Drops of Mercy


Christopher MacLellan:

If you have ever been a Caregiver and lost a loved one, you will take comfort from Ira’s post.

Originally posted on Conscious Departures:

Photo courtesy of OneWorld MemorialsIt’s has been quite a while since I’ve written something for Conscious Departures. It’s not that I ran out of steam or inspiration, but rather this hiatus was brought on by a poor assessment of my own personal grief.

As many of you who write know, a blog piece of 500 – 1000 words can take anywhere from several hours to several days. I’m a bit on the slow side, so for me it’s usually a 2 day process. What that meant for me was reliving Kris’ passing with great depth for that period of time, every week, in addition to the countless other times that grief would pay an unannounced visit. I was still in too tender a state to take on the constant intensity and it became emotionally impossible for me to handle. It was clear I needed to take a break. But now, after a lot of reflection and time…

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Letting Go, Together As One


We loved with a love that is more than love ~ Edgar Allan Poe

As I pulled up to the boat dock on Tuesday, I was amazed at what a beautiful,  clear and sunny day it was in South Florida. At this time of year, especially in the height of hurricane season, one never knows what the weather might bring us. The boat caption’s words last week after I booked the reservation–“we will sail at 9:30 am, weather permitting–reminded me that even when we put our best plans in place, there are things beyond our control.   BoatWaves

Sure, we all know that we cannot control the weather, we can only work with it.  Yet for me, the plans to sail on Tuesday, September 9th was significant because Tuesday, September 9th was the six month anniversary of Richard’s life transition and it was time for us to let go, so that we could be together again as one.   I’ve never experienced a burial at sea, so I had no personal experience to go by, but I did know that what was important for both Richard and I, was to be set free from the perils of death and be free, free so that we can be together  again as one.

MCD

On this beautiful sunny Tuesday morning, it was a small gathering of friends as we motored out into the Atlantic ocean.  Making the decision to bury Richard’s ashes at sea was something that we had both talked about, and something that I knew he approved of since he buried his first partner, Herman at sea in 1999.  The biodegradable boxes were a work of art; one blue with the (last) remains of Herman and one white with the  remains of Richard.  Yet even in those conversations about burial at sea,  you really don’t know if you can ‘do it’ until you get right to the point or rather, the day of ‘doing it.’

In a sense, I knew that placing Richard’s ashes at sea WAS my last act of Caregiving for him.   Sure, I had the option of the funeral home ‘doing it’ for me, but I knew deep inside my heart that this was my sole responsibility and something I wanted, and needed to do.  Then the conversation started on the boat.  “I understand that we have to be more than three miles from shore before the boxes can be placed in the ocean,” I said.  Then in unison, two of my friends said…”You’re going to just place his box in the ocean, he wants to be set free, just like you, let the ashes out of the box and set both of you free!”  “Hummm,” I thought…”Another Caregiving decision to make, and how I thought those decision were behind me!”

As the boat slowed down and then anchored, I knew that we had approached our destination and it was my turn to act.  I had no special words to say, yet I shared pictures of Herman and Richard and talked about their 43 years together as I placed Herman’s beautiful blue box in the ocean. Ocean 2 As I reached for Richard’s beautiful white box, I was still unsure of what I was going to do, then the box slightly opened, I could hear him speaking to me, “let me be free!”  After a few words, I took Richard’s box, and spread his ashes in the ocean and then watched as a beautiful array of colors gleamed at the top of the ocean as his ashes floated away on his eternal cruise.  As difficult as this was, as I watched his ashes float away, there was a sense of peace that came upon me that is difficult to explain.

As the box emptied of Richard’s ashes and then dropped into the ocean, the caption circled Richard’s starting point of his life-long cruise, where everyone placed  roses in the water,  and I thought about how happy he was because he was free.  It was at this point when I realized that I was free, too.

My last act of Caregiving for the one I continue to love, was to set him free, so that we both could be free.  BRScar2

You see, I did not mind being Richard’s caregiver, in fact I believe it is an honor to be a Caregiver, but for now and forever, I can go back to just being his partner, which is what I miss the most.  My faith tells me that I will see him again; my mind tells me that he is now forever free; my heart tells me that he 20120407-002416.jpgis right next to me.

For now, he is just a port ahead of me on his life-long cruise, catching up with family and friends, while speaking to me in different ways, because  I know that one day, I will arrive at his port and catch up with him on that life long cruise.  I’m sure he’ll have reserved a good cabin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Advocacy Heals U: Healing Ties of Change


Recently I had the opportunity to be a guest on Joni Aldrich show, “Advocacy Heals U”, which is now featured on iHeart Radio.  Joni is an accomplished author, radio show host, public speaker, but most importantly, Joni has been a caregiver for her husband, Gordon, who like Richard, passed away from Cancer.
22958786 Connecting with Joni has been a pleasure and sure proves that Caregivers, no matter what their journey might be, have this innate ability to understand each other, to be there for each other, to care for each other.  Joni has been that connection for me.   As Joni so eloquently wrote: “Love radiates through this show. Love of a partner for a partner through life, illness and difficult loss. “To love someone is to see the face of God.” Guest: Chris MacLellan, The Bow-Tie-Guy. Chris loved Richard Schiffer through the twists and turns of life and Richard’s end-of-life. Experience IS the most brutal of teachers. But you heal. Chris’s new show, Healing Ties, will discuss 4 aspects interwoven in hope: physical, mental, spiritual, financial. While his focus is on caregivers, the message is much deeper. Why are health care rights connected to marriage rights? In many states, gay couples do not have that option. Love can move mountains, but can it break down walls?”

To listen to our show, simply click here! 

To learn more about Joni Aldrich simply click here!

Approaching six months after Richard’s transition into eternal life, my life continues to transition.  I’ve made the decision to leave my job with Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 2.30.41 PMSunServe Social Services and start to write our story through my own words.  I’ll be heading over to New Orléans to write, spend time healing and starting my new radio show, ‘Healing Ties’ from ‘The Bow Tie Guy.’  Stay tuned to ‘The Purple Jacket’ for the launch date of my new show which will be featured on W4HC.com and iheart Radio.

Remember:  “Love, Care and Commitment is the same for any two people, no matter what gender.”  Make your day count, never pass up the opportunity to tell your spouse or partner that you love them!

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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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