December 10, 2014

Wabi-Sabi + Kintsugi = Resilience

G'Tis the season....for Wabi-Sabi. For those of you who aren't familiar with this term, it is a Japanese aesthetic honoring and celebrating the beauty of imperfection. Wow, what an amazing reframing of our obsession with perfection, especially during the holiday season!

I have written about the concept of wabi-sabi on this blog and you may want to read some of the archived posts. I recently came across another wonderful  Japanese term, related to the essence of wabi-sabi called kintsugi ("golden joinery").

Kintsugi is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Instead of discarding treasures when they become broken, they are repaired with jewel-like metal; acknowledging, with visibility, that while they may have once been broken they are now strengthened, and more valuable because of their repair. What a message of resilience not just for pottery but for ourselves. Repairing with gold the scars of a life well-lived as a indication of resilience is a metaphor that I can wholeheartedly embrace.

Will you join me this holiday season in using the gold and silver glittering decorations as reminders to engage in the practice wabi-sabi and kintsugi? Let's celebrate the beauty of imperfection and acknowledge the strength and courage of repairing adversity with gold.

Happy Holidays...wishing you a month of celebrating wabi-sabi and kintsugi
Pam   

November 27, 2014

Gratitude


Thanksgiving...a day set aside in the United States to cook and feast with friends and family. It's also a day to stop and notice the bounty we are given on a daily basis, but often miss in the cacophony of life's busyness. On this day of gratitude, I invite you to spend a few minutes to binge on this calorie-free smorgasboard of natural beauty and thanks lovingly captured by film maker, Louie Schwartzberg. I promise your heart will be filled with a bit more gratitude by the time you finish watching....Happy Thanksgiving. (click here to view Gratitude by Louie Schwartzberg)


November 26, 2014

Perception is Not Reality

Here is a little parlor game to play during this Thanksgiving holiday as you are with family and friends -- ask the group to to quickly shout out the color of a traffic yield sign. What did you and the others answer?

If you are like the majority of people I surveyed you said "yellow".  However, yield signs have not been yellow in the U.S. since 1971, they have been red and white for over 40 years! What I found so interesting in this simple test of perception, is that many of those who perceived the yield sign as yellow had not even been born in 1971; thus debunking my theory that only those older than 50 would say "yellow".  So why do we continue to think a yield sign is yellow? Perhaps this illustrates what the Dalai Lama taught me when he visited Boston last month..."just because we perceive it, does not make it reality". How very true!

Take a moment this Thanksgiving and truly step into mindfulness, check out those yield signs, and notice that perception is not necessarily reality.

November 6, 2014

Grace, Love, and Caregiving Choices

Full disclosure, I am a faithful listener to WBUR in Boston and I write for WBUR's Cognoscenti Page. I especially love On Point with Tom Ashbrook -- I have been known to have "parking lot moments" when I sit in my car, radio on, engine running in my office building parking lot, just to finish listening to a topic Tom and one of his guests are discussing. Tom's inquisitive questions and gentle yet focused interviewing style have kept me company on many mornings. Like many, I was saddened to hear that he was taking an immediate leave of absence to care for his wife who is very ill. Through this intentional choice of following his heart and his compassion, Tom has become a teacher to the rest of us that it is OK to say that family caregiving is a priority and to step away, albeit temporarily, from the demands of work. Tom posted a poignant and powerful letter to explain his decision yesterday, and I am sure I am not alone in feeling gratitude that he chose to share an
explanation of this difficult time with such grace, love and compassion.

Tom, as a male, has also taken bold move by stepping into the caregiving role. Statistics show that the vast majority of family caregivers during chronic illness and end of life are women. Often these women are attempting to work outside the home and be family caregivers at the same time, because of a lack of sick time or leaves of absence in their workplace. Tom's willingness to shine light on the need for families to have the ability take time away from their paid work for the well-being of their family is a teachable moment for all of us. Tom Ashbrook has been able to make this compassionate choice for himself, his wife and family is because he has been granted a leave of absence from his employer. As the Massachusetts election results rolled in on Wednesday morning and ballot question 4 (earned sick time) was approved by voters, it made me think of Tom and his family and gave me hope that another family facing end of life issues would now also be more able to make a similar compassionate choice without financial ruin.

To live in a compassionate society, we must be compassionate beings. Thank you to Tom Ashbrook, his wife Danielle, and their family for demonstrating what grace, love, and caregiving choices look like. I wish them peace, hope, and grace today and in the days ahead, and I will be welcome Tom back into my radio-listening life when he is ready to return.

October 26, 2014

"I Don't Do Death"

"I don't do death" a physician once told me. The culture of modern medicine asks us to embrace the promise that cure is always possible and death is a failure of the health care system or the inadequate skill of a physician or nurse. It is my hope that together we can change our current culture of medicine by expanding our expectation that our students, residents and fellows are trained with the same rigor in high touch medicine as they are in high tech medicine -- so all healthcare professionals "do death" AND "do life" with compassion and skill. It has been a year since I wrote the following essay for Cognoscenti (WBUR) . Today, I again returned to the Massachusetts General Hospital for the 2014 Pediatric Memorial Service, so please indulge me in this redux. I welcome your thoughts and comments. ~ Pam

Each year, early in October, a letter arrives with the return address of Massachusetts General Hospital, 55 Fruit St, Boston, Mass. I know immediately what the envelope contains and I pause and reflect for a few moments before I open it. Inside is an invitation to return to the place where my son, Nick, was treated for a deadly form of cancer when he was 14. We, as a family, also spent many days, weeks, months in this place: crying and laughing; watching fireworks magically unfurl in the dark sky over the Esplanade from windows on the 18th floor of the Ellison Building; waiting in the subterranean operating room holding areas in the warrens beneath the hospital; exploring the empty hallways late at night like the actors in “A Night at the Museum”; holding impromptu guitar jams in Nick’s hospital room; and ringing in the new year with noisemakers, shrimp cocktail and sparkling cider with hospital staff who drew the short straw and had to work on New Year’s Eve.
 
Perhaps learning to step into the full spectrum of life and death is the meaning that the children who didn’t survive bring to the practice of medicine.

The author pictured with her son Nick in 1997. (Courtesy)Nick died 12 years ago, so why do I still return to this place each year? It is because Nick, like the other children who were cared for in this huge, often anonymous institution are not forgotten — they are remembered and honored year after year with the annual Pediatric Memorial Service. In this medical mecca, children are not supposed to die. We are fortunate to have some of the best and brightest medical institutions in the world at our doorstep. Reports of miraculous new cures abound in the media, but there are some children who are not the success stories that are highlighted in hospitals’ marketing materials.

They are the children who didn’t survive. Those of us who receive an invitation to return to MGH each year for the Pediatric Memorial Service are a disparate group. Some of our children died when they were adolescents, some when they were in early childhood. Some died from a chronic illness, some from an acute infection or disease, and others suddenly by an accident. We come from different walks of life and professions. We speak different languages. Yet, on this day, year after year, alongside the staff who cared for our children, the barriers are lifted and we are all together as human beings, remembering the stories, sharing a hug, speaking our children’s names, and trying to find meaning in loss. Collectively, we understand the unique grief of losing a child.

Early in my professional career as a nurse, I heard a young physician say, “I don’t do death.” I’m not sure what this statement really meant — perhaps that somehow his superior knowledge could forestall death permanently? — but beyond its arrogance, it spoke of fear and hopelessness. As a society we are very isolated from pediatric death. We are fortunate that in the span of a few short decades we have seen a dramatic decrease in childhood deaths due to vaccines, antibiotics, and advances in medical treatments.
But this decrease has created a void in our health care professionals’ ability to know how to deliver care when finding a cure is no longer an option. Our medical and nurse training programs don’t “do death” well either, especially around societal taboos.

A physician at this year’s memorial service gave me hope for the future when she commented that her role as a doctor is to walk the journey with her patients and families and this includes the full spectrum of life and death. We look to our healers to cure us with the modern arsenal of medicine at their disposal, but when a happy ending is no longer possible, shouldn’t it also be their role to help guide us through the fear of the unknown and unthinkable, especially in pediatrics? Perhaps learning to step into the full spectrum of life and death is the meaning that the children who didn’t survive bring to the practice of medicine. Our kids have become the teachers, no matter how short their lives may have been. Their legacy is to continue to teach the healers how to walk alongside those who are confronting the unimaginable and unbearable with grace, humility and humanity.

So, I guess I keep coming back to walk through the doors of the Massachusetts General Hospital year after year to remember, share a story, and to say thank you for honoring these great teachers who keep medicine honest, healing and humble — the kids who didn’t survive.

http://cognoscenti.wbur.org/2013/11/05/pediatric-death-pamela-katz-ressler