When Terry, was told that he would need six rounds of chemotherapy (three days long each with four weeks between treatments), we were understandably upset but we signed up for the journey – as support team. Because we live far away, it wasn’t possible to do things like take meals over, or drop in to help with household chores. And so, my self-appointed task has mainly been to keep in good contact with them and to be a cheerleader. When we were on our trip to the east in June we were able to have a great visit with Jane and Terry during one of Terry’s weeks ‘off’.
This week, Jane brought me to tears when she sent us a short video of Terry finishing his last day of chemo. The video showed Terry being brought into the hall at the hospital, where a large gong had been set up. Terry was given the mallet, and the nurses, Jane and the staff stood, watched and cheered as he struck the gong to signal the official end of his treatment. This is, apparently, what patients get to do to mark the ending of their chemotherapy treatments at the hospital where Terry was treated. It was such a short event. But such a powerful ritual to mark the end of this chapter in his life.
It made me think of other such rituals I have heard about. When the new hospital was built in the South-East end of Calgary, I learned that they were going to have the tradition of allowing new parents to choose which song they would softly play throughout the hospital to broadcast the news of their baby being born. I love this idea of marking new life this way. Years ago, when a very young friend of ours was going through her cancer treatments, the nurses brought beads for her to lace on a long string. Each bead was a marker of every single procedure she had; her bead string was far too long but it was a powerful reminder of what she had been through.
What brilliant ways the medical profession has come up with to mark such events. These professionals realize the importance of stopping, even for a brief moment to acknowledge milestones. How sad would it have been for Terry to finish his treatment and for he and Jane to simply have signed out and gone home to recover. Luckily, the staff have recognized that while their primary role is to care for the physical medical needs of the patient, that the psychological needs are just as big a factor in healing and in the success of treatment. It is harder to document these. It is harder to measure them through blood work or CT scans. But patients who have gone through serious illness and procedures most often comment on the ‘care’ they received, rather than on the procedure itself. Part of this care is the acknowledgement of the completion of the journey or of part of the journey.
This has had me thinking about how wonderful it would be if we could incorporate this kind of practice into our own regular lives. How often it is that we finish a huge project at work and we look at our desk, only to find that something else is begging for our attention. There is no celebration, no atta-girl, no stopping to say, “Way to go!!”. We just march onward to the next task. What a difference it could make in a company if when a huge client was brought on board that the ‘gong’ could be rung.
Similarly, at home, so often a member of the family accomplishes something that is significant to them, and yet the gears of the family just keep on turning toward whatever is next. Little kids have a way of demanding that we stop and acknowledge milestones. What parent hasn’t stood over a toilet and cheered before the ceremonial flush! Somewhere between the flush and landing the big client, we have lost the art of noticing and stopping to give recognition for things well done, for milestones achieved, for ends to difficult journeys, for jobs well done.
In our family, our ‘gong’ is going for ice cream. As our children grew up and achieved various awards, we would always say, ‘We’ll have to go for ice cream to celebrate’. And we do. When Kaitlyn met Matt, she must have told him about this tradition, because when he landed a job in Calgary he asked, ‘Is this an Ice Cream Moment?’ It sure was!! We celebrate ends of school years, new contracts, engagements, acceptance into programs, new jobs, new homes …. all with ice cream.
Next week Jim and I are going to be in Ontario for a wedding. We plan to stay a few extra days, head over to where Jane and Terry live, pick Terry up and take him to Avondale Dairy to celebrate this most wonderful turning point in the best way we know – with ice cream!
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