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Archive for April 2012

Amen, Sister

Thanks, Cathy, for your post below.

At church yesterday, several women I spoke with said they felt sick all week about the Vatican's witch hunt against women religious. Physically sick. I was wondering why I had migraines all week!

As for the anti-gay and lesbian initiative, my parish, St. Al's, had the courage and grace to write this in our bulletin:

“St. Aloysious will not be gathering signatures in support of referendums…Our emphasis is on unity, not uniformity. We know we don't all think alike, but we also know we can pray together…Gathering signatures for referendums could divide us into those for and those against, instead of gathering us into one body of Christ we strive to be in our world.” 


What a week to live in Washington state!

The Seattle archbishop is trying to upend the same-sex marriage law signed by our (Catholic) governor in Washington state and now Rome has set forth an investigation into the work of thousands of American Roman Catholic sisters – an inquiry lead by? the Seattle archbishop.  

Why investigate the sisters? Because you know, they may not be Catholic enough in their (endless) works of compassion, healing, teaching, housing, ministering to those who present themselves in the moment as being poor, marginalized, disenfranchised from the society in which we live. What do these guys think Catholicism is??

 Me thinks thou doest protest too much, Holy See. Better look in the mirror, or in the rectory, but not the convent. Read what journalists Steve and Cokie Roberts have to say.  

People ask why I stay in a Roman Catholic Church that so fiercely opposes some of my basic beliefs. I stay because I belong to a parish where the priests are informed, compassionate and do not promote nonsense; a parish where we care for the poor in tangible, welcoming ways, a parish where all are welcome and treated equally – no matter their gender or who they love. I stay Catholic because I will not forfeit my faith community to distant others. I stay Catholic because I believe that the Catholic Church is the People of God, people who gather every Sunday, 10:30, to worship our God: a God who delights in the good works that we do, a God who welcomes everybody.

(S-R archives photo)

On being called elderly for the first time

The Comcast cable subcontractor arrived this morning to put in a cable box. It was the wrong one. The nice young man, Rick, called his supervisor and explained that we likely couldn't go in person to the Comcast warehouse to swap the box because we were “elderly.” 

I will turn 57 next month. I recently wrote a story about how aging boomers won't like the same older age labels our parents put up with. How did I react? I pointed to my husband, who is a few years older, and said: “You can call him elderly but not me.” 

I was surprised at the intensity of my reaction. Hurry up people, let's figure out some new terms so we boomers can pretend we are not heading to elderly territory.

Goodbye table, thanks for the memories

We gave away a dining room table this morning, pictured here on our porch with stickers so that Volunteers of America know it's OK to take it.

It's in terrific shape, as are the chairs, but it's a heavy piece of furniture and not easily moved and not as flexible as we need now.

We bought it in 1988, in our first house together, and its baby blue chairs reflect the hot colors of the late 1980s — mauve and blue. On this table, in the old house, we shared evening meals, entertained friends, wrote out bills, talked about our relationships, as I am famous for saying in my extended family.

When we moved to our new house in 1990, it sat in the center place of the dining area. But the 1980s look grew dated. One chair broke when a 6-foot-4 nephew leaned back in it. We bought a new table and hauled the old one to the daylight basement where it experienced a renaissance. We ate on it in the summer when our upstairs grew too hot. When our grandchildren came along, we often ate downstairs, because it's kid-friendly. They liked to hide beneath it.

We replaced it with a rather inexpensive, large folding table that we can carry together. And with chairs that collapse for easy storage. We picture placing it on our back lawn in summer months and dining al fresco, like families in foreign films.

We hope some family snaps this up at a good, fair price through VOA's thrift store. May their memories around the table begin and carry them through the years. Blessings.

Now it all makes sense…

I always put the release date in my calendar for new books by my favorite writers. On Tuesday writer Anna Quindlen’s new book, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, hit the stores.  I had to be at work before the book store opens (I have to have the paper version of a favorite author, no e-book will do), but I managed to have the book in my hands by 3:15 p.m.

 I sigh a lot when I read words I love…I have been sighing for 48 hours now. 

Quindlen’s memoir is a journal of a generation of women - and men - who thought we were so unique, but have been shaped and formed by the time zone we landed in: the Boomer years. And we share more viewpoints, cultural memories and mirrored reflections than we may care to admit. But admitting the truth doesn’t bother us so much these days. The truth is easy next to the energy those charades of yesteryear required. 

Quindlen takes the reader through the myths of young adulthood that can only be debunked through living into the truth. No sage guide will protect one from the necessary pain, laughter, loss and enlightenment that life offers. She reveals what many women know: pantyhose were invented by a sadist and an adult daughter’s glimpse into her mother’s life evokes empathy and admiration and a few wistful longings as well as sadness. 

Mostly, Quindlen reminds the reader that the journey is worth the price of loss, uncertainty, mistakes and missteps. We are harder on ourselves than we ever should have been. How could we be wise at 20? The system isn’t set up that way. Our certainties had not been tested yet. After surviving the decades, we are kinder, less judgmental beings – now with softened hearts, we can move easily into the last decades of this amazing, unpredictable journey.

(S-R archives photo)

The power of one…puppy

You don’t think one creature can make a BIG difference in your day? Enjoy the power of this little puppy who stopped air traffic and complied  with the FAA once she was reunited with his owner.

(S-R archives photo)

Don’t waste your money on machines

Polly McMahon, Spokane clinical psychologist and expert in aging issues, is on the local panel going on right now at the Hospice teleconference on end-of-life issues. She said she doesn't want to be kept alive if death is the obvious next step.

“Don't use your money to keep me on those machines,” she said. “Spend your money on popcorns and flowers, not on feeding tubes for me.”

Better giveaways could signal end of economic woes

Several vendors are at the Hospice teleconference. Funeral homes, retirement communities and home health care agencies are among the groups with booths here. I notice a bump in the quality of the giveaways. Lots of cloth shopping bags, pens, good chocolate, notebooks. In the past several years I have noticed how people downsized giveaways at conferences and bigger meetings. During the boom, giveaways reflected the excess. I remember wine baskets at one conference, for instance. Then, during the recession years, lots of conferences got canceled or definitely minimized. 

At your next conference, notice the giveaways. Are they looking better again? Could be a sign the economy is coming back.

Last wishes: write it down

I am at a Hospice Foundation of America's national conference, telecast throughout the country, and that 's how I can attend in Spokane. The theme: End-of-Life ethics. One message so far. Figure out what you do and don't want at the end of life. Write it down. And talk with family members who will be part of the decision making at the end of life. 

One example given. A dying woman who was a Holocaust survivor, no written directive and now needing a feeding tube to survive but can't make the decision because she's not conscious. So two family members argue.

One says: “She was a holocaust survivor,  of course she'd want a feeding tube.” The other says: “She's a Holocaust survivor, of course she wouldn't want a feeding tube.”

Who is right?

The envelope from 1938

As a keeper of some pretty old letters, passed down from a surrogate grandmother, Iowa King Cown, to my dad and then to me, I appreciate how satisfying it can be to find a welcome home for some of the items. I recently found a letter from 1962 written by our family doctor to Iowa. Dr. Baber died very young. I sent the letter to his daughter last week, a blast from her father's past.

Yesterday, my friend Annie Shiffer of Spokane Valley sent me an envelope postmarked April 21, 1938. It was addressed to her father, then 13. There was no letter inside. It didn't even need the full address to find its way to the young boy. Zip codes weren't invented yet, nor postal codes, their precursor. I love the elaborate Spokesman-Review return address and the boast that “nearly everybody within 200 miles of Spokane, Wash, reads The Spokesman-Review.” The building still looks much the same from the outside.

One dilemma of aging. We have collected so many artifacts from the past. Who and how do you share them? So today, I share this envelope that survived 74 years to be delivered today. It prompted a smile, and some ponderings. Thanks Annie!

Alzheimer’s: do you want to know?

There's great buzz in Alzheimer's circles about a new brain scan technology that can detect  beta-amyloid (protein) plaques, which build up in the brain like toxic waste when you have Alzheimer's.

Before now, the plaques could be confirmed only upon autopsy. The scan isn't widely available, and it's expensive, but it still begs the question: If you had the tell-tale signs of Alzheimer's, would you want to know, since there is no cure and no treatment that does much?

Another twist: Research has shown that some people (upon autopsy) had horrible plaques but never lost their memory. Others had horrible dementia and no plaques.

(S-R archive photo of Ronald Reagan, who died of Alzheimer's) 

No, thanks, we’re a family

At 8:30 this morning I opened the Tacoma paper to read a story about Referendum-74 which seeks to repeal the Marriage Equality Act by putting it on the November ballot. Signatures are needed to put the recently passed legislation to the people’s vote.  

Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain has requested that parishes – all 180 of them in Western Washington – offer parishioners an opportunity to sign petitions in support of R-74. Some pastors are just saying “no,” to the archbishop’s request, including the priests at my parish.  

Our pastor consulted the parish staff and our elected parish council, who say they believe the presence of petitions would alienate some of our same-sex families. And as involved in social justice issues as we are at my church, I have never seen a petition for anything.  

At 10:30 I slid into my pew – next to two men, who are domestic partners. They sang and greeted me with handshakes at the sign of peace and we joined hands as we sang our way through the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer) right before we broke bread together.  

Dozens of teens were confirmed into the Catholic faith today at that Mass. They joined a church that claims to be universal (that is what “catholic” means). My parish doesn’t tell us who to love, when I worship there, I hear only how to love better. And today I read about that parish love in the paper. And so did all our same-sex families who worship with me.

(S-R archives photo)

Mobilize the Earth

Before you require a green burial as referenced in Becky’s post, see what you can do to save our planet from all our own foolishness.  

Checkout the website of activities you can do to make a difference and if you are in the Washington, D.C. area – enjoy the Earth Day Rally on the National Mall.

(S-R archives: A computer-generated graphic provided by NASA shows images of objects in Earth's orbit that are currently being tracked.

Earth Day: Dying green

Gail Rubin, author of A Good Goodbye and creator of “The Newly-Dead Game” sent me an Earth Day related email that I saved just for this weekend. Here's what she wrote:

  • Conventional funerals use enough metal to build a Golden Gate Bridge and enough concrete to build a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit - all going into the ground, every single year.
  • More than 827,000 gallons of embalming fluid goes into the ground annually, eventually putting formaldehyde and other toxins into the soil.
  • The average cremation generates 532 pounds of carbon dioxide greenhouse gases. The number of cremations is skyrocketing due to the economy and changing preferences. Pacific states, including Washington, average the highest rate, with almost 60 percent of the population choosing cremation.
  • There is a way to get a green burial in a conventional cemetery. 

(EndNotes endnote: A green burial is when a body is placed in a shroud or biodegradable “bag” and placed into the ground, no embalming.)

(S-R archives photo)

What would Jesus think of it all?

A report was released today criticizing the lives of American Catholic sisters. After reading the report, I think Jesus would want to have a conversation with the Vatican regarding their view that the members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (nuns) in the United States have serious doctrinal problems.  Really? “Serious doctrinal problems”? The Jesus I love never mentioned doctrine, except for those mandates of feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick…

The report released is the summary of an investigation that began in 2008. I imagine that Jesus would not be happy with these men who cast stones at holy women.

The report stated that the “Leadership Conference of Women Religious, had challenged church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” Radical behavior like raising awareness of poverty and economic injustice.

When the sisters in our parish were slated to be interviewed for this investigation, we prayed for their well-being, we told them how meaningful their work with the poor is to all of us and how they are the body of Christ in our hurting world. And then our priest said to us: “I am glad there is an investigation into the work of these women, sisters in America. The investigation requires a great deal of paper work. Paper work that will be needed in 50 years when we seek documentation for their path to sainthood.”

We rose to our feet and applauded in love and support of these women whose voices cannot be silenced.

(S-R archives photo: Sister Rosalie Locati, director of mission and values for Providence Sacred Heart and Providence Holy Family hospitals.)

Dick Clark: That’s a wrap

Dick Clark, the teen music pied piper, died of a heart attack today.

His death prompted a short discussion in our newsroom pod about his continued appearance on the New Year's Eve show, even after his stroke in 2004. It was a bad stroke, rendering his speech slow and sometimes hard to understand.

I said he shouldn't have done those appearances, because they seemed sort of a desperate attempt at staying in the limelight, despite his limitations. Lorie said his appearances made her uncomfortable, too, but she was glad he did it because he showed what it looks like when you've survived a stroke. And why should people hide?

Once I asked a friend who works with homeless people whether we should ever give money to panhandlers. He said he didn't have one answer. He said, “Instead, examine how the panhandler makes you feel.”

How people reacted to Dick Clark's persona after his stroke tells us a lot about ourselves, too.

(AP wire photo of Clark post-stroke)

Suffering from cubicle coma today?

The new edition of the Urban Dictionary showed up in my mailbox and before I donate it to our features pod reference library, I picked out some death-related-sounding phrases floating out there in slang land.

Check your vitals: To check your email and Facebook.

Cubicle coma: When you wake up and feel energized, but as soon as you enter the workplace, a wave of exhaustion runs over you.

Dead text: A text that is received too long after it's sent so you are no longer obligated to reply to it.

Lying in wake: When a spouse or partner pretends to be asleep when you get home after a late night out, so they know what time you returned and can tear you a new one in the morning.

(AP archives photo of woman checking her vitals)


Grieving your pet

We never had animals growing up nor did I have any as an adult, but I know a lot of dog and cat lovers and Cathy's answer to our column question today about pet grief is a reminder to take the time to write a condolence card when someone's pet dies.

Have you ever lost a pet and grieved it hard? What helped the most?

(S-R archive photo)

How we never want to end up

Atlantic magazine this month has an excellent article debating whether Facebook is actually making us lonelier. It leads with this haunting anecdote about a woman who cut off all human contact but kept contact with Internet “friends.”

Yvette Vickers, a former Playboy playmate and B-movie star, best known for her role in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, would have been 83 last August, but nobody knows exactly how old she was when she died. According to the Los Angeles coroner’s report, she lay dead for the better part of a year before a neighbor and fellow actress, a woman named Susan Savage, noticed cobwebs and yellowing letters in her mailbox, reached through a broken window to unlock the door, and pushed her way through the piles of junk mail and mounds of clothing that barricaded the house. Upstairs, she found Vickers’s body, mummified, near a heater that was still running. Her computer was on too, its glow permeating the empty space…With no children, no religious group, and no immediate social circle of any kind, she had begun, as an elderly woman, to look elsewhere for companionship. Savage later told Los Angeles magazine that she had searched Vickers’s phone bills for clues about the life that led to such an end. In the months before her grotesque death, Vickers had made calls not to friends or family but to distant fans who had found her through fan conventions and Internet sites.

Happy Birthday, Mother Joseph!

She is recognized in our state’s capitol building as one of our most important pioneers and today is her birthday…she was born April 16, 1823.

 Mother Joseph arrived in the Pacific Northwest on December 8, 1856, by boat, along with four other sisters from Montreal. Only two of the five spoke English – the other women spoke only French. They came at the request of the Catholic bishop. Once at Fort Vancouver the women cared for the sick, the aged and the poor; they worked to educate the young, especially Native Americans, and house the orphaned. They begged for funds to support their work. They traveled into hostile territory. Their courage, faith and vision inspire us still.

 Today, Mother Joseph’s legacy lives on…Providence Health and Services continues to care for those who present themselves for healthcare, for housing, for education. Providence serves the poor and vulnerable, the same mission that Mother Joseph had…just with more staff and much more sophisticated means.

Test your knowledge about Mother Joseph, take the quiz…

(Photo: The first Sisters of Providence in the West were, seated from left, Praxedes of Providence; Mother Joseph; Mary of the Precious Blood. Standing from left, Vincent de Paul; Blandine of the Holy Angels.)

In the blink of an eye…

.. eye of a tornado, life can change.  The people in Kansas have given thanks for their lives as their homes and possessions flew away. Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems lost property as well as mobile home owners. Wichita’s losses alone are estimated at $283 million.

  Nature’s ferocity does not discriminate.  

(S-R archives photo)

Symbols of life and love

My grandma used to say, “I have never seen a hearse with a U-Haul behind it!” That statement was grandma’s way of saying that you can’t take your stuff with you to the afterlife.

 However, our possessions can represent what does matter: family, relationships and a time in our lives that is treasured. 

Such treasures were recently returned to a survivor of the Nazi death camps. Lovely dishes from Ada van Dam’s family in Amsterdam, where she grew up, were recently returned to her. Ada lost her family to Auschwitz, but she survived.

 And now, thanks to the remarkable kindness and effort of Ada’s former neighbor, Ada has dishes from her childhood family, dishes that represent the family life she enjoyed as a child, dishes from her Sabbath table. And she has love from long-ago neighbors. Love that follows us from this life – to the next.

(S-R archives photo)

Another worry? Bats on planes

It's a pleasure to be on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention email list. Every few weeks, they report on something that is so dang interesting.

Today, this:

At 6:45 a.m. on August 5, 2011, a commercial airliner carrying 50 passengers, two pilots, and one flight attendant departed Madison, Wisconsin, bound for Atlanta, Georgia. Shortly after takeoff, a bat flew from the rear of the aircraft through the cabin several times before being trapped in the lavatory (2). The pilots were notified, and the aircraft returned to the airport. All passengers disembarked to allow maintenance crew members to remove the bat from the aircraft. The bat avoided capture and flew out the cabin door, through the airport terminal, and was seen exiting the building through automatic doors. After a search of the aircraft cabin for additional bats, 15 passengers reboarded the aircraft; 35 remaining passengers made alternative arrangements. Because the bat was not captured, the rabies status of the animal was unknown…Although none of the persons assessed required postexposure rabies prophylaxis in this incident, bats active in daylight or found in areas where they are not normally found (e.g., aboard an aircraft) can pose risks for rabies transmission, and public health officials should be prepared to respond to such occurrences.

Would you have reboarded the plane?

Travel the world grief

Conventional grieving wisdom says that widows and widowers shouldn't make any major changes for a year.

But we're learning here at EndNotes that people grieve very differently. And it's OK. There is no one right way.

Pia Hallenberg had an excellent story today on Dawn Picken, a former Spokane TV journalist who lost her husband in January 2010 and then traveled the world with her children, ages 6 and 4 when their father died.

“It’s not like I didn’t grieve, I did and I do,” Picken said. “I just got to grieve in some of the most beautiful places on this earth.” She adds that the round-the-world trip in so many ways is a gift from Stanelun because it was made possible by his life insurance. Picken brought Stanelun’s ashes along.

Listen to the sound of heartbreak

If you ever had your heart broken in your younger years, you may recall the profound grief that followed. Couldn't eat, perhaps, or sleep. Or those crying sessions with sympathetic listeners.

A song posted on YouTube has now been viewed by 87 million people. It's called Somebody That I Used To Know, written by an artist named Gotye but covered in the YouTube viral video by Walk Off The Earth. The five musicians play the song using just one guitar. Indeed, you can find it by searching YouTube for “Five People Play One Guitar.”

But the novelty is not the reason it's gone viral, I finally realized, after listening to it again and again. The lyrics, the music and the emotions expressed by the musicians plug into that early heartbreak. The grief surfaces once again.

Holy Week Journey

 I spent last week on the East Coast with singing children. The choir sang at various monuments in and around Washington, DC. Then we went on to New York.  

The two most poignant moments: singing at Walter Reed Medical Center in Maryland. The kids sang, “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s my Brother” as veterans were wheeled in and out of the lobby. These young men had lost their legs – often both – and were cared for by moms, dads, lovers, wives, friends. Small children often walked behind the wheelchairs. The attendants at the front desk wept.

 On Good Friday we walked the street to ground zero, pausing at Trinity Church, where the body of Father Mychel Judge was carried and placed at the foot of the altar on September 11. They symbolism was profound – that one man lay down his life for his friends. 

 At ground zero, I walked around the two huge waterfall pools where names of the dead are etched in granite on the “railing.”  I wore a hat with the name of a Port Authority Police officer stitched on the side. I found his name and then I found three of his colleagues who patrolled the memorial. 

I explained that my husband is in law enforcement, too and his department was one of the groups who sent money. Through my tears I told them, “We have not forgotten. I pray for all of you often and think of the families who lost loved ones.” They were grateful… 

It was a good Friday.

(S-R archives photo)

To every season: The King James Bible

The older I get, the more I love to see old stuff, especially written material.

If you're like me, don't miss the Whitworth University library exhibit (starting Wednesday) about the King James Bible, completed 400 years ago. I wrote about the exhibit Saturday. Here was the lede:

If you’ve ever said that your world has been turned upside down, or something reminded you of a lamb being led to the slaughter, or if you know that to everything there is a season, you can thank the King James Bible. Phrases introduced to the language in the King James 400 years ago are still in modern circulation.

(Photo courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library)

The end of cash

Just this morning my husband predicted that in his lifetime, cash would disappear. Everything will be credit cards or digital payments. Got into work and saw this story that cash will no longer be accepted at a University of Washington cafe. The university cited cash theft concerns, but if you've flown lately, you know that some airlines no longer accept cash for drinks or food sold on board. Credit or debit cards only.

Will you miss carrying cash and coins?

(S-R archives photo)

Contest: Name aging boomers

Please help us come up with a name that best describes how baby boomers will age. They won't do it the same as parents and grandparents.

My story today explained how most boomers will likely work into their 70s and 80s, plunge into “encore careers” and not be as broke, in pocketbook or body, as feared.

So help us rename this group. They won't like elderly or senior citizen, believe me.

Email your suggestions to

More evidence boomers won’t bankrupt health care

At the Age Boom Academy two weeks ago, we discussed why aging boomers won't necessarily bankrupt the health care system, as predicted and feared.

One reason discussed? Boomers will be better at calling it quits when they know more medical treatment won't extend their lives or allow them a quality of life. They will be more open to hospice. This will save a great deal of money because a lot of expense goes into those last months of a person's life. The medical profession, some researchers said, will also change its practices.

It's happening right now. According to an Associated Press story we ran today, 9 medical societies “representing nearly 375,000 physicians are challenging the widely held perception that more health care is better, releasing lists today of tests and treatments their members should no longer automatically order.”

The American Society of Clinical Oncology recommended not treating “tumors in end-stage cancer patients whose disease has failed to respond to multiple curative therapies, are ineligible for experimental treatments, are confined to a bed or chair more than half the day, and there is an absence of evidence supporting clinical value of further anti-cancer treatment.”

Smokers campaign increases quitline calls

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has hit upon a good formula to get the attention of smokers. In the two weeks since it began its “Tips from Former Smokers campaign, calls to the 1-800-QUIT-NOW quitline have more than doubled,” the agency said in a press release today.

On its campaign website, smokers meet folks like 31-year-old  Brandon who started smoking in his mid-teens, “and by 18, he was diagnosed with Buerger’s disease, a disorder linked to tobacco use that causes blood vessels in the hands and feet to become blocked and can result in infection or gangrene. Nine years later, after losing both his legs and several fingertips to this terrible disease, he quit smoking for good. Smoke-free for 4 years now, Brandon hasn’t had any more amputations, but he still must manage the consequences of being a double amputee.”

Hope the campaign continues its success. “Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the United States, killing more than 443,000 Americans each year,” the CDC reports.

But quitting is really hard, especially for young people who feel invincible.

Worried that you’re losing your mind?

I gave up worrying for Lent. No kidding. I reflected on the futile nature of worrying about things beyond my control, as most things are, and how much wasted energy I've put into worry in my 56 years.

It's been easier to give it up than I imagined, because once I begin down the worry chain, I catch myself. Today, a story reinforced the negative practice of worrying.

Turns out that anxiety (and depression) might increase a person's chance of developing Alzheimer's. According to The Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation, scientists in the U.K. followed 70,000 men and women.

“All were free of dementia at the start of the study period, in 1994, and their average age was 55. Study participants were giving annual health questionnaires that asked about problems like anxiety, depression, poor social functioning and loss of confidence. All are general measures of psychological health, and the higher the scores, the greater the likelihood of anxiety and depression. By the end of the study period, 10 years later, more than 10,000 of the study participants had died from various causes. According to death reports, 455 had died with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. Those men and women with the highest mental distress scores were more likely to have died from dementia than those who were psychologically healthy. The link between psychological distress and death from dementia was independent of other factors that may raise dementia risk.”

Suffering alone: a Palm Sunday lesson

Palm Sunday Mass is famous for its longevity. The Gospel reading covers the entire story of Jesus' last supper, trial, crucifixion and death. My favorite scene (I know an odd thing to say) is when Jesus asks the disciples to stay awake with him while he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, and they keep falling asleep.

The interpretation is often that the disciples were so lame they couldn't even do one favor for their leader. But as I age, I am more taken with this spin: Sometimes, in our deepest suffering, we are really alone and must face it alone.

In his weekly column, spiritual writer Ron Rolheiser touched on the very theme. Here's an excerpt;

Several years ago, I was visiting a man dying of cancer in a hospital room. He was dying well, though nobody dies easy. He felt a deep loneliness, even as he was surrounded by people who loved him deeply.  Here’s how he described it: “I have a wonderful wife and children, and lots of family and friends. Someone is holding my hand almost every minute, but … I’m a stone’s throw away from everyone. I’m dying and they’re not. I’m inside of something into which they can’t reach. It’s awfully lonely, dying.”

He had borrowed his salient phrase from Luke’s Gospel where we are told that on the night before his death Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane with his disciples. There he invited them to pray with him as he struggled to find strength to face his death; but, as Luke cryptically adds, while he sweated blood, he was “a stone’s throw away” from them.

How far is a stone’s throw? It’s distance enough to leave you in a place where no one can reach you. Just as we come out of the womb alone we leave this earth alone. Jesus, like the man whom I just described, also faced his death knowing that he was loved by others but also knowing that in the face of death he was entering a place where he was deeply and utterly alone.

And this emphasis on aloneness is in fact one of the major points within the Passion narratives. In describing Jesus’ death, perhaps more than anything else, the Gospels want us to focus in on his aloneness, his abandonment, his being a stone’s throw away from everyone. 

(Cristo Cana de Mais,” a rare crucifix made of corn pitch and orchid resin, was on exhibit at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture a few years ago. Photo from S-R archives)

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About this blog

Writer Catherine Johnston of Olympia, Wash., addresses issues facing aging baby boomers and seniors as well as issues of serious illness, death and dying, grief and loss.

Ask a question: Catherine welcomes questions about aging issues and grief. Email her at

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