Can I just say how amazingly frustrating it is that so many Unitarian Universalist churches seem to go on vacation for the summer, with either no service or very little ones or ones not regularly led by the church’s minister? We were planning on trying to find a new home church this summer but it is virtually impossible since the ministers aren’t around and aren’t leading services, there are almost no activities, and some churches are 100% closed? I understand this is tradition, ministers need a break, people go on vacation, etc. And I guess I am pretty understanding of that – but what about people that really actually need to find a church home soon? It’s just sort of not very welcoming feeling. For us, we can handle it, although it is sort of frustrating. But what about people who might just be coming to the faith? Or looking for a faith? I hope that this tradition dissipates.
This article in the Washington Post is about the increasing connection between faith and the environment. They mention the Interfaith Power and Light organization, which I know our church has had a relationship with. The article also talks about a vegetarian Jewish woman who organized a purchase of 450 pounds of meat that is local, grass-fed, organic and strictly kosher for her synagogue. Interesting article.
We have been in Germany, where my partner is originally from, for two weeks. The closest friend of their family is 87 and in the last days or weeks of his life. It was very frustrating on several levels, not the least of which is my inability to understand or speak German to him. So I just had to sit there and smile and say hello and good bye and see if I could figure out what was being said by picking up a few words. Before I started ministerial training and went through the death of an aunt and two grandparents, I had what I think could reasonably be described as a death phobia. It started when I was in elementary school and went on for a very long time, really up until the past few years. I was very overly preoccupied with people I love dying, very nervous when they left to go to the store or on a trip, or really anywhere that something would happen to them. I thought about death a lot – my own or my loved ones – and generally couldn’t talk about it or think much about it without getting quite distraught. This was not a normal “gosh I don’t want my loved ones to die.” It was really a huge problem.
Taking a classes at divinity school and being a student intern minister, as well as needing to be strong through the deaths of my family members, helped me get over this. It just sort of faded away. Thank goodness.
All of this is to reflect on the challenges of dying well, both in the U.S. and in Germany. Something I could not have even began to think about until recently. My family members all had hospice care, which somehow I imagined to be widespread in Germany which it is not. My grandma died with friends and family around her, people coming and going either to simply be present to her, or to bring food, or to share memories – to laugh, eat, and cry. This is how people should die. In their homes, with their loved ones, with skilled nurses and hospice workers asking the right questions, preparing people for what is to come, reassuring, and listening.
Frederic is dying in Germany alone in a room in a home for old people or people with disabilities. No one has spoken to the family, nor to my mother-in-law (who is his best friend) about what to expect, how to best be with him, nor have they spoken to him in a respectful or loving way. He is a patient. He said they are rough with him when they bathe him. We were there to say goodbye before our flight, and although he is confused and can’t talk much, he said, (in German), “Gipsy, I want out.” Gipsy is my mother-in-law. He wants out.
He is an old person that they are waiting to die, washing only because it is their job, not cleaning him up in his bed soon enough so that when we came in he was laying there half naked in his own waste, distraught and confused. And alone. Dying alone is horrible.
It was interesting to see my minister-mode turn on so quickly and so naturally, and it was reassuring to me about my calling. What were his wishes? Perhaps he wanted to talk about his life? Did he have a living will? Perhaps you should offer to put the bed up a little more? I left when I saw him half-naked, knowing of course that he might prefer privacy from a visitor. Perhaps we should only enter the room one at a time – three of us seem to overwhelm him… all these little things I did and thought that seem so basic, but seemed also desperately needed in a situation where everyone was sad and upset and confused.
It was painfully frustrating to not be able to do more. To know that he lay alone in his room because it was simply not the thing to do to be there. His family was not there even every day. He was in the care of underpaid staff.
This is not to criticize anyone involved really, because it seems like this is just how it is done, but to wish for a different system. And to look forward to being able to contribute more through my ministry to the idea of dying well. Both through example, but perhaps eventually, through training others.
As my partner and I think about the possibility of a baby in the coming years, and what it takes to make a good birth and bring a life into the world with minimal medical intervention and trusting the wisdom of the body and our love for ourselves and the new life, and it seems equally important for us to remember what a good death means. How we can slip from this world to the next with as little pain as possible, and as much love and comfort as possible. Because we do not like to talk about death, and because we don’t like to think of it, it seems that it can too often be put in a small room in a big institution, and we try to leave it either to staff who can change adult diapers, or to doctors and machines who try to “save us” from what we cannot be saved from – old age and the slowing down of bodies that just happens.
We are in the process of getting life insurance, and our finances more in order, along with arranging our own wills and living wills. It seems important for us all to do this to save our families from the challenges that Frederic’s family has faced in deciding how to proceed and what to do as he faced his last moments on this earth. Let us all do this to save our families the anguish it can sometimes present and help making answering hard questions easier at the end of life, as well as to think about what a good death would mean to us.
I have also faced the challenge of comforting my partner through all of this. I am a firm believer in some sort of world/life after this on here on earth, and he is not. Wow, does that make it hard to comfort someone facing death. Often “They have had a good life” can be a good approach if that is in fact the case – however, when the dying person has not had a good life – and there is nothing more to look forward to, that appears to be even more of a bind. But perhaps that is for another post.
In peace and prayers for Frederic as he leaves this earth,
So there appears to be quite the discussion in the UU Blogosphere on polyamory – that is, people who are not so much into monogamy (one partner) but feel okay with or pulled toward having more than one romantic partner or loves – poly (many) amory (loves). I posted on this a little while back, but not in the context of the independent affiliates discussion, which you can read about here and here.
The Lively Tradition has been the main poster (here too), with Boy in the Bands, Chalice Chick, Never Say Never to Your Traveling Self, Liberal Faith Development chiming in, and Philocrites referring us some of his older posts.
A lot has been said. I guess I just want to highlight the need for a parsing of two separate issues. One is if Unitarian Universalists should, as a movement, support legal rights for polyamorous folks, and/or should we spend our time and energy thinking and talking about the importance of this as a legal question.
The other issue is if it is possible for consenting adults to love and/or relate intimately to more than one other person at a time with honesty and integrity, and without causing harm to children involved in that relationship, and without somehow threatening the minimal social framework that keeps the universe as stable as it is (which is not very, but it could be worse). You get the idea – is polyamory just weird and bad and something to be avoided, or at the very least kept quiet, or can it be a reasonably normal, okay thing that is certainly not going to become the norm, but isn’t scary or weird or messing up kids.
As you can see, I am trying to move away from an ultra-careful phrasing of this, as so many people have taken a lot of time to do in the comments sections on some of the other postings. I’m trying to de-dramatize this a little bit, I suppose, but also I’ve never been one for treatises arguing super-logically, and rationally on every point because I don’t think this is how most people think.
Anyway, so what I’m trying to say is that I think folks on all sides of this need to be clearer about what they are talking about. The UUPA (Unitarian Universalist for Polyamorous Awareness) claims that their thing is about just that – awareness. The recognition that there are people in partnerships with more than one other person in our congregations, so we need to figure out a way to minister to these folks with love and care. I, naively, often take people at their word, it seems that there is actually a bit of a bigger agenda at least in parts of the UUPA. I am not all that familiar with how this bigger agenda has been communicated, but it seems like a lot of people are aware of it, and it has something to do with sort of taking the marriage/legal rights thing on in a similar way that the UUs did with same-sex marriage. That said, it seems like some who are not so pro-polyamory are conflating the moral/ethical questions related to polyamory automatically with whether or not this should result in legal recognition of marriage and/or whether or not UUs should take this on as a project.
So, in sum, all I am saying at this point is that this is a sticky issue, and it makes a lot of sense for everyone to be clearer about what they are talking about:
1) legal-rights/marriage/UUA-as-a-lobbying-organization/UUism-as-a-platform-for-political causes OR
2) the potential/reality of polyamory/multiple-partner-relationships to be ethical and just (and how, if at all, this relates to theological questions).
To me, these are separate issues because even if you think that poly relationships can be just lovely for all involved, it is another question whether you think that should be a legally recognized entity, and another one whether you think it is wise for our movement to somehow take this on as one of our “things”.
I have opinions on all of this, but I don’t feel like I have the patience to articulate it in a way that would suit anyone. Maybe another time.
I just hope everyone can be respectful and nice about this whole thing. I hate it when people get mean about things like this.
Much peace, Elizabeth