This past Saturday I was called for a difficult bereavement visit. RN James, an after hours hero, was serving faithfully while many of us were having fun or sleeping. He was doing the death visit for a 19 year-old man who died of CA to the bowels. It was unbelievably sad. When his sweet young brother, two older sisters and mother wept over their beloved, who can hold back the tears. We cried a river that night with the family as we lifted Joshua to God. Kids, teenagers and young adults aren't supposed to die!
Matthew [name changed for privacy] hid the pain in his stomach for awhile until he couldn't bear it any longer. He then ask his brother to take him to the hospital. The stage four CA was well entrenched by this time. It is very hard to understand the justice of cancers that often go undetected until it is too late for curative treatment, such as pancreatic cancer. It is sadden me greatly to know that Matthew might be alive today had he listened to his pain. That is one of our jobs as compassionate beings—to listen to people's pain and take it seriously. Sadly, it is tempting, and sometimes our culture even encourages us, to minimize or ignore pain in our lives. Especially if that pain is emotional, existential or spiritual. We ignore the pain in our lives at great peril! Only God knows if earlier detection and treatment would have saved or at least lengthen Matthew's life.
It takes courage to listen to the pain in our lives. Grief and loss—that is 10/10 pain in the emotional and spiritual world. Something interesting happens when we listen to the pain in our lives. We discover that grief surrounded by love is a bit easier to bear. In the grief journey, we can sink very deep and sometimes we may feel that we ourselves are dying. In fact, someone today had the courage to share a pain like this with me. We fear that if we keep feeling the pain in grief and loss that we might fall all the way down into the pit and never raise again. Yet, the "cancer" of emotional pain, grief, loss, or resentment does not have to take us out. The miraculous part of the grief journey is that by going into the depths, facing darkness—we move through it. In fact, journeying with grief, feeling pain is the way through. The sun starts to shine brighter in our lives, we feel more gratitude, we long to play like we did as children. In short, our lives expand through loss.
The Compassionate Life takes much courage, but it is worth it! The mindful reflection on the highs and lows of our experiences, in ministry, care-giving and the helping professions, is very helpful to our well-being (Hotchkiss, 2018; Montross-Thomas, 2016). Writing was my worst subject in school. Darn it! Those kind folks who encouraged me to talk and write about my experience were right on. There is science to support it now. With dyslexia, writing is a struggle for me and I am envious of folks who can share their thoughts and feelings in such a beautiful, natural way.
You are those folks! So share your stories of compassion, grief and joy. Our lives will be enriched.
Driving west from Pleasanton, California into Castro Valley, the sunset was a beautiful deep red even violent today. A passion sunset. I feel some warmth from above and shared some prayers for all who are hurting.
Grace and peace,
Hotchkiss, J. T. (2018). Mindful Self-Care and Secondary Traumatic Stress Mediate a Relationship Between Compassion Satisfaction and Burnout Risk Among Hospice Care Professionals. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. doi:10.1177/1049909118756657
Montross-Thomas, L. P., Scheiber, C., Meier, E. A., & Irwin, S. A. (2016). Personally Meaningful Rituals: A Way to Increase Compassion and Decrease Burnout among Hospice Staff and Volunteers. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 19(10).