Thunderheads mass over the Sarasota National Cemetery

Our National Cemetery in Sarasota is filling fast.  The men and women who served this country during World War II now have the dubious distinction of being the generation that is dying at the fastest rate in the U.S.  I know (knew) so many of them.  I’ve cared for them as a hospice nurse and, in my current role as a grief specialist, I have counseled them and, later, their loved ones left behind.  They are a tremendously strong and proud generation.  They jumped so many huge hurdles in their lives that many can never accept that their time is coming to an end.  Remarkably, many couples that have been married for 50, 60, or 70 years never discuss the prospect of death.  Independent to a fault,  they stubbornly remain in private homes long after they should. They are not able to care for them and their safety is seriously compromised.  Widows lead solitary, isolated lives because they promised their spouse they would stay in the family home forever.  It can break your heart, it has broken mine on many occasions.

So, to those who may be reading this and have a parent, aunt, uncle, cousin or friend who is in this “Greatest Generation” do them a favor.  Talk to them about end-of-life plans.  If they tell you “there’s plenty of time for that,”  tell them they are wrong.  Talk to them, ask questions about Plan B (what will they do when they must leave the family home).  Help them sort through the years of memories and possessions.

Some people say that leaving this world is the ultimate “independence.”  Help your loved ones leave with the dignity, safety, and sense of accomplishment that they deserve. ❧

For more than two decades I worked with my husband, Robert Randall, to achieve the practical, but ever-elusive reality of prescription access to cannabis (marijuana) for those with life- or sense-threatening disease.  He had glaucoma and discovered, quite by accident, that marijuana could help preserve his sight.  He proved this fact to the Federal government in 1976 and received legal supplies of Federal marijuana until his death in 2001.

Robert’s death moved me in new directions and I was compelled to pursue my own calling — hospice work.  Robert has been gone for eleven years and I am just starting my seventh year with Tidewell Hospice.  It has been fascinating and rewarding work.  But my involvement in the med pot issue was too deep and too long to simply drop it and walk away.  Robert and I made friends — good friends — as we tried to change the laws that prohibit medical access.  You cannot turn your back on good friends but relationships can change.  After Robert died I had no interest in “stumping” for medical marijuana.  My own spirit was calling to me and I am happy I pursued it.  But what to do about med pot?

It was a seminar at a conference of grief counselors (my current profession) which gave me the answer. The speaker, Harold Ivan Smith, is renown for his ability to look at a political family which has experienced loss — think of the Lincolns, Roosevelts, and Kennedys — and convey to his audience the effects of grief on those grieving families and history.  His most recent focus is Coretta Scott King, a truly amazing woman in her own right, who, after the death of her husband Martin, adopted the position that she would not seek leadership in the civil rights movement (which she easily could have done) but would do everything she could to preserve and protect her husband’s legacy.  That rang like a clarion bell to me.  I had already been doing that very thing but, just as in any grief situation, the validation of actions is enormous.

Robert C. Randall was not Martin Luther King, Jr. and I’m certainly not Coretta Scott King but like the Kings, Robert and I did have an impact. We forged new cultural territories, we changed many minds, and we helped a lot of good people through some bad times.  The best I can do now is keep that memory alive.  After all, those who do not learn history are condemned to repeat it.  ❧

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