Day By Day: Grieving and Healing


Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.  C. S. Lewis.

Finding the energy to blog on The Purple Jacket has been difficult for me these past few months.  Let’s face it, grieving can be a full-time ‘job’ which takes quite a bit of energy.  But grieving can be healthy too.  Today I experienced a form or healthy grieving by visiting  Gold Coast Hospice where Richard made his life transition, to say hello to the staff and present them with gift as a token of my appreciation for the kindness and love that was demonstrated to us while we were both under their care. This visit had been planned in advance and while I was unsure of what my initial reaction would be, I knew that the staff would greet me warmly.

Kermit  As I approached the Hospice unit, I was struck by the utter calmness that suddenly came upon me.  My eyes immediately looked to the right as I entered the ward as Richard’s room was the first room on the right side entering the unit.  As I walked past and looked in the room through the crack of the door, it seemed fitting that today, this room was vacant.  Suddenly I heard, “He’s here” from the  Hospice nurse who came to the house to admit Richard to the unit in March. I knew right then and there that this was going to be the right thing for me to do today!

Hugs, well wishes, great conversation and tears followed as we greeted each other and shared stories. Fittingly, we moved into ‘that room’ for my formal ‘Thank You’ to the staff.   “As a part of my healing process, it was important for me to come here today to say hello, and to say ‘Thank You’ for allowing us to spend our last days together.”  In the six days that we were in the hospice unit, there was not one time were I did not feel welcomed, all we felt during our Flowersstay was love…I wanted to return the favor!

“It is important for me to present you with a copy of a pictorial book which was given to me by the two great journalist from the Sun-Sentinel who followed us on our final journey together and wrote our story, “In Sickness and In Health: A Couple’s Final Journey” which was published in April.”  More tears, more laughter, more love!  And yes, I think it is possible to cry and be calm at the same time.

There are many books written on grieving, yet one thing is certain; grieving is an individual process that is unique to each one of us.  In order for me to continue in the healing process, it was important for me to reach out and make this journey to the Hospice unit.  You see, the pictorial book that was provided to me by Diane and Carline from the Sun-Sentinel is the best book on (my) grieving that I have  read.  I am fortunate to have such a wonderful, life-long gifts of this book, and the article in the Sun-Sentinel. By sharing the book with the Hospice staff, and subsequently, other families who come to the unit, was my way of giving back, saying thanks and continuing my grieving and healing process.

Life is much different now.  There are more challenges ahead, yet in order to take on these challenges, I have to find a way to soften what has transpired.  There is no easy way around grieving, it is important for me, in my grieving process, to  simply just ‘own it.’   Today helped soften the anguish of missing him: May your grieving process be filled with  few hills and always, a gentle breeze at your back.

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Tributes to Those We Love


I am simply honored that Linda asked me to be part of her blog tour!   Linda’s new book, ‘A Long and Winding Road: A Caregivers Tale of Life, Love and Chaos’ is simply splendid and  now available through Amazon by clicking here

I’ve followed Linda’s blog for quite some time, and so should you! To visit and follow Linda’s blog ‘Life After Caregiving,’ simply click here

Caregivers have this innate ability to understand each other, even when our ‘long and winding’ caregiving roads are different.  Linda’s guest post, ‘Tributes To Those We Love’  comes at a perfect time for me as I continue to go through the grieving process. Thanks Linda for sharing your wisdom with ‘The Purple Jacket!’ Your guest post touches my heart!

Tributes to Those We Love

Guest Post by Linda Brendle

Recently, I attended an unusual funeral. To be sure, there were some tears and some evidence of sadness, but mostly it was a joyful celebration of a life well lived and a loving tribute to a man who was well loved. One of the first things I noticed was a large floral arrangement that depicted a man on an orange riding lawn mower. Next, I noticed that when the extended family filed into the sanctuary, most of them had on something red.

The daughter of the departed read the eulogy. She began with the traditional statistics—dates of birth, marriage, death, and also the names of survivors. From there, she went on to tell her father’s life story. She told of his spiritual journey from a rough-edged man of the world to a devoted follower of Jesus. Assisted by her daughters and nieces, she told stories that were both funny and touching—and she explained the flower arrangement and the color choices. As his health declined and walking became difficult, her father used his riding mower to keep tabs on his beloved homestead. His orange four-wheeler, as he called the mower, became a personal trademark along with the color red. Red was his favorite color because he said it reminded him of the blood of Jesus.

A celebratory memorial service can be a wonderful tribute, but there are also other ways of expressing love and appreciation to those we value. For centuries artists have paid tribute to people of value through sculpture, painting, and other art forms. Modern technology now allows us to immortalize each other through photography and other visual imagery. In addition to artistic tributes, we can honor those we love with written tributes and what I like to call lifestyle tributes.

My first close encounter with written tributes was several years ago when I was involved in a caregiver support group. At one point, we devoted several meetings to the topic, and I was surprised to discover that written tributes can sometimes be more important to the writer than to the honoree. Since many of our loved ones were afflicted by some sort of dementia, reading or presenting a letter or framed document to them would have been confusing. However, the writing process helped the caregiver focus on the more positive aspects of her loved one. Remembering who the person was before age, infirmity, and dementia turned them into an angry, messy, uncooperative patient sometimes brought a kind of closure and a sense of relief. Often, comfort and healing came with the preparation of a tribute and by sharing it with the group.

Lifestyle tributes can help restore a sense of control that is taken away after years of dealing with uncontrollable situations. Some caregivers have become advocates, either against the disease that took their loved one or, like my host Chris, for causes that were important to them. I’m not much of an activist, but my writing has become, in part, a lifestyle tribute to Mom and Dad. When something I write encourages caregivers and others who are in difficult situations, it seems to give some meaning to the otherwise meaningless struggle that defined the last years of Mom and Dad’s lives.

Tributes can take many forms. Regardless of which form you choose, finding a way to show honor and respect to one you love is an important part of letting go and saying good-bye.

 

 

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Our Follow-Up Story. Life after death: Couple’s story sparks change


Cartier gold-rimmed aviator bifocals, classic disco era. A pair of immaculate, brilliant-green Florsheim slipons, men’s size 7, worn once yearly — on St. Patrick’s Day — for more than three decades. Bathrobes still hanging on a hook.

It’s taken Chris MacLellan about three months to prepare himself for this moment, the sorting through of everything that his partner, Bernard Richard Schiffer, left behind when he died March 9 of esophageal cancer at age 83.

There are the memories, unresolved feelings of loss and a sense of emptiness in the Deerfield Beach home they’d shared for 11 years.

There are the surprises, like the handwritten note tucked inside one of Schiffer’s alphabetized address books: “To love someone is to see the face of God.”

“I think Richard intended me to find the note. I think he left it for me,” said MacLellan, 57.

And there’s the legacy. The couple had agreed to let the Sun Sentinel chronicle their final months together in hopes of bringing awareness to the special challenges that lesbian and gay seniors face at the end of life. Since their story, “In Sickness and In Health, ran April 13, MacLellan has been overwhelmed by the response.

MacLellan has seen everything from letters of support or condolence to health care institutions pledging policy revisions.

Many who read the couple’s story expressed surprise that health care rights are so connected with marriage rights. Some gay couples said they are now considering marrying, even though they live in states like Florida that do not recognize such unions.

“I appreciate the people who have reached out, the kindness. It’s hard to believe that two ordinary people, who lived in a little house in Deerfield Beach, could make such an impact,” said MacLellan, who works as senior services coordinator for SunServe, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning social service agency in Wilton Manors.

‘Who are you?’

In the story, MacLellan described rushing Schiffer to Broward Health North’s emergency room in September and being ignored by intake staff while they questioned his partner.

“When we first got to the ER, [the medical staff] paid 100 percent attention to Richard and didn’t really acknowledge my presence,” MacLellan said at the time. “When I tried to speak up, and give them more of the full story about what was happening, they said, ‘Who are you?'”

With Broward Health Staff

Speaking to upper level management at Broward Health North. Photos: Carline Jean, Sun-Sentinel Staff Photographer

A day after the story’s publication, MacLellan received a call from Broward Health North CEO Pauline Grant.

She invited MacLellan to speak at the hospital’s next management meeting.

“I was disappointed that we didn’t do a better job,” Grant said. “The emergency department is our front door, and we need to treat all of our families and patients with courtesy and respect.”

On May 15, MacLellan sat in a hospital conference room surrounded by almost 50 doctors, nurses and administrators, calmly retelling his experiences and taking questions. The atmosphere was serious but respectful.

“This is not right, and we are taking it as an opportunity to do better,” Grant said at the meeting.

Now, Broward Health North is working with SunServe to design sensitivity training for hospital employees, starting with those in the emergency room. In the past year, SunServe has been training nurses and health care workers in how to best treat LGBT patients, as well as analyze a facility’s practice for bias — such as using only “single, married and divorced” on records. SunServe has certified two assisted-living centers and a home health agency but had never worked with a hospital before, said the agency’s administrative director, Bryan Wilson.

Talking to Broward Health

Photos: Carline Jean Sun-Sentinel Staff Photographer

MacLellan will become one of the program’s trainers this summer, working with Broward Health North and other facilities.

There are few formal initiatives to make the health care system more welcoming to gay and lesbian patients, said Catherine Thurston, senior director of programs for SAGE, a national advocacy organization for LGBT elders that has helped train about 4,000 health care providers nationwide. More facilities and providers are willing to take steps, she added, as they recognize gay and lesbian seniors are among their patients.

 

 

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“In Sickness and In Health:” My Response to Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi comments on same-sex marriage


“Love, care and commitment is the same for any two people” - Chris MacLellan

Friends,

I’ve taken a break from blogging  in order to adjust to life without my partner, Bernard Richard Schiffer.  Your letters, emails, phone calls of support for me over the past few months is  most appreciated!

On Friday, May 30th I was alerted to the news that Florida’s Attorney General submitted a court document stating  that “same-sex marriages impose significant public harm.”  On Tuesday, June 3rd, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel editorial page wrote, “State wrong in its fight against same-sex marriage” and referenced Richard and I, and our Caregiving story, “In Sickness and in Health A Couples Final Journey”.   In Wednesday’s Sun-Sentinel, Attorney General Pam Bondi responded to Tuesday’s editorial.

Upon reflection of these events, it is important for me to share a letter with you that I have mailed to Florida’s Attorney General, Pam Bondi in regards to her comments on same-sex marriage.

June 3, 2014

 The Honorable Pam Bondi

Attorney General of Florida

The Capitol PL-01

Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050

Dear Madam Attorney General:

I write this letter in the hopes of sharing a position contra to that identified in your recent court documents that recognizing same-sex marriages “would impose significant public harm.”

Maybe you heard about our story in the Sun-Sentinel a few weeks ago?  I’m told over 400,000 people have read our story, “In Sickness and Health A Couple’s Final Journey.”  As Diane Lade eloquently wrote, “being an older gay couple not recognized by law, navigating a system they feared could rob them of their ability to care for each other in sickness and in health.  After all, legal rights regarding death are intricately entwined with the privileges granted when people marry.”

We never intended that the love that my partner Bernard Richard Schiffer and I shared could become politicized, until I read your recent comments about how same-sex marriage “would impose significant public harm.’

I am fair-minded enough to know that each side has a right to argue your position in this fair state of Florida.  However to deny, ignore, wish away, pretend, assume and say that there are negative consequences in granting basic equal rights, indicates a fundamental disrespect  to gay rights and human dignity.  The arguments you use are the same for those who argued that ‘separate was equal’ and advocated for anti-miscegenation laws.    Like many before you who debated, and denied equality in our society, your current position on this critical issue will be sealed on the wrong side of history.

​I invite you to read our story in the Sun-Sentinel. In fact, I will even share the link with you: http://interactive.sun-sentinel.com/lgbt-dying-couple/.  You might also be interested in some of the readers’ comments that were posted on-line, too.  After reading our story, looking at the pictures and viewing the video, please tell me, the people in this great state of Florida, and everyone in the country,  how the love that Richard and I shared “would impose significant public harm?”

The late Maya Angelou said it right, “Love recognizes no barriers, it jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” Once someone understands that love, care and commitment is the same for any two people who are joined together as one, then it becomes obvious why marriage equality is such an important issue in our society.

My prayer for you is that you will see that love is universal and not unique or limited to heterosexuals.

Respectfully,

Christopher J. MacLellan

Deerfield Beach, FL 33441

 

 

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Richard


Christopher MacLellan:

On Sunday, we celebrated Richard’s (aka TLO) life with family and friends in St. Louis. I’m sharing with you a lovely tribute to Richard by our good friend, Dr. Jeffrey Carter, Chair of the Music Department at
Webster Universtiy. Thank you Jeff for your kind words and remembrance of Richard in such a special way!

Originally posted on and sure stars shining . . .:

Chris (left), and Richard.

Chris (left), and Richard.

Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at my second memorial service in two weeks’ time.

The occasion?  A celebration of the life of Richard Schiffer, the partner of my dear friend Chris MacLellan.  Richard, aged 83, died seven weeks ago after a years-long diagnosis of cancer.

The Sun-Sentinel, a Fort Lauderdale paper, chronicled the couple’s last months.  The story has now gone ’round the world. The article is so worth a read.  Read it here.

Here are my comments from yesterday’s gathering:

Chris, I’m so glad you asked me to share a few words today about Sofia . . . AKA Richard . . . AKA Bernard.

I knew Richard as your partner and friend, and of course I immensely liked Richard because of his encyclopaedic knowledge of musical theatre. That you and he were together was icing on the considerable cake.

Richard…

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‘Things That Never Die’


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Photo Credit: Carline Jean, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

This is one of my favorite photos’ from Sunday’s article in the Sun-Sentinel, ‘In Sickness and in Health’ .  This picture was taken on Richard’s 83rd birthday on January 24th of this year. The picture really captured how good Richard was feeling as we started the evening.  As Diane Lade wroteRichard ordered one of his favorite dishes, salmon. He started to eat but became increasingly quiet.”   He was able to eat some of his salmon while enjoying his club soda with lime before we abruptly had to leave. Once we got settled at home and after his pain medicine kicked in,  he was able to enjoy some of the delicious cake that we were not able to eat while at the restaurant.  I know he thoroughly enjoyed the cake, and I wanted you to know that as well! 

As I continue to listen to the CD, ‘Love Changes Everything’ from the Gateway Men’s Chorus, I am struck by the lyrics from the song ‘Things That Never Die‘ on track 13…

The Pure, The Bright, The Beautiful

That stirr’d our Hearts in Youth

The impulses to Wordless Prayer

The Dreams of Love and Truth

The Longing after something Lost

The Spirits Yearning Cry

The Striving after better Hopes -

These Things Can Never Die.

The timid Hand stretched fort to Aid

a brother in his need

The kindly Word in Griefs Dark Hour

That Proves a Friend Indeed

The Plea of Mercy softly Breath’d

when Justice threatens nigh

The Sorrows of a Contrite Heart -

These Things Shall Never Die.

Let nothing pass, for every hand

Shall find some work to do

Lose not a chance to waken Love

Be Firm, and Just, and True

So shall a Light that never Fade

Beam on thee from on High

and Angel Voices say to Thee

These Things Shall Never Die

-Dickens

The outpouring of love and support has been simply overwhelming.    ‘ The Longing After Something Lost’ has been tempered by  ‘The Kindly Words in Grief’s Dark Hour.’‘  Thank you, ‘Friends’, for expressing your love and support because, ‘These Things Shall Never Die.’ 

Don’t ever  pass up a chance to love!

TLO

 

 

 

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‘In Sickness and In Health’


celebrations2

Greetings Friends,

frontpage

This past Sunday, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel published a story on Richard and me entitledIn Sickness & In Health’…(Click here for a link to the interactive story and video.) When we were approached to do this story, Richard and I thought long and hard about the thought of having two people follow us during some of our most intimate times in our life.  Not that our story is any different from those countless number of caregivers out there, however, we  both felt that telling the story from the prospective of a LGBT couple would demonstrate that its OK to love who you love.

Now, almost three full days since the article has been published, I am overwhelmed by the support that this article has generated and felt compelled to thank Diane Lade and Carline Jean from the Sun-Sentinel for telling our story is such a beautiful way.

Since ‘TLO’ made his life transition on March 9th, I have spent quite a bit of time listening to a CD entitled “Love Changes Everything” recorded and produced while I as a member of The Gateway Men’s Chorus in 2010.  At ‘TLO’  memorial service last week in Fort Lauderdale, I used three songs in this CD as part of his celebration of life.  Things That Never Die; Rise Above The Walls; and Somewhere Over The Rainbow.  If time would have permitted, I would have also played, In Whatever Time We Have, Who Will Love Me As I Am and Webber Love Trio.  I plan to incorporate these songs into TLO’s Celebration of Life service in St. Louis on Sunday April 27.

In one of my last blog post before TLO made is life transition, ‘Approaching The Final Destination’, I wrote, “Cancer is not the winner here, Love is the winner!”  Now after reading all the comments on-line and emails that I have received, along with the many phone calls that  have come in,  I now know why I started  to listening again to the CD  from the Gateway Men’s Chorus, because “Love Change Everything!” 

Click here to read our story and see our video:

In Sickness and in Health: A Couple’s Final Journey

Photos and video by Carline Jean

Story by Diane C. Lade

cjmrjoYou see…We might of had Cancer, but Cancer never ever had us…we had love!

 

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