For the last few weeks (since Jan 7th, with a couple exceptions), I’ve been co-facilitating a bereavement group with another chaplain at the hospital. It’s given me a way to focus on my role as a chaplain that allows me to feel that my grad school wasn’t a waste (which sometimes it can when I’m spending my days being an empathetic ear and not engaging all my abilities or visions as a religious leader). My manager is an open minded and compassionate hearted man who was happy to give me the power to set this group up, gave me the materials from groups at another hospital, and let me run with it. I updated the materials, reached out to people who had recently lost loved ones in our hospital, and asked Chaplain T to join me as a co-facilitator (she’d been dropping heavy hints of her interest).
The second week, we had a solid group of four women who gelled really well. The other 6 who had RSVPed had various needs to address, and it was really a gift to have a smaller group for the trial run. We sang, prayed, meditated, wrote letters, and are planning to collage for our last meeting. I love small group ministry.
Then, Baba died. The provost of my school who lead the immersion class in Turkey that opened my mystical heart up to knowing God loved me more than I’d ever experienced before. His own heart arrested several times and he was in the hospital for nearly a month before his physical body died.
Separated from the community of people who know and love Baba as I do, away from the school filled with mourners. I’d compartmentalized his hospitalization, only crying a few times. The morning after Baba died, a dear and insightful friend called and told me her spare room was available if I needed to just get in my car and drive.
Amazingly, I had the ability to get my cat to my sister’s and pack clothing for the week.
I was supposed to go to a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) meeting to give feedback on the first two units (6 months! what?!) of this residency. I told my supervisor I was running late trying to get things together to go to Berkeley for a death, and she told me to take my time and be safe. Once I finally got to the hospital, Father M asked me how I was doing and I broke down for the first time since I read the news of Baba’s death.
Father M took me to a private room and talked and prayed with me, got my site manager and they assured me it was okay if I just left after I was breathing normally and rehydrated. What kind of job do I have that I’m able to just leave like that? I’m growing more and more grateful for the slower pace of my smaller community hospital, and less jealous of the trauma hospital chaplains who don’t get enough sleep.
I spend Tuesday night-Saturday morning in community that didn’t need any explaining as to why I was adrift. We were all lost in grief together, crying, reminiscing, laughing, praying. I needed it.
I came back to the hospital Monday morning, not really connected to the work, but trying. Thursday, the bereavement group met and I told them I was in the beginning of my own grief. I was careful not to use the group as my support when I updated them and started using parts of my own story while we went over the materials–it’s a difficult balance to strike.
I’m still in a transitionary stage of life–about to graduate from seminary (no more class requirements as of Dec 2015!), finishing CPE, looking for a job, in a new relationship, applying to the Army Chaplain Candidate Program after the Navy said that while I’m not yet ordained my MDiv stops me from qualifying as a Candidate with them and I need another year of ministry plus ordination and endorsement to be a Chaplain with them (the Army allows Candidates with at least a year til ordination).
I have no idea where I will be this time next year (again). Exciting, terrifying, and something I just have to do. No amount of list making, reasoning, or planning will make it clearer. I live on Mariposa Avenue, and I really feel like I’m turning to goo in a chrysalis sometimes. I have deep love and gratitude for my workplace and my support networks.
Blessings and compassion to you.