The Listening Life

The Listening Life

Today when walking down the corridor at work, I bumped into the specialist in paediatric palliative care who was enormously helpful to us in organising Leah’s end of life care.

Straight away I felt the pangs of heartache, as my heart was transported back to the 14th January 2014 in Belfast City Hospital. I silently asked myself “Must it always be this way, will there always be pain triggers waiting round every corner?” Then I remembered hearing recently that every event is actually 20% fact and 80% perception, so I started talking to myself in my head about how blessed we were to have had the support and expertise of this amazing woman and how much her input meant to us at the time. Within minutes I was feeling more positive.

A couple of hours later I was going down the corridor and I met her again. She stopped and asked me how I was. I looked in her eyes to see if she was just being polite or if she really wanted to know. Her facial expression told me that she really cared, so I told her the truth. She also enquired about each family member. I briefly told her about some of the ways in which we are struggling to rebuild our lives while battling the pain of grief and loss.

Then, just like she did in the corridor of the City Hospital 26 months ago, she hugged me and said “Let’s say a wee prayer.” For a few hallowed moments she quietly lifted up each member of my family to God in prayer. I felt God’s peace touch my heart.

She’s a very busy doctor, with a very busy agenda, but somehow in the middle of her very busy day she took the time to minister to my heart. How long did it take? Ten minutes perhaps? Yet it meant so much to me.

I felt blessed and encouraged by her actions, but I also felt challenged. How often am I so caught up with my own agenda – however good and noble that may be – that I allow no time for the unexpected, no time for ‘God’s agenda’?

A few weeks ago I was scrolling through the Facebook page of author Cheri Gregory  when my attention was caught by a quote from a book called The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. Mc Hugh.

The Listening Life 2

I immediately headed over to Amazon, where I read this about The Listening Life:

“Be quick to listen, slow to speak.” James 1:19 How would our lives change if we approached every experience with the intention of listening first? In this noisy, distracting world, it is difficult to truly hear. People talk past each other, eager to be heard but somehow deaf to what is being said. Listening is an essential skill for healthy relationships, both with God and with other people. But it is more than that: listening is a way of life. Adam McHugh places listening at the heart of our spirituality, our relationships and our mission in the world. God himself is the God who hears, and we too can learn to hear what God may be saying through creation, through Scripture, through people. By cultivating a posture of listening, we become more attentive and engaged with those around us. Listening shapes us and equips us to be more attuned to people in pain and more able to minister to those in distress. Our lives are qualitatively different indeed, better when we become listeners. Heed the call to the listening life, and hear what God is doing in you and the world.”

I was ‘hooked’ and ordered it immediately. When the book arrived I started reading with great enthusiasm and got as far as page 50, then unfortunately I got totally distracted by other books that I was reading simultaneously and forgot about The Listening Life. This is by no means a negative reflection on The Listening Life; I regularly have three or four books on the go at any one time and I dip in and out of each of them depending on my mood!

I absolutely love books, I only wish that reading them were as easy as buying them! However, today’s encounter reminded me of why I bought The Listening Life and how important it is to listen – really listen – to God and to each other.

P.S. Click here to read an excerpt from The Listening Life on Emily P. Freeman’s blog.

Dear Dalriada Doctor

Dear Dalriada Doctor

This blog post was written by a friend of mine called Oana. Her beautiful baby boy Georgie, died of leukaemia in the N.I. Children’s Hospice in July 2014.

I love to read Oana’s blog posts, but this one in particular touched my heart.

I work in the NHS and occasionally clients appear to “demand” more than I feel that I have to give – there is NEVER enough time, there is NEVER enough staff.

It’s good to be reminded that EVERYTHING we do, should be done with COMPASSION and RESPECT – because very often we don’t know the other person’s story and the burdens that they are carrying.

Mama's Haven

Dear Dalriada Doctor,

I am sorry I inconvenienced you today by phoning twice for a prescription I should have had the consideration to organise before the Easter holidays began.

Mea culpa.

But still, a bit of compassion and respect would have worked wonders, you know?

I get it.

You sounded bored and ready to go home.

Maybe the extra money you are getting for working on a public holiday does not make you happy.

I understand.

Maybe you had been working from 9 in the morning and had had enough of snotty toddlers and drunk youths. Or maybe you were on call last night and you went to see a dying child in the hospice close by your practice. Possible.

But you don’t know my story.

You didn’t scroll long enough through my medical file to see that in July last year, my life changed into a nightmare forever.

I…

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A Sword will Pierce your Soul

A Sword will Pierce your Soul

Luke 2:34-35 (NIV)

“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

When Jesus was a baby, Mary and Joseph took him to the temple to present him to the Lord as was the custom in those days. A man called Simeon, who we are told was “righteous and devout”, took baby Jesus in his arms and spoke the above words.

What stands out for me is that Mary was told that as a result of all that her son would suffer “a sword would pierce her soul”.

Jesus came to earth to die for our sins, which is incredibly good news. Was Mary told “don’t worry, be happy“, because this would all work out for the best? No, she was told “a sword will pierce your own soul“.

Even two thousand years ago, there was a profound understanding of the love of a mother for her child, and the utter devastation that a parent feels when their child suffers and dies.

Leah faced death with serenity and without fear. I know that she’s in a much better place and is rejoicing forevermore – a princess united with her King.

However, for Horace and I, Leah’s illness and death is like a sword in our hearts. Leah’s passing has left a gaping hole in our family. Sometimes my grief is so overwhelming that I wonder if my kids feel like they’ve lost their mummy as well as their sister? Grieving just drains our emotional energy as parents.

There’s so much to process. Leah had just nine months from diagnosis to death. We’re still trying to take it all in. Sometimes I even struggle to believe that the events of 2013 really happened.

Asda have a slogan called “rollback” where they claim to rollback their prices to a time when things were cheaper. Since Leah died I’ve often fantasised about being able to roll my life back to an earlier time when ALL of my kids got off the school bus at our house everyday and I had their dinner ready.
Leah always arrived home hungry and got upset if she couldn’t smell dinner cooking as she came through the door.

This is Leah last year with Miriam’s cat Mittens.

image

That’s partly why I’ve still kept all of Leah’s medication. I periodically need to open her medication drawer and look inside, just to convince myself that the events of the past eighteen months really did happen. That it wasn’t all just some crazy dream from which I’m about to wake up.

I went back to work part time in the Health Service two weeks ago. I’m deeply appreciative of the fact that my employers held my post for me while I was off and were also very supportive of me throughout that time.

The weekend before I returned to work saw me plunged into an even deeper level of grieving than I had previously experienced. It was awful, just awful.

Before Leah was diagnosed I had written in my diary “Is it normal for someone to enjoy their work as much as I enjoy mine?” 

After all the experiences of the past year I wasn’t sure if I would even still like my job any more. I didn’t know if I could leave my grief aside sufficiently to be able to focus on my work.

Well, so far so good. I do still love my job and I have found myself able to focus. I find it a very welcome distraction from the sword in my heart. I’m glad to once again be a provider within the Health Service rather than a recipient of services.

I certainly don’t forget about Leah or any of my children while I’m working – I just temporarily forget my pain.

Then when my day’s work is done I walk out the door and connect with my grief and loss once more. Sometimes I’m crying before I even drive out of the car park. Still, it’s good to be back at work.

During Leah’s illness and subsequent death, I submitted three Health Service related, written complaints. None of these were ever intended to be a “witch-hunt” or to single any one person out for criticism. In my letters I always sought to emphasise the positive and to point out the strengths within the services that we were receiving, as well as highlighting the changes that I felt were needed. As a mummy I wanted the very best services possible for my daughter and for other seriously ill young people too.

Sometimes it’s not lack of money that’s the problem, it’s lack of awareness of how our behaviour as professionals impacts the recipients of the services we provide.

Yes the NHS is strapped for cash, yes there have been some awful cutbacks, but ultimately the NHS is made up of individuals, some of whom are incredibly stressed because of very heavy workloads.

However, overall the NHS has been very good to Leah and I. Overall Leah received excellent medical and nursing care across three Health Trusts. Overall we have been well supported emotionally by the health professionals involved in Leah’s care. We met some amazing individuals – consultants, doctors, nurses and ancillary workers – whose compassion and genuine care for us was very evident and whose timely hugs said more than words ever could.

Now that I am once more a provider within the Health Service I hope and pray that I also can make a positive difference in the lives of others.

As I travel to and from work I usually have Rend Collective, Leah’s favourite band, blasting out:

Joy

You’re the joy joy joy lighting my soul
The joy joy joy making me whole
Though I’m broken, I am running
Into Your arms of love

The pain will not define us
Joy will reignite us
You’re the song
You’re the song
Of our hearts

The dark is just a canvas
For Your grace and brightness
You’re the song
You’re the song
Of our hearts