Death by Choice

FeaturedDeath by Choice

What’s a crucifix doing on the wall?

The nurse told me I was in a Catholic hospital. I could have figured that out. I checked into Amita Health Saint Joseph, after all. I assumed Amita appropriated the name for brand continuity. Ok, it’s Catholic, but do they have to display a crucifix on my wall?

A friend came by and said there’s a cross on the wall. 

“That’s a crucifix, not a cross, “ I said.

She shrugged as if it makes no difference. But maybe she just didn’t know the difference. 

“It’s a Catholic hospital,” I said, “only Catholics hang crucifixes. Protestants hang crosses.”

“What’s the difference?” she asked. 

In the late afternoon, the overhead fluorescent from the hallway shed enough light on the crucifix for me to see it from my bed. I said a few words.

Thank you god for replacing my decaying hip with a shiny new titanium rod and ball and clean ceramic joint. 

He didn’t answer. That’s ok. He never does. Specificity was key in my gratitude. I needed to state out loud exactly what just happened to me, to visualize the medical miracle of supplanting the largest joint in my body. 

Jesus’ body hanging there with nails through his wrists and in his crossed feet started to take on a living drama. The nerve block and painkillers from my surgery were wearing off. We were in agony together. I fumbled through the sheets for the control button and banged on it to call a nurse. 

She came. Later than I’d hoped.

“I’m in a lotta pain,” I cried out.

“I have your painkiller. Oh look, your ice pack slipped to the floor. I’ll refill it. Be right back.”

I looked at Jesus.

How could you bear this? I can’t stand it.

I later opened my eyes to Sister Leticia peering down at me. After introductions and medical pleasantries, she fumbled through a sheaf of papers until she pulled out the Do Not Resuscitate form. 

“I’m here to talk to you about your papers. Do you have one of these?” 

“Oh yeah, I have a POLST.”

“You do?”

She thumbed through her pile and pulled out a blank POLST, “Does it look like this?”

“Yes, I’ve got a copy here in my purse.”

We spread my papers out on the bed—what I’d brought and those accumulated a few hours earlier when I checked into the hospital. 

“There it is!” exclaimed Sister Leticia. She found the holy POLST among Amita brochures and post-op instructions.

POLST stands for PRACTITIONER ORDER FOR LIFE-SUSTAINING TREATMENT. It’s a DNR signed by a doctor and witnessed by a third party. Some say it’s too final, a death warrant. Sister clucked with excitement at the sight of my POLST. She could then forego the talk on the tender subject of medical interventions to save my life if I stopped breathing or slipped into unconsciousness. 

Sister Leticia ducked out of sight before I could ask if she, as a Catholic, approves of my choice about my body.

I looked at Jesus. 

He seemed ok with it.

Does Anyone Really Like to Read This Stuff?

Does Anyone Really Like                                 to Read This Stuff?

From the backseat of my earliest memories I hear, “Why did God make me? God made me to know Him and to serve Him in this world and the next.” It’s the first lesson I memorized in Catholic grade school, before I could even read. Sometime in my early life I heard about the Bible but our religious lessons were taught from the Baltimore Catechism with no mention of the Bible. Nuns told me Jesus was my friend, but never cited Scripture to back up the claim. Some have said the Church of Rome never wanted the Flock to read the Bible lest they start thinking for themselves, rather than having their theology managed by priests.

UnknownAt Sacred Heart Academy the high schoolers were graded on their verbatim delivery of the 1700-word Passion of Christ from the Gospel of John. Seventh graders were required to sit through a recitation of the Passion as part of Religion class. I never listened at Sunday Mass, so my first hearing of Bible passages was the torture and execution of my friend Jesus. These bloodcurdling passages sparked a morbid curiosity about the rest of the Bible, but I didn’t have a Bible to read on my own. My parents, indwelled with a long lineage of Irish-Catholic hatred for non-Catholics, refused to have a Bible in the house “like those Protestants.”

I borrowed a Bible when I enrolled in a Bible course, part of the initiation rites of the born-again cult I belonged to in the 1970’s. The elders used Scriptural passages to confront me and my live-in, abusive boyfriend with an ultimatum to either marry or separate. We chose marriage because neither of us could face life without sex. For a wedding gift, we received a gilt-edged Harper’s Study Bible, inscribed in gold, with my name misspelled (Reagen). Owning the Bible exalted me into the fellowship I craved, and I feverishly used that Bible for the next three years, marking the margins with exclamatory words, folding over pages and bookmarking meaningful passages.

I didn’t reject the Bible when I left the cult, rather I never liked the Bible and was even repulsed by it. Aside from my own bad experiences with it, the Bible’s first book, Genesis, talks of God creating Paradise and throwing out the first humans because they wanted toth be gods themselves (who wouldn’t?). Then, that couple had two boys and one of them killed the other. Most of the rest of the Old Testament describes violent gangs warring over territory, an angry God, and thousands of flawed people wandering in the desert.

In February 2013, I heard Catholic contemplative Richard Rohr say to 1,500 retreat-goers that Bible stories are myths to provide insight into human nature. The simple transformative act of spiritual hearing jolted me into a surprising love for reading the Bible—the same Bible that has been there all along.

How to Survive Grade School: Leave Thy Low-Vaulted Past

How to Survive Grade School: Leave Thy   Low-Vaulted Past

 

First Grade  You have chicken pox and can’t go to school. You have mumps and can’t go to school. You have measles and can’t go to school. We’re all going to live in a hotel for a while so you can’t go to school.

Second Grade We’re moving to a new town and you’ll be going to a new school. The nun says you can’t read so you have to repeat First Grade.

First Grade We’ll buy you a bicycle to take your mind off your shame. What color do you want? Green? Ok. Oh, your sisters want bicycles too, blue and red.

Second Grade The nun says you read well enough to advance to Third Grade.

Third Grade Why don’t you know how to multipy? Come to the convent after school. We’ll have snacks and I’ll teach you arithmetic. You’ll be late going home. Can you cross the street by yourself?

Fourth Grade We’re moving to a new town and a new school. We’re moving again and you’re going to another new school. We’ll be living in a hotel until we find a home. You’ll be riding the public bus to school.

Fifth Grade We’re moving to another town and a new school. We’ll be living in a hotel until we find a home. March to class. March to lunch. March to recess. No talking in the hallway. No talking in the classroom. No talking at lunch. We’re moving into a house in another town and another school. They don’t wear uniforms, so let’s go shopping. Whew! No uniforms. No marching. And lots of talking.

Sixth Grade Hey new girl! Let’s sneak into the church at recess and read the booklet about sex. Let’s go ice skating after school and play Steal the Bacon with the boys. Want to join Girl Scouts? We’ll go camping and collect badges. We’ll sneak off in the middle of the night to meet the boys. I hear the nuns sent you home for wearing a sweatshirt to school. It’s ok. You just have to know the rules.

Seventh Grade We’re moving to another town and a new school. You have to iron your own white shirts, polish your brogues. Learn French. Work harder on arithmetic. You and your sister are playing palace guards, dressed in frog costumes, in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Ride your bike to play summer softball. Ride your bike to Cathy Riley’s, then ride her horses into wild raspberry fields.

Eighth Grade You’re on your way to win the all-school trophy for all-around best student. Keep up your grades, sports, tutoring and extra credit projects. We’re moving to a new town without your father. You’ll be living with relatives for the last six weeks of the school year. The school requires all eighth graders to memorize nine poems in order to graduate, including Oliver Wendall Holmes’ The Chambered Nautilus:

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll

Leave thy low-vaulted past!

Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!