By: Craig Dresang, CEO, Yolo Hospice & CWC
Long before Micah Murdock, 76, became a hospice chaplain in 2014, he had already enjoyed a storied life that allowed him to be everything from a Franciscan Friar to Janis Joplin’s roommate. “It’s the color in my life that keeps me connected to the Divine,” he says.
Before marrying his current husband of 17 years, Murdock was wedded to a woman for nearly two decades. Across the two marriages he has five children, more than a dozen grandchildren, and seven great grandkids. Prior to his work at Yolo Hospice, Murdock served in pastoral leadership positions for 30 years. He is the former director for Unity Worldwide Spiritual Institute and the former pastor of Unity in Vacaville.
Some of his most spirited tales, however, are from an earlier era when he lived with the late Janis Joplin in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. Joplin, an iconic musician and figure of the hippie and women’s liberation movements, was known as a ballsy, tough-talking young woman who liked to drink and be outrageous.
“I moved to San Francisco with a friend who knew people in Janice’s band (a little-known San Francisco psychedelic rock group called Big Brother and the Holding Company),” says Murdock. “When I had the chance to leave the Midwest, I packed my duffle bag, a pair of boots, a few hundred dollars . . . and I moved.”
Once Murdock was settled into his new flat with Janice and the band, he realized the bathroom was missing a door. “No one thought twice about having a bathroom with no door. There were just strings of beads hanging down in the doorway. Sometimes people would just come in and sit on the toilet to talk while I was taking a bath,” Murdock recalls.
“I remember Janice coming out of her room every morning, dressed in her favorite robe and sporting that big frizzy hair. Our living room became her rehearsal hall,” says Murdock. Music and laughter became hallmarks of Murdock’s new home. “She loved to laugh. She had a great sense of humor,” he says of Joplin.
Although the color of Murdock’s early years in California carried interesting shades of hippie, the path he was on would eventually lead him to complete a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Cincinnati as well as a Doctorate of Divinity from Agape Seminary.
Education made Murdock’s career path possible. In turn, his career provided meaning for his life’s work. “I grew up in Ohio. We believed in God, but I did not believe in myself or in my own worth,” Murdock says. “I was trained to believe that we all need to get back to God . . . that we have to straighten our ways and follow certain beliefs. But I later realized that I don’t need to get back to God because God is already in me and part of me. God never left and neither did I. I just needed to awaken to that truth.”
One of Murdock’s most memorable hospice experiences involves a UC-Davis professor who was suffering from late-stage Alzheimer’s Disease. “He was one of our early palliative care patients before he enrolled in hospice,” Murdock explains. “He was super smart and had such a warm inquisitive personality.”
It eventually became difficult for the former professor to talk, and he was terrified of the changes happening in his body. One day he told Murdock, “I don’t know if I am going to make it through all of this.” Murdock gently held his arm and replied, “You don’t need to worry about all of the changes to your body. We will do this together . . . one hour and one day at a time. I am here for you. I have you.” After that conversation, Murdock said his patient spoke mostly through eye contact. “I could tell that my presence and my assurance gave him a sense of peace.” The professor lived eight more months before he quietly died in a circle of love and support.
Murdock guides his patients through a process that allows them to uncover or rediscover their beliefs and values, and their hopes and fears. He frequently encourages patients to discuss who they really are and how they face their own illness and mortality. Through these conversations, the patient usually discovers the power they have in their own stories and in their own truths. “The truth will set you free,” says Murdock. “It’s an important lesson, especially in this tender time of life.”
“Too many people think they are separated from God because of something they did. I tell them to read Romans 8:38. It reminds us that, ‘nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God,‘” says Murdock.
Reflecting on his life as a former Franciscan Monk, Murdock closes our conversation with a gentle sigh of satisfaction for a life well lived, and a closing thought: “I think — I hope — Saint Francis would have appreciated my life. But now, it’s time to retire and to pray even more.”