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The Serenity Prayer

August 6, 2009 - Michael Palmer
If you read this blog, you already know the details of the last year of health problems that Alice had endured. In addition to a severe reaction to chemotherapy for cancer, she developed health problems from the low platelet count and anemia from the treatments. The doctors seemed negligent in their reaction to her health problems, always qualifying their lack of concern with the statement, “Considering her age….“

The medication should have been discontinued, but mom was an old school patient and, despite the protests of her children, continued the treatments. This eventually would lead to a stroke, two pulmonary embolism, congestive heart failure and subsequently two heart attacks, the last proved fatal.

One day I went to visit my mom. She had made it through two near death experiences only to end up in a nursing home.

Mom was not very enthusiastic about the prospect of nursing home admission. This was a bit unexpected, because a friend of Mom’s had asked her to join a weekly sing-a-long at a local nursing home. She had enjoyed this activity and participated for many years, so she was aware of what went on inside elder care facilities.

There was, I believe, a fear of being alone and abandoned. I think the main reason though was her fear of losing control over her life. It is understandable that a self-reliant person, who has always been able to function normally and had complete control of their lives, can have negative feelings when they are no longer physically able to care for themselves and they have to depend on others.

One card she received contained a prayer that seemed to comfort her; she shared the prayer with me.

“Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The Serenity Prayer is the common name for this originally untitled prayer written by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in the early 1940s.

She took the prayer to heart and rather than resign herself to being in a nursing home, rather she shifted her focus onto working to recover. She would often be smiling and appear to be genuinely happy but she would not have been content to stay there for the remainder of her life.

The physical therapist at the nursing home was a friend of my sister’s and took exceptionally good care of Mom. She made friends with the nurses and care staff, but did not make any special effort to befriend other women in the facility.

Even when she was able to eat in the dining room at a table with other residents, she got to know their names, but did not take any interest in getting to really know them. She stayed focused on getting back home.

She accomplished that goal, but enjoyed it for just a few days before the final heart attack claimed her.

It is still extremely hard to recall that day. Mom was visibly in pain and at times seemed confused and disoriented. She had been very clear that morning when she was told her fate by the cardiologist. It was not news to her, she had known the day before. Perhaps we know our own bodies to the point that we can sense major injuries, or else in a more spiritual way, she had seen the angels coming to take her home.

In either circumstance, she had prepared herself for death and in one last selfless act; she refused a unit of blood to make her more comfortable in her last hours. The family members were called and by a coincidence, her sister was on the way to a vacation in Rhode Island and was able to be by her side.

When her sister arrived and she said hello, mom reacted by saying, “Oh no, not now!” It had been over a year since she had last seen her and I would not try and attempt to interpret just why Mom reacted in this way. Her sister did have a revelation in the hospital room; she said amidst tears that Alice was more like a mother to her than a sister. She realized that there had been times when she should have taken time out from her busy life to visit and that there would be no more opportunities to make up for this oversight.

All of the children and grandchildren gathered to say farewell to their beloved Nona. Her grandson Tony was unable to get home from Nebraska, but at the suggestion of the nurses, we called him and let him talk to his Nona one last time. The one missing person was her granddaughter Phylicia; she is currently living detached from her family in order to appease her disturbed husband. Knowing she was in trouble, her final word spoken on this planet was her granddaughter’s name; she called out to her, “Phylicia!”


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The nursing home was a lonely time