Have you ever been invited to go on a trip with someone to some e030xciting or exotic location?  Well, consider yourself “invited”.  I would love for you to join me as I travel to a place near and dear to my heart.  You may not find it too exciting and you may not think of it as an exotic destination, but I believe you will find it a place of warmth and wonder.  We are going to take a journey into the past and visit a kitchen.

This is no ordinary kitchen mind you; this is my mother’s kitchen.  This is the place where loving memories were forever etched in a young boy’s brain.  This is the kitchen where my Basset Hound “C.B.” (short for Cornbread Buttermilk) ate the fresh strawberry cake shaped as a heart that my mother had tenderly taken from the oven and had left on the counter to cool.  This kitchen is where countless chickens were fried; potatoes were mashed; beans were boiled; breads were baked; cakes were made; eggs were scrambled, fried, poached…you get the picture.

One of the most fascinating things that took place in mother’s kitchen was the cooking of spaghetti.  I was always captivated by the process. Mom would begin by picking out a certain pot from under the counter, add water from the faucet, a pinch of salt and then set it on the stove to bring to a rapid boil.  She would then go to the pantry and bring out the spaghetti.  Once I saw the spaghetti exit the confines of that cabinet I knew that the best part of the process was only minutes away. At just the right moment my mother would take the spaghetti out of the package and hold the uniform bundle of pasta in her soft hand, turn to the stove and hold the “innocent sticks” over the pot of boiling water in dramatic fashion. Next she would release the spaghetti from her gentle grasp and it would fall into the water and I would watch with wonder as the spaghetti would form a fan around the rim.  As the water temperature would quickly come back to a boil, the spaghetti would begin to change.  It would begin to grow limp and gradually sink into the pot.  The minutes would pass by, the cooking process was underway, it would not be long before it would be time to drain the pasta in the big metal colander, add a touch of oil to keep it from sticking and get ready to add the sauce.   Fascinating!

When I think of the losses that I have experienced in this life, I think of mother’s kitchen and the spaghetti that she would cook from time to time.  It seems to me that I can almost understand how the pasta must have felt as it was taken from the familiar surroundings of the pantry shelf, removed from its package and exposed to the violent heat of the boiling water.  I remember the feelings that came when my nice, neat and straight routine world was transformed into a limp mass of twists, turns and curves.  Perhaps most of all I am reminded that, just like the spaghetti no matter how hard I try, I will never be the same again.  The grieving process has changed me and life is forever different.  I cannot go back to being what I was before.

Are things worse? No, just different.  In fact, in many ways things are much better.  I believe I am much more valuable (eatable) after being touched by loss than I was before. Now that I have spent years trying to adjust to life as it is, as opposed to the way it used to be, I feel that I can say; yes the process is difficult at times, and yes the water is hot, and yes the transformation is not easy.  However, all things considered, I have found that the end result has been exciting in a way.  As a matter of fact, the transformation has been much more enjoyable than I would have ever imagined (esp. if you add the sauce).

Something to think about…

Later, Wes

On Loan to Us…

tracee-and-stacee-1Lucy* and her twin sister were born much too soon.  They received wonderful care in a local neonatal ICU, and though her sister slowly began to thrive, Lucy had complication after complication which left her with severe brain damage.  She could suck and swallow, and thus receive nourishment, but she was unable to see or hear or even regulate her tiny body’s temperature.  A special warming blanket, sensitive to the ebbs and flows of her temperature, kept Lucy comfortable and safe.  It was not a long term solution.  Lucy would not live for very long.

After three months, Lucy’s sister was ready to go home, and the family wanted to take Lucy home as well.  There were four siblings to welcome her, and parents who loved all their children deeply and were committed to doing all they could to care for their tiny, fragile daughters.  At the request of their pediatrician, Hospice of East Texas stepped in to provide care for Lucy and support for her family.

The highly complicated warming blanket Lucy needed was not normally sold to anyone but neonatal intensive care units, but Hospice staff talked the company into selling one to Hospice of East Texas so that Lucy could have it at home. While Lucy was being transported by ambulance the fifty miles to her home, Hospice staff arrived to help the family get ready.  When the blanket was plugged in, it blew out all the fuses in the modest trailer home.tracee-2

It was early evening and Lucy was on the way, so there was nothing to be done but improvise.  Hospice staff bought a heating pad at Walmart, took it to the house and stayed with the mom, instructing her to take Lucy’s temperature every thirty minutes through that first night until another warming blanket, with fewer electrical demands, could be purchased and delivered.  The new blanket arrived the next day, and over time, the family gradually settled into a complex and demanding routine, meeting the needs of two newborns and four other children.

One day, Lucy’s mom said the most extraordinary thing.  “I know she’s mine,” she said, “but she’s only mine for a little while.   She’s on loan to us, and then she will go back to God.”

Make no mistake about it.  That Lucy is able to spend her final days on earth at home with her family would not have been possible without the Hospice of East Texas and the support of friends like you.  And make no mistake about this:  only the Hospice of East Texas would go to such extraordinary lengths to give Lucy and her family the gift of time together as a family in their own home.  Caring for Lucy requires constant visits from nurses, frequent phone calls, special feedings and expensive equipment that Hospice of East Texas may never use again.  Your gifts make it possible for Hospice of East Texas’ to provide this extraordinary care and  fulfill our commitment to care for each patient who needs us, no matter what it takes.  Lucy’s family, who does not have health insurance, will never receive a bill for the care they receive.

As her mom expressed so poignantly, Lucy is on loan to her family for just a short while, but in that time, her family has enjoyed the gift of her presence, all of them together in their home.

As this newsletter goes to press, Lucy and her twin sister just celebrated their five month birthdays, a milestone no one expected Lucy to reach.  “It’s love – and God – that are keeping us together,” said Lucy’s mom. “It’s been a blessing.”   Indeed.

Caregiver Take Care… Part 4

IMG_8417It has been a while since I have carved out some time to sit down and reflect on the subject at hand.  Have you ever noticed that just because you know to do something doesn’t necessarily translate to you doing what you know to do?  For instance, most of us have a general idea of what it means to eat healthy and yet…enough said right?  Habits, especially old habits, provide us with such an easy and familiar path to follow.  It takes quite a bit of insight and energy to break free from established patterns of life.  Doing things that are new things, breaking the old mold, staying off the well-worn trails, these things are challenges for each of us and particularly for those of us who are caregivers.

The question I present today is… Where Do I Begin?  Where do I go? Where do I need to get to before I can change directions? The answer is (in my opinion) you begin right where you are.  So often we get our mind set on a “place” we want to get to so that we can start something new.  We want to have a certain amount of money in our bank account before we begin to invest and save our money.  We want to enjoy one more piece of cake and one more scoop of ice cream before we begin that new diet.  We want to take care of any number of small details that are often connected to any number of other people, before we begin to take care of ourselves.  Begin to make the changes in your life… Today!  Start where you are, working with what you have to work with today.  Before you can break a habit, you have to recognize that it is a habit that needs to be broken.  Before you can make an adjustment in who you are, you must first realize who you are and right now you are a caregiver.

As I have written in these articles, the best way to be the best caregiver you can is to take time to take care of yourself.  As you move forward remember; it is the little things in life that are the great things in life.  In other words, don’t sweat what you don’t have or what you can’t do.  Try not to worry about getting to some far off, down the road destination before you begin.  Today is what you have.  Today is where “someday” begins.  Where you are is the best place to start.  The tools you have are the best tools you have to work with.

In my office I have a beautiful picture above my desk.  It is a scene of a mountain and forest and an eagle flying above the mist.  Next to the picture is an old beat up 3” paint brush.  I keep things in this juxtaposition on purpose.  Every time I look up and see them I am reminded that that beautiful picture was not painted by that paint brush.  That picture required more than a few strokes from a wide brush.  It required thousands of small touches using a much smaller tool.

So often we approach complexities in life with the biggest and widest brush we can find.  We want to “paint over” our problems as quickly as possible.  We want to do something really big in order to achieve what we hope will be a lasting change.  In the process we often overlook the importance of the really small things.  And, yes, we want to “be” somewhere else before we begin to do what we know to do.  May I suggest instead that you simply begin where you are?  Caregiver, take care.

Caregiver Take Care… When to Begin?

Life is filled with beginnings.  Some beginnings are celebrated with great faCrape Myrtle flowers on campus July2,2012 006nfare and excitement.  Some beginnings are faced with feelings of determination and resolve.  Many beginnings simply occur… unnoticed. They do not present themselves as beginnings until we look back with the luxury of hind sight, then we realize that something new has crept into our lives and has brought about unexpected, unanticipated, unsolicited, change.  Most of us do not like change, especially when it happens to us without our input and beyond our control.

That being said, it can be very empowering for us to choose to begin something that will have a positive impact in our lives on a daily basis. Self-care…taking care of one’s self, is a necessity if we intend to take care of someone that we love.  The question is… when to begin?  The answer is… as soon as you can.  If you wait until you find a more convenient time to begin, you will most probably find that a more convenient time is hard to find.

That person that you care for needs your energy, your understanding, your commitment and most of all your love.  If you are going to have enough to offer them, you must begin to make the choices that will insure that you have enough to offer them.

For years I had toyed with the thought of pursuing chaplaincy certification so that I could become more involved in the hospice work that I love.  I had always looked at the time and effort involved in the process and always came to the same conclusion… now is not a good time to begin.  I put it off and put it off, waiting for things to fall into place.  In September of 2009 my wife discovered a lump in her breast and rather than everything falling into place, everything began to fall apart.  As we walked through the “valley of cancer” together, I realized that life was too short to put off doing those things you have a passion for. When I began my quest for chaplaincy credentials it was quite possibly the most inconvenient time in my life, but I knew that it was the right time. As I look back at that beginning, I think of a lesson that I learned that I want to share with you…

Today is a special gift.  Try not to waste it by waiting for tomorrow.

Take care of yourself caregiver and remember, the time to begin to do so is as soon as you can.


Caregiver… take care: The light in between

Questions, life is full of them.  Questions often begin with a: who, what,hospiceA5[1] when, where, why, or a how.  In the first installment of these mental meanderings we touched on a question that begins with the word who.  Who am I?  You are a caregiver.  You give care to someone who needs you to do so.  You are an important part of another person’s life.  You are brave, selfless, attentive, compassionate, and (more often than not) stretched to limits you did not know existed.  You are to be commended, not only for what you do, but for who you are.

The next question is: What can I do in order to be better at what I do?  My suggestion is: cultivate the desire to do so.  That may sound strange and perhaps a wee bit vague but think about it for a moment.  Desire is at the heart of many beginnings.  The truth of the matter is, in life desire almost always precedes effort, and effort is a necessary ingredient in realizing a preferred outcome.  Millions of dollars are spent on this principle by advertising/marketing firms all over the planet.  (Have you ever seen a golden brown French fry on TV?  I rest my case.) If we nurture the desire to be better at what we do, we will naturally be on the lookout for ways to improve.  Our imaginations will be constantly conjuring up ways we can incorporate new ideas into our daily routine.

One reason why we do not think about ways to be better is because we are so fixated on those things that hinder our progress and divert our attention.   Have you ever wondered what would happen if we spent as much time looking past the obstacles as we do looking at them?  Years ago I was sitting on my front porch taking in the sights and smells of a late spring day just after a rain shower.  The sun was setting in the west, the air was fresh, and tiny droplets of fresh rain water glistened.  Across the street was a thick stand of young sweetgum trees.  The green leaves were finely laced together to form a seemingly solid wall that swayed ever so gently in the evening breeze.

As I sat in my rocking chair, I took a slow deep breath in and just as slowly let it out.  This moment was special.  And then I noticed a pair of red birds frolicking in the afore mentioned foliage.  I watched them chase each other in the dense growth.  A hop here, a jump there, a flutter of wings, and then off they went flying so fast it was hard for me to keep my eyes from crossing.  It was at this point it occurred to me; I had never seen a bird hit a tree.  They fly in and out among limbs, sticks, leaves, pine needles, branches, brambles and such like all day long and not once have I ever seen a bird bounce off any of them.  I asked the question, why?  The answer is (in my humble opinion) because they do not focus on the obstacles, but rather they look to the light.   The leaves and limbs and other “stuff” that seem to form such a barrier to forward progress, are in fact little more than convenient places to rest from time to time.

If we aren’t careful, as caregivers we can become so consumed by the things that seem to obstruct us that we fail to notice the light all around us.  Which brings us back to the question of the day, i.e. what can I do in order to be better at what I do?   It all begins with desire.  Allow that desire to guide your heart.   Along the journey, realize that there will always be “stuff”, but the “stuff” doesn’t have to stop you, if only you will remember to look to the light in between.

Later… Wes

Caregiver…Take Care.

When I was much younger I was quite the consumer of peanut butter sandwiches. I not only enjoyed the taste of the finished product (either plain, with jelly, jam or honey), I enjoyed the “making” of the sandwich.  It was a new adventure every time the lid was opened.  How full would the jar be?  Would I have to scrape the sides or would I be the lucky first to dip into the smooth top? And then there was the all-important spreading on the bread step. It was here that you had to be very careful because if you spread the peanut butter too thin and applied too much pressure you would rip the bread!

Caregiving is much like spreading peanut butter, if you do not take care, you’ll end up spreading yourself too thin and something ends up “ripping”.  You want to be alert to the possibility and gently proceed so that you can be your best for the one you love.

A caregiver is not necessarily the same as a health care professional. As a caregiver, your heart is involved in the process. Because of this, when you give care, you give of yourself… physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and even spiritually.  Care giving is: energy and effort held together by love and/or a sense of duty.  Again, with so much going out, it is highly recommended to make sure you don’t run out of what’s going out!

As you continue to access the peanut butter, take time to recognize how much is left in the jar and have an idea where you can go to get more before you run too low, or worse, you run out completely.  Find out/remember those things that fill you with energy and enthusiasm…soft music, loud music; familiar places, unfamiliar places; old movies, new movies…whatever it is that works for you. The key is not just recognizing what you need to do to take care of you, but being deliberate in doing what needs to be done.  It doesn’t have to take long.  You may have to settle for one spoonful at a time.  That is OK. Your goal is not to find the biggest jar on the shelf, but rather to make sure you have enough to make it through each moment of each day… without ripping the bread.

I’ll share a few more thoughts along these lines in the days ahead.  For now, I encourage you to take the time (even if it’s just a second or two) and think about you.  Caregiver…Take Care.Crape Myrtle flowers on campus July2,2012 006

Later… Wes

Wes Bynum, Bereavement Coordinator
Hospice of East Texas



Joe and Mary*, hupatients holding handssband and wife, and both patients of Hospice of East Texas, had managed in their own home for a while.  Their family, and the Hospice team, all wanted badly to respect their wishes to stay together in their last days, just as they had been together through their long lives.   At last it became apparent that both needed more care, and they were admitted to HomePlace with a very special accommodation: the private room was converted to a double room so that they could be together.  But that wasn’t quite close enough for Joe and Mary.  When the nurse asked if they would like their beds pushed together, both responded “Yes!”  This beautiful photo captured the moment when this precious, fragile couple reached out to grasp one another’s hand.  It wasn’t home, but it was HomePlace, and it was together.

*names changed to protect patient confidentiality

Quilts with meaning!

Since the first patient was cared for at HomePlace, the tradition has been to place a quilt on each patient bed.  This simple gesture is welcoming for patients and families, often reminding them of home and beloved family treasures that have comforted their loved ones.

Quilters guilds, chvolunteer quilturch groups and patient families donate quilts so that Hospice
of East Texas can continue this tradition of comfort.  Inspired by the giving spirit of her fellow Hospice of East Texas volunteers,
Sheila Odaker commissioned quilter Debbie Borski to create a quilt in their honor.  This stunning work of art will hang in the Meadows Conference Room of the Robert M. Rogers Hospice Center as a tribute to all the volunteers who contribute so meaningfully to the patients and families Hospice serves.

In memory of their father, Tommy Holcomb, two of his children, daughters Amy Moss quiltand Susan Salter donated this quilt to HomePlace.  Amy, the quilter, and Susan, designed the quilt with their father in mind, remembering his love of farming and working the land and the fact that he was the recipient of a Purple Heart.  With fabric depicting tractors and cows, the quilt will be just right for the bed of a man like Mr. Holcomb.

Sharon Gates Grooms’ mom, Barbara Gates, was a quilter, who had made quilts for Hospice of East Texas.  When Mrs. Gates  passed Sharon Gates Groomsaway, Sharon’s father gave her quilting supplies to Hospice, hoping we could find a group who would finish her quilt tops and donate them to Hospice.  Up stepped the East Texas Quilters Guild, who made several
lovely quilts from Mrs. Gates’ fabric.  Sharon’s father passed away unexpectedly without seeing the finished quilts, but Sharon came by to see these beautiful examples of her mother’s creativity and her father’s generosity.

The Watermelon Man

In December 2015, Hospice of East Texas board member, Jonna Fitzgerald, posted this note on her Facebook page:

                        Many of you have heard me share the story about the lengthy time we were at The Hospice of East Texas with Mom in early 2011…. there were many magical moments we experienced while there. This is one of them. Mom had not been eating and was asked if she could have anything she wanted to eat, what it would be. She responded that she would eat some watermelon. Mind you, this was April…not many watermelons around. It was just a couple hours later that a man walked into her room with a beautiful plate full of watermelon, from which he had meticulously removed every seed. Mom said it was the best watermelon she had ever eaten. Today, at a Hospice holiday gathering, I finally met the “watermelon man” — THANK YOU, Shane Lee, for such a precious gift to my mother and my family, and for all you do to make Hospice of East Texas the amazing place that it is!