Straight Paths

“You need to finish what you start”

Norma was seventy-six years old when she enrolled in our outpatient hospice program. Norma was born and raised in Wheelersburg, Ohio, but worked for twenty-five years in Cleveland, and a few years in Marion, before returning full-circle to her daughter Essie’s home in Wheelersburg. Norma is forward and feisty; she loves her Coke and ice cream and is adamant about keeping her toenails and fingernails painted. She shared, “I love being around people. I love to travel, just me and my little dog.”

About four months after Norma’s enrollment in hospice her condition declined and she was admitted to our inpatient hospice center. Garnet, her nurse, reported, “Her oxygen levels are down and her chest is tight”; and Norma was experiencing some confusion.

On the fourth day of her hospice center stay Norma reported, “I’m feeling a lot better. They thought that I had a heart attack but I didn’t. I hope I get to go home today.” I asked if she still hoped to spend a week with her daughter in Marion and she replied, “I’m not giving up. I’m not quitting. I never was a quitter. I’ve always finished what I started. I tried to pound that into my daughter’s head too. I like to work puzzles and Essie did too. I bought her big-piece puzzles when she was only two or three. I bought her things that would stimulate her brain; that she would have to work on and figure out. She’d get frustrated sometimes and wanted me to work the puzzle for her, but I wouldn’t. I told her, ‘No, you have to finish it. You need to finish what you start.’ And she’s still like that today. She’ll say in the evening, ‘I’m not going to start because I don’t have time to finish it.’ If she starts something she finishes it. I’ve seen a lot of pole barns in the country that are unfinished. You can tell they’ve been there a long time by the way the rain has washed over them; and I think, ‘What a waste’”.

I knew that Norma was “finished” with our conversation when she turned up the volume of her soap opera and turned her attention towards the TV. One thing I’ve learned in hospice is, “You never interfere with a patient’s soap opera!”

Norma’s dismay over all those unfinished pole barns reminds me of a parable told by Jesus: “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’?”(Luke 14:28-35)

I believe we are genetically and divinely engineered for accomplishment, for completion. Debby, our hospice educator, is my “go to person” when I want to better understand a clinical issue or physiological process. So I asked Debby to help me understand how our bodies respond when we complete a task. She explained: “The pituitary gland produces endorphins. They’re like a narcotic, a natural form of morphine. When we complete a task the endorphins are released into the opioid receptors of the dorsal horns of the vertebrae, the spinal cord, and we experience a rush, a natural high. It’s like the runner’s high. When the rush plateaus we experience an aftermath of a sense of well being, of freedom; a physical and mental release; a letting go.” And Debby explained that the intensity of the reward seems to correspond with the difficulty of the task and with how well we finish. When we finish well, when we know we’ve left it all on the court, we experience what could be called, in Chef Emeril’s words, the “Bam!” effect.

Debby concluded, “When you finish something it’s like when you wrap a present; you tie the ribbon around it and put the bow on top, and then you have something to present; a gift. Until you finish something you don’t have anything of value to offer to others. That’s what Jesus did for us on the cross when He said, ‘It is finished’”.

You see, we are divinely scripted for accomplishment. So, I ask you, is there something that you know you need to finish? Then what are you waiting for?

“Let your endurance be a finished product, so that you may be finished and complete…” (James 1:4; Moffatt translation)

Loren Hardin is a social worker with SOMC-Hospice and can be reached at 740-357-6091 or at lorenhardin53@gmail.com. You can order Loren’s book, “Straight Paths: Insights for living from those who have finished the course”, at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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