Hospice Patients Alliance: Consumer Advocacy

"Christmas to Christmas"

by Ron Panzer
President, Hospice Patients Alliance
December 25, 2004


Does the heart speak? Do these eyes see? Can we know what moves this world to be what it is? Looking within, we see that the world reflects our own weaknesses and strengths, our own frailties and follies.

But can we change this world? I believe we can.

Within ourselves we choose each moment to act or not act, to be one way or to be another. We are pushed and pulled and, tossed and turned by forces outside of our control. Yet we control how we respond to all of these.

In how we respond to life we choose who we will be in the very next moment. Those who know us truly can only be those who live from within the same Spirit. They are our brothers and sisters and family: those whose souls reach out to touch ours and others in the same celebration of love.

Those who live according to the world seek to impose the way of the world. Those who live according to the Spirit of Christmas simply seek to serve, doing so each in their own way. Modern "progressive" society asserts that your greatest asset is your self. For those who serve, our greatest asset is God and all that springs from His blessings.

Do we celebrate Christmas to Christmas? Or do we celebrate New Year to New Year? Does our year begin with Christ's birth in our heart or does it begin with a somewhat or completely drunken pretense that "this year" we will be "more successful" than last, that "this year" we will do "more" than last, that "this year" we will feel "merrier" than last, or that others will believe the lie too?

Our resolutions fail ... sometimes ... often ... almost always, or at least eventually. We strive for admirable goals, at least many do. Yet, however close we seem to get to where we would be, there is always one more step, one more task, one more undone act that the doing of which would change the world, change the world for at least one other person, including ourselves.

And for every step forward we make in this world, time erodes our progress and all evaporates within the seeming blink of an eye. What remains is how we traveled through this life, all we did along the way, and how we were with those we met along the road.

At this time of year we think of our families. We travel and party and nod our heads agreeing that we will try "harder" this year. Yet, for how long have we traveled and partied and nodded together, perhaps drinking to help us along. And what then? What about the time spent in between? How have we lived?

If we need to drink, medicate or drug to help us along, have we truly traveled anywhere? If we need to reassure each other that we are better than others, smarter than others, more powerful or wealthier than others, more "civilized" than others, we cannot be "better" at all. We are simply deceiving ourselves, passing away the time, treading water, even sinking, while real life passes us by.

"Real life!" That is something that takes inner strength to live, to accomplish, and to radiate. That "real life" cannot be achieved ourselves, yet it arises from within like a spring of water bubbling up from underground, as if from nowhere. Yet, every spring has its source: often a great river of water flowing silently underground, unseen, flowing ever onward toward the Sea.

Real life is never the possession of any group, denomination, political ideal or agenda. It is soft yet powerful, tender yet unbearable, radiantly bright and healing. It reveals us to be whatever we may be. Yet, it forgives us endlessly, helps us constantly, and loves us unconditionally. Real life never kills, yet it allows natural death to occur in its own timing, as a pathway to another greater life.

Real life gives, asking nothing. Yet to know "real life" requires that we give everything that we are. Real life transforms those who embrace it, leaving them the best that they can be.

How many have we touched this year? And how many will we touch this coming year? If we wish to make a difference, we must take the time, the effort and energy to be real.

When battered women cry out for help, for life, for justice, will we hear? When exploited patients plea for mercy, will kindness and love be shown? When suffering seems unbearable, will our loving hands be there to ease the way?

Will we do, in this very real world, the little that we can do? If we hold back the little that we have, if that is all that we have, that truly may be all we ever will have. Those who clench their hands to hold onto the little they have cannot open them to receive anything more. However, if we open our hands to give of the little we have, it is certain that such a gift will touch someone's world, blessing them and ourselves alike.

Yesterday, a dying man called to say that the hospice he was enrolled in, was seeking to terminate services to him, probably because his medications and needs were more than that hospice wished to provide. They had collected payment for several months and now chose to stop serving him, even though he is steadily declining and growing weaker every day. Without the hospice's help, without the medications that eased his condition, he will die. A "younger" terminally ill man of 50, he lives with his wife and two children. He recognized that complaints to the state would do little in the short term to help him; he would be dead long before they even began an investigation.

When I called the hospice, this very large hospice's administrator denied any wrongdoing, of course. Yet he is paid over a hundred thousand dollars per year. That hospice takes in millions of dollars every year in "charitable donations" given by the public to serve people just like the man who called to say he would probably die very soon. This man will die sooner because of the denial of services and medications from the hospice he sought out to manage his symptoms. He is not asking to be cured; he knows his time is coming, but he wants the services that hospices everywhere promise they provide to all. The reality in some hospices is far from that. While many hospices do fulfill their promises to the public, too many do not.

How do I celebrate when the vulnerable are exploited, the needy are turned away, the hungry are left unfed? When the heart reaches to every corner of this world, to every man, woman and child, you feel for every soul, knowing that within all burns the flame of life given to them just as it is given to you.

Those who serve celebrate from Christmas to Christmas, not New Year to New Year. With joy in the giving, a steady source of inner peace stays us on our course as we sail through this turbulent world. We are tossed and turned; we encounter much pain and sorrow.

Yet we need no party to buoy our spirits. Our joy is not that of the partiers; it is not that of the drunken revelers, nor is it the joy of those who seek distraction, forgetfulness or oblivion. Our joy arises out of something much greater within.

We find joy without blinding ourselves to the real pain that arises in life. While we do not seek more suffering, we do not run from it. We know that suffering in one form or another is part and parcel of this life. We find joy while embracing the suffering that must, in reality, exist in this life. Sacrificing ourselves in a life of service, we find ourselves renewed.

Wherever you are, you have this moment, this wonderful opportunity to act, to seek out the joy in giving of yourself, in whatever way is possible for you at this time, however small you think the act. Do it now! Be it now! Let your heart speak out in your deeds. Live Christmas to Christmas and every day will be blessed, even though sadness and joy mingle to form the strange wine we call life.

We cannot erase every problem, disease, pain or crime. But we can do our part. We can do something. It takes will. It takes effort. And it is never easy. Whatever we do ... however we choose to serve, it will always be fulfilling. And we will have the peace that comes with knowing we chose what is right.







The Hospice Patients Alliance is a 501(c)(3) charitable patient advocacy organization acting to preserve the original hospice mission and to promote quality end-of-life services.




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