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Archive for January, 2022

Charlie and His Last Days in Hospice

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Katie meets Charlie on her 9th birthday

Charlie was born on October 4, 2007. The Feast of St. Francis. A bookend.

He recently came to his last days, loved, and surrounded by family. We didn’t use the word at the time, but he had a “hospice death.” My heart is so grateful.

Charlie grew with our family. He was a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a gift to our daughter, Katie, for her ninth birthday. Good friends raved about their Cavalier and their breeder. We didn’t know what it took to own and raise a dog, and we were sucked in. It sounded so fun.

The breeder required that the adopting family have someone at home during the day. After making a “social work” home visit, she approved us. Of course, she received a hefty fee, which we gladly paid.

Charlie took to sleeping with humans

“Charlie” was not a very creative name, but it just seemed to fit a male King Charles Spaniel. At first, we crated him at night. After weeks of barking, he finally settled into his crate and his place at home. Until…

Our good friend, Roxanne, took Charlie in while we traveled. In her house, dogs slept with humans. Charlie would never again spend the night in a crate.

There is something very endearing about sleeping with a dog. Charlie would push up against my body or between my wife and me. He would snore and shift his position in the night.

Charlie joined Katie in Oxford her second year at Ole Miss, where he supported her during roommate issues and dating cycles. Their deep bond reached new depths. A dog just loves unconditionally.

In a freak accident, Charlie broke his hip and required surgery. Katie and Charlie made it through those days together, and forever one of his hind legs stuck out to the side. It was quite loveable to see when he sat on his haunches, one leg akimbo.

 

Charlie goes to Washington

High five on Katie’s graduation from college

After graduation, Katie moved to Arlington, Virginia, with Charlie and eventually took a job on Capitol Hill. Long days, especially when the Senate was in session, made keeping Charlie with her impossible. I picked him up last September, and we drove the 900 miles back to Oxford. He was the best road trip buddy. I will miss that.

Like I heard from so many of my hospice families, there were many signs that the end was approaching, but we didn’t think of it until after he died. Arthritis was setting in, and we gave him a daily pain pill. We noticed that he had become deaf. No more did he cock his head to the side when we spoke to him. (The way he used to do that was the best.)

Charlie made one last kayak trip to the swamp

Charlie’s last wilderness trip

I made one last kayak trip with Charlie in October. I featured him in my “Hank’s Deep Thoughts” video filmed that day. It was about how dogs practice mindfulness naturally when humans have to work at it. Charlie has hiked and camped and canoed and road tripped. This crisp October morning was his last wilderness outing.

The first of November, he had some serious intestinal issues, and we took him to the vet. With a change in diet and some meds, he stopped going outside hourly all night long. We thought we had settled into a “new normal.” But we were settling into his last days.

Katie was home for Thanksgiving, and all seemed normal. On Tuesday, November 30, it all changed. His eating and drinking fell off. He stopped walking. For days, I held him up as he took a few bites of food or sips of water. His legs would not support him to poop or pee. We knew this was the end.

A mother’s intuition brought Katie home for one last visit

On Sunday afternoon, my wife and I were pulling into the Walmart parking lot, and she blurted out, “Katie has to come home tonight.” It was a mother’s flash of insight for her soon-to-be grieving daughter. She called Katie and told her to get to National airport and get on a plane. I picked her up in Memphis with Charlie a few hours later. They slept together on our bedroom floor that night before she returned to D.C., Monday. In the car on the way to the Memphis airport, she “Snapped” a photo to friends, “my last photo I’ll ever take with my baby.” Indeed, it was.

 

 

Three days before dying a comfortable death at home

We kept Charlie comfortable. He neither ate nor drank all day. He could not stand. We called the vet, but he was out of town. It was just as well. We wanted to avoid anything that might make his passing painful, like needle sticks. This was hospice. Comfort care and just love. We were spared having to decide to put him down. He died peacefully on our bed Monday afternoon.

It was December 6, 2021. The Feast of St. Nicolas. A bookend.

 

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Chaplain Hank Dunn is the author of Hard Choices for Loving People: CPR, Feeding Tubes, Palliative Care, Comfort Measures and the Patient with a Serious Illness and Light in the Shadows. Together they have sold over 4 million copies. You can purchase his books at hankdunn.com or on Amazon.

 

My 2021 books on a Civil War that will not go away

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Sometimes a wound is so deep and unhealed that I can’t stop myself from trying to understand what it all means. One only has to look at the images of the Confederate flag being carried into the U.S. Capitol last January 6th to know this war has not gone away.

January 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol

“This war” is, of course, the American Civil War. In 2021, I again read books looking at “this mighty scourge,” as Lincoln called it in his second inaugural. I recorded a brief video at William Faulkner’s home. I quoted him, “For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863” (Intruder in the Dust, 1948). I was that lad growing up in the Deep South. I knew Pickett’s charge on the third day at Gettysburg was the “high water mark” of the Confederate nation.

I started my review of my 2021 reading with spiritual books and then books on science. Here are my Civil War reads:

Grant (2017) By Ron Chernow

I listened to all 48 hours of this 900+ page book. It was worth every minute. Grant overcame so many setbacks to succeed as a general and President. Most significantly, according to Chernow, was his conquering his struggles with alcohol, a fact he does not mention in his own memoir. Had the Civil War never happened, history might not have known the name of U.S. Grant. It was his strategy to cut off the Southern states from beyond the Mississippi River with the fall of Vicksburg (July 1863), send Sherman through Georgia (1864), and capture Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox. There was no finer moment in his life than when he offered generous terms of surrender to Lee. He hoped to begin the healing of a fractured nation. Sadly, as President, he had to fight the South again as it rose in the K.K.K. We are fortunate, as a nation, that Grant and Lincoln rose to the top when we needed them.

Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause (2021) By Ty Seidule

Author Ty Seidule was born on July 3rd into a family culture steeped in the myth of righteous cause for which we Southerners fought. When people said, “too bad you weren’t born on the 4th,” he’d reply that he was glad to have been born on the day of Pickett’s charge (there it is again). Seidule rose through the ranks in the U.S. Army and taught at West Point. Through his academic research and soul-searching, he concluded that the “lost cause” myth of the South was wrong. According to Seidule, the Civil War was about slavery and the Confederate soldiers who took up arms against the U.S. government were traitors. He makes a compelling argument that we no longer need to honor these traitors with monuments or U.S. Army bases.

 

 

In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain and the American Civil War (1992) By Alice Rains Trulock

Like most, I knew of Chamberlain for only a few hours of his life on July 2, 1863, at Gettysburg. He commanded the 20th Maine at the extreme end of the Union line on Little Round Top. His troops were under repeated assault and running out of ammunition. Had he failed in defending his position, the entire U.S. Army on the field could have been destroyed in a flanking maneuver by the advancing Confederates. He ordered his men to fix bayonets, and they charged downhill, capturing more than 100 Southerners and saving the day. Many books and movies have captured this one moment. He was a college professor before the war. He became a college president and served four years as governor after returning to Maine. One other moving scene in Chamberlain’s military career was the last day of the war. He was the commander in charge of the ceremony at Appomattox, where the defeated rebels would surrender their arms. In the spirit that Grant set in the terms of surrender, Chamberlain ordered his men to salute their defeated foes, now countrymen once again.

Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920 (1980, 2009) By Charles Reagan Wilson

With all believing God is on their side in a war, it is especially hard for the losers to explain what happened. This presented an exceptional problem for the dominant version of Christianity in the South (evangelical Protestant). In their view, the Yankees were more secular, more liberal, more urban, and less devoted Christians. This book by Charles Wilson, a former professor at the University of Mississippi and fellow church member with me in Oxford, explains the mental and theological gymnastics my Southern ancestors went through to explain how God was on their side. God sided with the South because their cause was righteous, but the North’s industrial strength was too much even for God. Dr. Wilson recently gave three lectures on this topic at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oxford, and they are on YouTube. If there is any doubt that Southerners saw their cause as God’s cause, you need to look no further than two blocks from where Dr. Wilson lectured at St. Peter’s. On the Confederate monument (1907) on the Square is the inscription “They gave their lives for a just and holy cause.”

Fighting to defend slavery was “A JUST AND HOLY CAUSE.” Monument on the Square, Oxford, Mississippi

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Chaplain Hank Dunn is the author of Hard Choices for Loving People: CPR, Feeding Tubes, Palliative Care, Comfort Measures and the Patient with a Serious Illness and Light in the Shadows. Together they have sold over 4 million copies. You can purchase his books at hankdunn.com or on Amazon.

 

Hank’s 2021 Books on the Spiritual Side of Science

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When I explore the secrets revealed by science, I feel in the presence of something sacred. As I looked back on my 2021 books written by scientists, they all had a spiritual spin to them. I started my review of books last week. Here are my books on the Spiritual Side of Science, reads for the year:

Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine (2018) By Alan Lightman

“As a physicist, Alan Lightman has always held a purely scientific view of the world.… But one summer evening, while looking at the stars from a small boat at sea, Lightman was overcome by the overwhelming sensation that he was merging with something larger than himself — a grand and eternal unity, a hint of something absolute and immaterial.”

 

 

 

Almost Human: The Astonishing Tale of Homo Naledi and the Discovery That Changed Our Human Story (2017) By Lee Berger and John Hawks

My interest in human evolution stems from one of my core spiritual beliefs — that the self is an illusion. My work with the dying, my reading death and dying literature, my contemplation of the mystics, and my pondering of my own Christian beliefs led me down this path. I am curious about how we evolved from being animal-like with no sense of self to being self-aware. Genesis pinpoints the moment when Adam and Eve’s eyes opened, and they saw they were naked — they became self-aware. This book is just another piece of this puzzle looking into our human ancestors. “This is Lee Berger’s own take on finding Homo Naledi, an all-new species on the human family tree and one of the greatest discoveries of the 21st century.”

The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature (2016) By J. Drew Lanham (audio read by the author)

Lanham is a “birder” with a PhD from Clemson University, where he teaches. He touches on two themes close to my heart — love of the outdoors and growing up Southern. Lanham’s viewpoint is that of a Black man who descended from generations of family in South Carolina, whose professional field is almost entirely comprised of White scholars and birders. “By turns angry, funny, elegiac, and heartbreaking, The Home Place is a remarkable meditation on nature and belonging, at once a deeply moving memoir and riveting exploration of the contradictions of Black identity in the rural South — and in America today.”

 

Useful Delusions: The Power and Paradox of the Self-Deceiving Brain (2021) By Shankar Vedantam and Bill Mesler

I have long been fascinated by the placebo effect and reviewed this book in a previous blog about my experience with it. Our delusions are not only helpful in medicine but marriage, too. Here is a quote from the book: “The researchers found that the couples who had the most inflated views of their partners — the ones who saw their relationships with the greatest degree of self-deception — were the happiest. This is hardly a new idea: Benjamin Franklin once offered the advice, ‘Keep your eyes wide open before marriage — and half-shut afterward.’” Vedantam hosts a great podcast, “Hidden Brain.”

Illness as Metaphor (1978) and AIDS and Its Metaphors (1989) By Susan Sontag in one audio program

In the 1978 monograph, “Sontag shows how the metaphors and myths surrounding certain illnesses, especially cancer, add greatly to the suffering of patients and often inhibit them from seeking proper treatment. By demystifying the fantasies surrounding cancer, Sontag shows cancer for what it is — just a disease. Cancer, she argues, is not a curse, not a punishment, certainly not an embarrassment, and it is highly curable, if good treatment is followed.” She then expands on this regarding AIDS. The backstory of these two pieces is that she twice “beat” cancer with treatment. She died of the disease in 2004. Her son, David Rieff, wrote of the tragic (in my view) ending of her life in Swimming in a Sea of Death: A Son’s Memoir.

Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being near, in, on, or under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do (2014) By Wallace J. Nichols

It is no secret that I get spiritual refreshment from paddling my kayak. I did a video while on a kayak trip in the Mississippi Delta where I mentioned this book. The subtitle says it all. We humans benefit spiritually by being near water.

 

 

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Chaplain Hank Dunn is the author of Hard Choices for Loving People: CPR, Feeding Tubes, Palliative Care, Comfort Measures and the Patient with a Serious Illness and Light in the Shadows. Together they have sold over 4 million copies. You can purchase his books at hankdunn.com or on Amazon.

 

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