Showing 71 - 80 of 93 annotations tagged with the keyword "Prayer as Medicine"

As I Lay Dying

Neuhaus, Richard John

Last Updated: May-10-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

The subtitle of this memoir is "Meditations upon Returning." Richard John Neuhaus is a Catholic priest and scholar, director of the Institute on Religion in Contemporary Life in New York City and described on the book cover as "one of the foremost authorities on religion in the contemporary world." The book is a meditation on his near-brush with death as a result of colon cancer.

As Fr. Neuhaus describes it, he underwent two colonoscopies to ascertain the cause of persistent abdominal symptoms, but in both cases his colon was pronounced completely normal. However, shortly thereafter, he developed extreme abdominal pain and was taken to the hospital, where emergency surgery was performed and a colon cancer the size of a "big apple" was removed. During the first procedure, the surgeon nicked his patient’s spleen, so a second emergent procedure was required to control hemorrhaging.

The two procedures left Fr. Neuhaus very near death, but he gradually recovered over a period of several months. When introducing the story of his illness, the author comments, "several lawyers have told me my case would make a terrific malpractice suit." (p. 79) But he says he won’t sue, because it would "somehow sully my gratitude for being returned from the jaws of death." (p. 80) In fact, he has considerable praise for his surgeon.

The narrative of Fr. Neuhaus’s illness occupies a relatively small proportion of this memoir. The first three of seven chapters consist of the author’s reflections on the meaning of suffering and death, and especially the existential question of "Why me, now?" (His answer is "Why not?) In chapter five Fr. Neuhaus describes a near-death experience that changed his life, a scene in which he heard two "presences" tell him, "Everything is ready now." In much of the rest of the book, the author examines and rejects the possibility that the experience was a dream or an hallucination. He is convinced that he witnessed the "door" to a more glorious life after death, and this has, in some sense, profoundly changed his present life.

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Annotated by:
Belling, Catherine

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

Author and Oxford don, C. S. Lewis (Anthony Hopkins), lives a sheltered life as a bachelor, sharing a house with his brother. In 1952 he meets an American woman, Mrs. Joy Gresham (Debra Winger). They become friends when Joy moves to England with her young son, Douglas, divorcing her alcoholic husband; when Joy is in danger of losing her visa, Lewis agrees to marry her so that she can become a British citizen.

The marriage appears to be purely a technicality. This is in part because of Lewis’s emotional frigidity with people, which is contrasted with the profundity and energy of his engagement with books and ideas. Joy eventually confronts him about this, and at about the same time she is diagnosed with advanced cancer.

The prospect of her death disrupts Lewis’s ideas about God, suffering, and human relationships, prompting a crisis that leads him to recognize his love for her. Their legal marriage is consecrated in her hospital room and, after radiation treatment puts her in remission, Joy and her son move in with Lewis. After a few months, she dies. Lewis is left with a new knowledge of the real paradoxes of love, connection, loss, and suffering.

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This book's title is from a Goethe poem, "The Holy Longing," translated from German in its entirety by Robert Bly: "And so long as you haven't experienced / this: to die and so to grow, / you are only a troubled guest / on the dark earth." Ten intensely personal essays tell of the suffering and everyday presence of pain of a severely disabled writer who has advancing multiple sclerosis, and of how, "in a very real sense, and entirely without design, death has become [her] life's work." (p. 13)

Beginning with her father's sudden death when she was a child, the essays describe her aging mother's expected death and the family's decision to take her off life support; her caretaker husband's diagnosis of metastatic cancer with uncertain prognosis; her own attempted suicide; death of friends, pets, including her beloved dog; and a young pen-pal executed on death row. If that weren't enough, a coda, her foster son's murder and again the decision to remove life-support, provides "[t]he end. For now." (p. 191)

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Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poems (Sequence)

Summary:

David Slavitt has written his own response [Part I, "Meditation" (pp. 1-58)] to the five poems (chapters) that comprise the Old Testament's "Book of Lamentations," which he has translated here from the Hebrew [Part II, "Lamentations" (pp. 59-85)]. The poems appear in Hebrew and in English, on opposite pages. In addition there is a "Note on Translation" (pp. xiii-xiv) and a "Bibliographical Note" (pp. 87-88).

Five poems--The Book of Lamentations--express Israel's brokenness, bewilderment before God, and sorrow at the catastrophes that have beset the Jewish people through the ages. Slavitt's meditation and notes on translation prepare the reader for far more than a prosaic historical account of the destruction and biblical plights of the Jews. "A translator wants to be faithful to the original work but then discovers how fidelity to the word can mean a betrayal of the sentence." (p. xiii)

"As a boy, I knew next to nothing of Tish'a b'Av," begins the author's meditation. We learn, as he did, about "[this] worst day of the year"(p. 6)--the day in 587 B.C. that the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, and six centuries later on the same day, when the second temple was destroyed. Annually Tish'a b'Av is devoted to grieving "every terrible thing that happened in this world "(p. 6): Zion, Jerusalem, the Holocaust. Except for The Book of Job (see annotation in this database) and Lamentations, reading even the Torah, the most sacred text in all Judaism, is forbidden on this solemn day.

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Sloan-Kettering

Kovner, Abba

Last Updated: Jan-28-2003
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

Abba Kovner wrote these poems during and after his hospitalization at Sloan Kettering for throat cancer. His exile into the world of illness begins as he enters the hospital. "He fell asleep under strange skies" (p. 7) and in the hospital "the silence astounds on all / its many floors."(p. 11) [Throughout the book, Kovner refers to himself in the 3rd person.] He tries to pray: "Is there a prayer for one who prays like him / seething . . . " (p. 15) He decries "the infuriating confidence of the doctors." (p. 21) He celebrates the beauty and magnificence of New York. But then the bad news arrives: "When they told him they were going to cut away his vocal cords / entirely it was merely / a confirmation of what he already knew."(p. 31)

To the brisk, young hospital staff, he is just another patient, nothing but an "ancient shard”: "They could not imagine that this was a man / who had fought the world."(p. 36) Only Norma, the Puerto Rican night nurse, connects with him at a different, more human level. "He blushes / when Norma says: What a lovely / head of hair you have, sir!" (p. 88) As he prepares for the laryngectomy, images from the past invade his consciousness--Christmas Eve, 1941; the Vilna ghetto, where "the lice / got under your skin" (p. 68); and "a shoemaker, his name forgotten" (p. 74). The Holy Guests--the souls of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David--also visit the sick room.

After the surgery, the conspiracy of optimism brings him along, carries him forward: "What a healthy recovery, / they said. And patted him on the shoulder / with admiration: You’re doing fine. Wow!" (p. 85) But this is at best a voiceless recovery: "From the wreckage of his voice / there arose a bubble / a tiny bubble . . . " (p. 101) Eventually, the patient leaves the hospital, leaves New York, and arrives home: "Fearful from the moment of arrival: he / watches the landing that cannot / be avoided, into / the arms / of people who love him . . . " (p. 111) He settles into a routine, lives his life as if there is nothing new, but ends at "An Ending, Unfinished" (p. 126), back at Sloan Kettering. "Where now? He asked himself . . . " What next?

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Summary:

This collection is a wide-ranging view of physician poets writing not only about their professional roles, but about themselves and those around them as human beings. The anthology came about as a tribute to one of its major contributors, poet-physician Rita Iovino who spent many years of her life working with other physician writers and their creative natures.

All of the 29 contributors are physicians and the range of subject matter is broad. The collection is divided into subject matter clusters: Of Medical Matters; Of Love Matters; Of Family Matters; Of Natural Matters; Of Life and Death Matters; Of Philosophical Matters; Of Holy Matters; and two prose essays on the role of poetry in the lives of physicians.

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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Case Studies)

Summary:

Crossing Over presents "extended, richly detailed, multiperspectival case narratives" of 20 dying patients served by the Hospice of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania and the Palliative Care Service of Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal. These complex narratives (each written by a single author) reveal the patient’s story from many points of view, including those of family members and professional caregivers.

The authors explain how this project differs from recent books of clinical narratives by Timothy Quill (A Midwife Through the Dying Process, 1996), Ira Byock (Dying Well: The Prospect of Growth at the End of Life, 1997), and Michael Kearney (Mortally Wounded. Stories of Soul Pain, Death and Healing, 1996 [see entry in this database]). Barnard et al. point out that Quill, Byock, and Kearney are "passionate advocates for their own styles of care . . . Yet these very characteristics--advocacy and close personal involvement--limit their books in important respects." (p. 5) Basically, these authors select cases that illustrate the efficacy of their models and present the patients’ stories from their own point of view.

Crossing Over draws on a standard qualitative methodology that includes tape-recorded interviews of patients, families, and health care professionals; chart reviews; and participant observation. After the introduction, the narratives occupy 374 pages of text (almost 19 pages per patient). Part II of the book, entitled "Working with the Narratives," includes a short chapter on research methods and 29 pages of "Authors’ Comments and Questions for Discussion." The latter is designed to be used as a teaching guide.

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Out of the Bag

Heaney, Seamus

Last Updated: Aug-14-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poet conjures up the image of the doctor who delivered him and his siblings ("All of us came in Doctor Kerlin's bag"), the doctor who arrived at the house in his fur-lined coat and ascended to his mother's bedroom, and later came down and arranged the instruments in his bag (a "plump ark"), which by that point was otherwise empty. In the boy's fantasy, Doctor Kerlin's small eyes were "peepholes into a locked room," in which were strung "the little pendant infant parts / . . . neatly from a line up near the ceiling-- / a toe, a foot and shin, an arm, a cock."

On a visit to the ruined temple of Asclepius, the god of healing, the poet finds himself remembering Doctor Kerlin, and also the incident when, as an altar boy, he fainted during a procession at the healing shrine of Lourdes in 1956. Now many years later, he pulls up some tufts of grass from around the temple and sends them to friends suffering from cancer. He remembers entering the bedroom after Doctor Kerlin left, his mother on the bed asking, "And what do you think / Of the new wee baby the doctor brought for us all / When I was asleep?" [94 lines]

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Kaddish

Ginsberg, Allen

Last Updated: Aug-09-2001
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

Dedicated to the poet's mother, Naomi Ginsberg, the poem is a narration and a lament arising from Ginsberg's memories, three years after Naomi's death, of her life and of his life with her. This long poem is subdivided into 5 sections that address the dead woman directly.

The highly poetic Part I is a reflection on death, life ["all the accumulations of life, that wear us out" (p. 11)], mortality, the link between the dead and the living, the great unknown that lies beyond death--not in the abstract, but in the signs and symbols of Naomi's life/death and in the issues that remain for her son: "Now I've got to cut through--to talk to you / --as I didn't when you had a mouth." (p. 11)

Part II is a long narration of Naomi's life story, especially the history of her mental illness and of the role it imposed on Ginsberg himself. Ginsberg "was only 12" when he brought his mother to what was intended as a rest cure; instead, she became psychotic and was hospitalized, leaving Ginsberg with an everlasting sense of guilt. Separated from her husband, Naomi spent years of paranoia in chaos and institutionalization; son Allen vacillated between pity, disgust, escape in travel, and (homo)sexual exploration.

At the last meeting with his mother, in a mental hospital, she didn't recognize him. While living in San Francisco, two days after Naomi died, he received a letter from her: "Strange Prophesies anew! She wrote--'The key is in / the window, the key is in the sunlight at the window--I have / the key--Get married Allen don't take drugs . . . .' " (p. 31)

These passages give a vivid sense of mental disease and its impact on the family. Ginsberg is not self-pitying or self-indulgent in his description of the illness that laid siege to his mother's life and which so strongly influenced his own life for years. Modestly, he inserts: "I was in bughouse that year 8 months--my own visions unmentioned in this here Lament--" (p. 25)

The brief "Hymnn," is a blessing: "Blessed be you Naomi in Hospitals! Blessed be you Naomi in solitude! Blest be your triumph! . . . Blest be your last year's loneliness!" Part III (one page long) is a short recapitulation of Naomi's life, and uses her own cryptic words to try to make sense out of her life as well as of all life and death: "But that the key should be left behind--at the window . . . to the living . . . that can . . . look back see / Creation glistening backwards to the same grave . . . ." (p. 33)

Part IV, a chant, reaches beyond the personal to social history: "O mother / what have I left out"; (p. 34) "with your eyes of shock / with your eyes of lobotomy; " "farewell / with Communist party and a broken stocking"; "with your eyes of Czechoslovakia attacked by robots . . . ." (p. 35) Ending with the short part V, Ginsberg cries out to the shrieking crows circling in the sky above His mother's grave, "Lord Lord O Grinder of giant Beyonds my voice in a boundless / field in Sheol" (p.36) [Sheol is a Hebrew word meaning "the abode of death."]

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Felix Randal

Hopkins, Gerard Manley

Last Updated: May-07-2001
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Sonnet

Summary:

In this sonnet Hopkins reflects on the long illness and death of Felix Randal, the farrier. The poet watched this "big-boned and hardy-handsome" man decline, until he was broken by "some / fatal four disorders" and his "reason rambled . . . . " At first Randal had railed against his fate, but later, anointed by the poet-priest, he developed a "heavenlier heart" and "sweet reprieve."

The poet reflects on his role as a spiritual healer: "This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears." While the priestly tongue and touch refreshed Felix Randal in his illness, Randal's tears also touched the priest's heart, and so he is left with a sense of loss and mourning when the man dies.

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