needs to mean more to me than just having to make another program for a memorial service or open up discussion at a support group.
as we bade 2013 farewell and welcomed 2014, there was an astonishing amount of loss in our facility. we lost many who have been with us for years and years. some of these were unexpected, others not so much. this is not new to us, but never have I made 4 programs in one month.
through it all i find that it is becoming very easy for me to comfort others effectively, and be someone to lean on, without feeling grief myself.
should this alarm me? does it mean i don’t actually care about these patients? many of my co-workers are desensitized to death and sickness. death for us is not just death but also a professional event, carrying paperwork and room changes and family relations and many, many tasks in the physical realm to distract us from the spiritual and emotional. it is easy for our work to become a just a job when we are concerned only for our paychecks or to finish things up so we can go home to tend to ourselves or our own loved ones.
i have concluded from experience that keeping a professional distance from my patients is healthy and necessary, but can be spiritually crippling if i allow it to extinguish my capacity for compassion.
still, i have met many professionals in the field who still cry with families when breaking bad news, or with the community when we lose someone. and i hope it’s not just histrionics.
in a field where the doors of life and death are perpetually swinging open and closed, i plead that the Lord would keep my heart soft and my spirit sensitive, that no matter my role, i may care in love and compassion and altruism.
now let’s take some notes from Jesus…
What does Jesus say about grieving and palliative care?
How does Jesus respond in times of grief?
When Lazarus died, Jesus reminded his devastated sisters to set their eyes on things above, and think of the eternal resurrection. He exhorted Martha to look further than the finite and present reality of life and death:
21-23 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
After speaking this life-giving truth, Jesus empathizes with Mary and feels her burden internally:
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.
And then he grieves too:
34-35 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
As always, what I like about Jesus is that he is full of love. He isn’t afraid to speak the truth to those who are grieving to first root them in eternal hope. I personally would be afraid to say what he said to Martha right off the bat— I would likely be barred by fear of appearing insensitive to her pain, which is very real. But after Jesus “ignores” Martha’s present feelings to turn her eyes to an eternal glory, he is then completely present with her, feeling her burdens deep in his spirit, and mourning with her. Then, because he loves Lazarus, he is moved to his own share of grief too, and weeps personally.
I can only pray that God would place His love in my heart for all the patients I work with.
(After this, Jesus prays and God raises Lazarus from the dead. WOOT! I believe this is amazing and wonderful and possible and happens under certain circumstances, but that is another story for another reflection.)
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
The shadow of death is perpetually present in my workplace. Although I do not walk in its valley, I often hold the hands of those who do. I am eager to help make this verse true, driving out fear and bringing in the comfort of the Lord’s shepherding whenever He gives me the privilege to do so.
25 I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Here, Job has lost everything, everyone hates him, and he expects to die soon. I like Job’s words of a simple yearning to see God in his suffering and his time lying in the shadow of death. I realize that the same yearning Job has on his deathbed is the one I have in wellness— for more of God. I don’t share the same beliefs as every patient in my non-denominational workplace, and as a professional I can’t talk about it with everyone (although I am blessed with many acceptable opportunities to do so). But one thing that helps on a personal level is that my belief that this is a common yearning that can unite me with the dying even though I do not stand in their valley.
in the near future i intend to post an entry on death and grief in the context of working with the poor and underserved. i am finding that here, death and sickness happen so often that they are treated simply as expected events of life. my patients move on from losing their friends extremely easily, sometimes hardly batting an eye. although i do think this is a blessing and a healthy paradigm of reality, i believe it is also an indicator of something missing— a hope for a greater and fuller life that is missing and should be longed for. thoughts to follow!