Bad News

Last night I was the assisting minister at our Ash Wednesday church service, so I got to smudge people’s foreheads with ashes and remind them that they are going to die. Not the most cheery message to give people.

Over the past several months I have had to tell quite a few people who I had evaluated that it was very likely they had a progressive dementia. Those are the meetings I absolutely dread. There is nothing cheery about suggesting to people that they should probably make sure all their end of life decisions have been made known to their family. I am constantly amazed and humbled at the grace and dignity with which they hear the news. It just isn’t fair that people have to get these awful diseases.

It is only over the last 20 years or so that Lutherans here started to incorporate the imposition of ashes into Ash Wednesday Services. I remember as a child the Catholic children leaving school at lunch time and coming back with ashes on their foreheads. It was all very mystical. Now that I experience it, I just view it as sobering. I giggled last night, along with a 3 year old’s mother, at his protest that he didn’t want to get dusted! I respected his request. He has enough bad news awaiting him in his life, and I sure didn’t need to add to it.

What are your memories of Ash Wednesday? How would you want bad news delivered to you? Any thoughts about T. S. Eliot?

36 thoughts on “Bad News”

  1. Clever header photo!
    I remember helpfully pointing out to a friend of mine that he had a smudge in his forehead. Thankfully I didn’t rub it off for him…

    T. S. Elliot- the musical ‘Cats’ is based on one of his poems, right? Or something? Never seen it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. i saw it and it was great for an hour
      poem is great
      song memories by the woman from eight is enough (betty buckley) is great what was the movie with her as a country singer and robert duvall as her ex tender mercies great movie
      ts elliott is one of those good old white guys whicdod art the way art was done

      Liked by 3 people

        1. Here’s a birthday quote for an aging baboon: “You don’t become cooler with age, but you do care progressively less about being cool, which is the only true way of being cool. This is called the Geezer’s Paradox. ” -Widdershins Smith

          Liked by 3 people

  2. My first kindergarten job was at St. Anne’s of the Sunset, and I learned the Hail Mary to recite with the kids every morning; I’m sure there was something in the church next door on Ash Wednesday – we all got smudged.

    The only humane way to receive bad news is from some loving person who is sorry to have to relay it to you.

    Liked by 3 people

        1. I still cringe when I think of the answer my OB/GYN gave to a me after she had told me I had endometrial cancer, and we had discussed my treatment options. I asked if she felt qualified to do this surgery. Her response, “Oh yes, hysterectomies are my bread and butter,” was no doubt meant to be reassuring. To me it seemed dismissive, indicated that she saw me as part of her meal ticket, and considered this surgery so routine she could do it on auto pilot. She clearly did not understand or consider that she had just delivered what was a life-altering diagnosis to me. Nothing routine about it.

          Liked by 3 people

        2. Gosh, I hope you’re wrong about the neurologists. I have never seen one, but my pathologist – who specialized in cancers in female reproductive organs – was widely known for poor “bedside manners.” He was actually downright rude. The first time I saw him, he asked why my husband wasn’t with me. I told him he was at work, and that I thought my visit was merely to discuss what my treatment options were, and that I would be making the decisions in that regard. He shrugged and said “I guess he likes getting his news secondhand.” In one fell swoop he managed to insult both me and Hans who he had never met. I was so taken aback that I just sat there in stunned silence. I did confront him about it when I saw him the following week, and we got along fine after that.

          Liked by 2 people

        3. When daughter was born, the docs came in late at night and told Kelly she had Down’s Syndrome. I was upset they didn’t tell both of us together. At the same time, there were hints and clues something was amiss and Kelly wasn’t totally surprised. But it was news to me. So when we started working with nursing students, we’d make a point of telling them, ‘Tell BOTH parents’!

          Liked by 2 people

  3. I don’t have any particular experience with Ash Wednesday. I’ve always referred to my mother is a “convenient protestant”. Because the entire of my growing up, we went to whatever protestant church was convenient to whatever house we were living in. So no ashes on my forehead ever.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. During much of my childhood, and most certainly the years at the Catholic boarding school, I had ashes on my forehead on Ash Wednesday. I knew it had some sort of symbolic meaning, though it wasn’t clear to me exactly what it was, but it seemed normal to me. To me it was just one of the myriad of Catholic rituals that we indulged in with some regularity. Which makes me wonder, at what age do children begin to understand symbolism? Maybe I was just unusually slow in that department?

    Besides, because of the rough and tumble kid I was, dirt on various parts of my body, including my face, wasn’t unusual. Also, because I had freckles and a small, round black beauty mark near the base of my right cheek bone, I was often teased with my face being dirty, or having dirt on it. If there was any teasing because of the ashes on my forehead, it has long since merged with the rest of the teasing.

    Happy birthday to tim who turns 68 today. If I knew how to access emojis, I’d insert a birthday cake flanked by a couple of flags or balloons.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I have never had ashes on my forehead and it’s not likely to ever happen. I mentioned my first best friend, Mickey, earlier this week. She was from a huge Catholic family and she would go to church and come back with a dirty-looking smudge on her forehead. I always wondered when I would get a smudge like that but it never happened. My family went to the Associated Church (Presbyterian) in Owatonna, if we went at all. My parents stopped all church attendance when we moved to Cannon Lake. I insisted on going to a church somewhere, but that’s another story.

    I read some T.S. Eliot while a student at St. Olaf. I think I only read “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and “The Waste Land.” It was somewhat strange and difficult to understand but the point was its existentialism and perennial human loneliness – at least that’s what I got out of it. I still have that book.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. i don’t remember my first ash wednesday
    i was born
    the rest were non discript and non eventful
    i am a recovering catholic who bought into all the mombo jumbo without thought until i didn’t

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I am in the process of packing up and getting ready for the trip back to MN. I won’t be here much for the next week.

    I had little experience with Ash Wednesday ever, but then Easter has not ever been my holiday.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I’m assuming, Renee, that the people who come to you for evaluation, testing, or assessment (whatever the right terminology is), come for a reason. I’m wondering how often they come at their own initiative, or whether it’s more common that they come at the behest of a family member or other loved one? In either case, though I’m sure no one wants to be diagnosed with progressive dementia, it could also be a relief to know that there’s a reason for forgetfulness or other behavioral changes?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. They are referred by their physicians, who usually have heard concerns from family and/ or the patient and who have done preliminary medical tests. My
      evaluations involve comparing their performance on a variety of cognitive and memory tests with that of “normal” individuals their age and educational level, taking into account normal, aging related memory issues. We try to rule out everything else first, which is why it is important to know their general health history. Sleep apnea and UTI’s can negatively affect memory temporarily if they aren’t treated. I always refer to neurology for the definitive diagnoses if I find impairment. The neurologists want the cognitive/memory testing to know what other neuroimaging to do.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I know. That’s one of the reason’s I hope I won’t have to have knee replacement surgery. I’m now scheduled for an MRI to determine what’s going on in my knee. The cortisone shot has stopped working.

          Liked by 2 people

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