time we spent with Chris and his family. Not just that we got to see them, but that Chris sought out our company everyday. He even drove 20 minutes out of his way one morning to have breakfast with us. He wanted that much to spend time with us.

You know how siblings can be: They aren’t always close as children. Michael and Chris have become much closer over the years, probably about as close as two men who haven’t lived in the same state in over 16 years can be. They are both such caring people, and I’m so glad that extends to each other and their respective families.

Chris, if you are reading this, thanks for making this vacation amazing.

Seattle 2019, Day Five — Last Day

It is with sadness that I announce that today was our last full day here. We made it a good one, though!

Instead of breakfast at the hotel, we met Chris down at Pike Place Market. He suggested a place called The Crumpet Shop. We ate crumpets. None of the four of us had ever had them before. If you haven’t, don’t fret. A crumpet is kind of like a cross between an English muffin and a pancake. The girls had their with Nutella, while Michael and I had ours Vermont-style with cream cheese, maple butter, and crushed pecans. Delish.

We walked to an adorable shop called Sloths and Robots where we bought souvenirs. The shops specializes in cute things with robots and/or sloths on them. (Seattle is surprisingly straight-forward like that!).

We walked down to a cheese shop called Beecheer’s where we got to watch them as they made cheese. It was cool, although I was worried the girls would never eat cheese again. They were a bit weirded out by it.

Chris bid us adieu at that point, and we continued on down to the waterfront to the Seattle Aquarium. We had heard mixed reviews about it, but we spent a very pleasant 2.5 hours there. They had several good exhibits, including a couple large octopi that kind of stole the show. (Octopi would, you know.) They also had sea lions, fur seals, ocean otters, and river otters, among other critters. They were all adorable.

We ate lunch there at the aquarium (NOT fish!!!) and then caught a Lyft back to the hotel. The girls swam while I caught a short nap and packed. When they came back, Sofia correctly identified that I was listening to Smashing Pumpkins on my phone. I was so proud.

We drove out to Chris and Ann’s house one last time for this trip. We played a few games (Trivial Pursuit Steal and Phineas and Ferb Uno) and then went to dinner at Feed Co. It’s a burger joint. More games (Sushi Go) back at the house, then “home” to the hotel.

It’s been a great trip. Tomorrow I’ll tell you my two favorite parts about it.

Seattle 2019, Day Four — Tired

As in, I am tired right now. As in, I’ve been tired all day. As in, I’m tired of crowds.

We had a nice day. After breakfast we ordered a Lyft (like Uber, but a different company) to take us down to Pike Place Market. The Lyft ride itself was a first for us.

Pike Place was pretty cool. There were tons of shops and restaurants. We stopped at a fun shop that specialized in kids’ apparel. We saw the original Starbucks, but bought coffee someplace else (don’t ask about the rationale behind that one). We bought some pictures from an artist. We admired a plethora of fresh cut flowers. We bought books from the coolest man in the coolest bookshop.

We also saw poverty and squalor. We saw homeless people fighting over whose turn it was to sleep on the bench. We saw people begging with signs. We saw people begging with their eyes. It was surreal.

We walked toward the waterfront and rode The Great Wheel. Emma was unsure about it since she and I are both scared of heights, but she handled it like a champ.

Lunch was at The Fisherman’s Restaurant. My family was wonderful in indulging that request of mine. I just really wanted some sort of seafood while here, and a restaurant on a pier was too good to pass up…as was their clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl.

The skies finally opened up during lunch and we had a proper Seattle rain for the afternoon. It was lovely, but it also meant we soaked through our shoes and required a Lyft back to the hotel for a quick change.

Thirty minutes later found us at the Museum of Pop Culture, or MoPOP for short. It has several changing exhibits about different aspects of pop culture. We walked through exhibits about wizarding worlds (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Princess Bride, etc.), the band Pearl Jam, video games, a sound studio, and science fiction.

For the evening we drove out to Chris and Ann’s house. The girls stayed with them for a bit while Michael and I walked down the street to an Ethiopian restaurant for dinner. While we were gone, Ann’s mother, Tracy, taught the girls how to make authentic Chinese spring rolls.

And of course, more time spent holding Baby Acadia….

Both girls were surprisingly ready for bed tonight. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was tired tonight.

Seattle 2019, Day Three — Attitude Adjustments

Today was actually kind of a frustrating one. I felt like I was fighting battles on multiple fronts, and I couldn’t keep track of who was winning.

The morning started fine. Breakfast at the hotel, during which we quickly agree (or so I thought) that we would take advantage of the nice day by going out of town to hike. We had to make a stop at Chris’s house to pick up a backpack of stuff that we forgot last night.

Then the frustrations began. At Chris’s suggestion, we hit a nearby coffee shop. The coffee shop had very few options, none of which Michael wanted. He ended up with something he didn’t like, as did I. And if you know anything about me, I rarely turn down coffee and I don’t do overly well without it. We actually ended up at a Starbucks further down the road to remedy the situation.

We headed east of Seattle to Snoqualmie, which is a picturesque little town by the mountains. We passed a gorgeous lake and had a great view of Mount Rainer for a short time. It was a beautiful drive.

Our point in going to Snoqualmie was to see their famed water fall and hike a 0.8 mile trail. Once we got there, though, the next round of frustrations began. Both girls turned on huge attitudes and refused to be pleasant about anything. They didn’t mind looking at the waterfall from afar, they supposed, but they didn’t like the idea of hiking.

As we walked the trail, they got worse and worse. I finally asked Emma if there was a good reason why she had such a terrible attitude. No one asked her if she wanted to drive an hour out of town to see some waterfall (sidenote: not true) and walk down a gravel path that that wasn’t even a real hiking trail. She wanted to be at a museum in town.

Deep breath.

So we had a little talk about attitude. I told her that she had been asked, and everyone agreed. I was sorry it wasn’t what she expected, but it was the current reality and wasn’t going to magically change in the near future, so she might as well decide to try to enjoy herself rather than making herself miserable. I then had a very similar talk with Sofia, who was mopey because she was cold, even though Michael had offered her his sweatshirt.

More deep breaths, but the next ones were because we had to hike back up the gravel not-a-real-hiking-trail path. 0.8 miles up an incline that amounted to 40 flights of stairs. Not for the faint of heart.

We had lunch at a cute place in town called The Snoqualmie Brewery and Tap Room. That actually helped the girls’ moods tremendously. Funny how good food can do that to a person.

Back at the hotel, they swam and I napped for a bit. We went to Chris and Ann’s house for dinner, which Chris graciously prepared for us. The girls and I took turns holding Baby Acadia while Christ grilled. We ate a glorious dinner out back. Sofia played with the dogs. We sat and talked until the rain drove us inside, where we played card games.

The night ended with a pint of ice cream split four ways (heavy on the girls’ ways).

I’ve been thinking about the girls attitudes and how they compared to mine when my coffee wasn’t right. It’s hard not to be cranky when you think you are getting one thing and it turns out differently than you expected. It’s a life lesson most of us (I hope…please let it not just be me!) will struggle with throughout life. Learning to accept what is and adapt your attitude is so hard.

And that’s my Vacation Deep Thought for the day.

Seattle 2019, Day Two — Trying New Things

We’re vacationing in a city completely new to us, so of course we’ll be trying new things. Some of them really pushed me, though.

So first off, we slept in. That was awesome. Late(ish) breakfast at the hotel, then resting and getting ready before stuff opened at 10:00.

The girls voted on the Space Needle for the morning. It turned out to be a unanimous decision. We bought our tickets, read some cool stories on exhibits around the building, and then…the dreaded elevator. I didn’t even realize I dreaded it until we got on.

With 12 other people.

In a small space.

Going up really high, really fast.

Two or three of my biggest fears right there. By the time we got to the top, I was out of breath from the stress of the ride. No joke.

The view from the top was totally worth it, though. We walked around outside in the wind and mist and admired the 360 views of Seattle and the Puget Sound.

Inside was even cooler. There was a glass revolving floor that went all the way around the bottom of the observation deck. Talk about spectacular. I thought that part might freak me out, but it was too awesome to scare me.

After a mandatory stop at the gift shop, we made a mandatory stop at a Starbucks. We also found a really cool park for the girls to play in. Sofia desperately needed to run off some energy.

The afternoon held the real highlights of the day, though. After some takeout pizza and swimming, we drove to my brother in-law’s house for a much needed visit. Chris and Ann recently welcomed their first baby, and we were all anxious to see them. We spent a lovely couple of hours catching up.

Chris took us across town to a rock gym and patiently worked belay for the four of us and we tried (largely unsuccessfully!) to climb some rock walls. Sofia made it the highest on one, Michael was the highest on a second, and I made it the highest on a third. That was another new, scary experience for me. I don’t mind climbing up things, but I’m very afraid of heights. Knowing Chris had my back (quite literally) really helped.

We had a late dinner at Señor Moose, a cozy little Mexican place nearby. The girls were so tired I thought they might pass out in their food. I ordered an horchata latte, which I had not realized my life had been missing. I don’t know how I’ll live without it now.

I have to remind myself sometimes that not all new experiences are bad. I like sameness. I like homeostasis. I don’t like change. I don’t like trying new things that are related to other things that already scare me. But we don’t grow unless we try new things, right? I think I grew some today.

Seattle 2019 — Day One

It’s vacation time for the Flory Family! This round of travel finds us in Seattle for most of a week, as is obvious from the title.

Today was travel day. We actually started pretty early: up at 6:00, out of the house before 7:30, at the Indianapolis airport by 10:00.

(Let me just stop for a moment and tell you how much the Indy airport impresses me! They are so environmentally friendly!!! They have an absolutely enormous solar panel field at the airport, and all of their busses are completely electric. I seriously love their effort!)

Both airplane rides were completely uneventful, thanks in large part to plenty of Dramamine and nice weather. I’ll be honest: we were all a little nervous since the last time we flew to Seattle one of the girls threw up all over Michael on the first flight. So an uneventful day of traveling is definitely noteworthy for us!

We’re staying at a hotel right downtown. As in, you can see the Space Needle from the front of our hotel. THAT downtown. It’s kind of cool.

We grabbed some nearby fast food for dinner. Emma and I had a good talk on the way back from dinner. There had been a homeless man in our restaurant, and we saw him again as we walked back to the hotel. She asked about how people end up homeless, so we talked about economics, jobs, and mental health. She’s so amazing.

We rounded out the night with the girls swimming and me avoiding the pool area to the best of my ability (sensory overload). I found a nearby craft beer shop (very hipster) and bought a couple for Michael and me.

It’s good to be traveling again. This will be a very different experience for me: normally I have everything planned out with spreadsheets and color coding, and I’ve done none of that this time. Playing Seattle willy nilly!