Extremis: A Netflix documentary on end of life issues

extremisThis week, a short documentary premiered on Netflix. In less than half an hour, Extremis follows several different patients and their families facing end of life decisions, as well as the doctors caring for them. These people were very brave in allowing the film crew to capture such intimate and heart wrenching moments. Everybody dies. We all know that on an intellectual level, but for most of us it doesn’t become real until we are faced with the undeniable fact that we or someone we love is dying. And with the medical technology available in 21st century hospitals, death can often be postponed. The documentary raises many questions, but perhaps the most crucial one is, What counts as life for you? Continue reading “Extremis: A Netflix documentary on end of life issues”

“Why Did You Write a Book?”

booksigning16Recently my phone chimed with a message from a friend. It was one sentence: “Why did you write a book?” Such a seemingly simple question, but I thought about it all day before answering. There are so many reasons I wrote my first book, and few of them are simple to explain. I loved to read from a very young age, and loving books led me to want to be an author. That one’s pretty easy. But the whys of writing this particular book get more complicated. Continue reading ““Why Did You Write a Book?””

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?

Like millions of other people, I’ve spent the past few months obsessed with the soundtrack to the Broadway musical Hamilton. If you’re not familiar with the play, it dramatizes the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, telling the story through modern American musical styles. It is brilliant and funny and moving. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to it, and I still cry every time. Before he puts young Hamilton in charge of a battalion of soldiers to fight a crucial Revolutionary War battle, General George Washington sings words of paternal wisdom and caution: Continue reading “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”

O is for Operation

Dr. James Patrick Kinney performing early anesthesia procedure at Sisters of Charity Hospital, Buffalo, NY

(This post is part of my ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

Did you ever play that board game as a kid, the one where you had to use the little tweezers to reach into the tiny, metal-lined spaces of the cartoon man’s body to remove the little bucket of “Water on the Knee” or the very literal “Butterflies in the Stomach”? It made me a nervous wreck, and my hands would shake as I anticipated the inevitable Bzzzzz when the tweezers made contact with the metal. I was terrible at the Operation board game, so I suppose it’s a good thing I never wanted to become a surgeon. But I do spend a lot of time near the operating room at our hospital. Continue reading “O is for Operation”

N is for No

(This post is part of the ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

It was the most abrupt end to a patient visit I’ve ever had as a hospital chaplain. I had told the man that his comments were beginning to make me uncomfortable, and that if he didn’t go back to talking about something in which I could actually be of help to him in pastoral care terms, then I would leave. He continued saying inappropriate things, so I stood up to go. As I walked out of the patient’s room, all the visitors and staff members in the hall could hear him yelling at me, “Just one night! I need you! I NEED YOU!” Whether it was his medication talking or something else, he insisted that the answer to his numerous problems was spending one night with “a good woman like you.” I had no problem telling him no. Continue reading “N is for No”

37 in Pictures

June 5th is my birthday. A lot has happened since the last time I celebrated another year of life. There have been some challenging moments, to be sure. I continue learning how to navigate through episodes of depression and anxiety attacks. I’ve experienced disappointments both personal and professional. But as I look back on the last year, the positives far outnumber the negatives. I think it’s safe to say that 37 really has been one of my best years yet! Continue reading “37 in Pictures”

A Pretty Good Month

FullSizeRender 8In its first month in paperback, my book Being Called Chaplain sold over 100 copies! I continue to get messages from readers who find something in the story that touches them personally. As I was reminded in church this second week of Easter, when we always hear the story of the apostle Thomas, doubt is an integral part of faith. My pastor quoted Frederick Buechner (one of my favorite authors) who said that doubt is “the ants in the pants of faith.” That seems to be the element of my story that most resonates with readers. One handwritten letter I received recently expressed it this way:  Continue reading “A Pretty Good Month”

H is for Hope

(This is part of my ongoing series, ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

It is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, according to Emily Dickinson. Nietzsche said it is the worst of all evils. And on my dark days, I think it’s stupid (though not really). In a hospital, hope can make the difference, if not between life and death, then certainly between life and mere survival. Dum spiro, spero. “While I breathe, I hope.” Even when the people I meet in the hospital are fighting for each breath, or when they are hoping that the next breath will be their last, I watch them wrestle with what it means to hope.  Continue reading “H is for Hope”

G is for God

(This post is part of the continuing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the following exchange with a patient or family member in the hospital:

“Hi, my name is Stacy. I’m the hospital chaplain.”

“Oh, thank you for coming, but I don’t believe in God.”

My response varies. In my early days as a chaplain intern, I would have allowed this to be the end of the visit. But now, with a few years’ experience under my belt, I don’t walk away so quickly. Sometimes I’ll ask them what it means to them not to believe in God. Sometimes I’ll be honest enough to say, “That’s okay; sometimes I don’t really believe either.” But usually, I just breathe a silent prayer to the God I (usually) believe in and offer whatever support I can to the person across from me. We may never mention God again, but God is there.  Continue reading “G is for God”

Hope Is Stupid

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I’ve always considered myself something of an optimist. But lately, it sure is hard to stay one. The other night, I had a very emotional conversation with my roommate, and she told me, “You can’t give up hope.” I blurted out, “But hope is stupid! You just keep wasting time hoping for things that never happen and then you feel like an idiot, and all the realists get to say they told you so.” I was, admittedly, in a pretty bad place, in the midst of all the terrible news in the world and a big disappointment in my personal life. Sometimes I just want to be miserable for a while and not have anyone try to talk me out of it. Continue reading “Hope Is Stupid”