Chaplaincy Today Isn’t Chaplaincy Yesterday: Chaplaincy in COVID-19

Dawn Malone, a lay chaplain for the archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, ministers to cancer patient Austin Bond, via video conference on Thursday, March 19, 2020 in Houston. Coronavirus has limited local chaplains the ability to minister to the sick or elderly. Chaplains have also been told not to minister to any group more than 10. Photo: Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Our CPSP chapter met by Zoom last evening and it was clear that we all needed to vent. The past few weeks have been quite tumultuous throughout the world, our country, our county and our workplaces. Where we would usually brought cases to discuss and receive feedback, we found ourselves becoming the cases to present. Many felt lost. One member who had just taken a new paid position was now told to stay home because she was in a high risk population. Another member was caring for an ill husband and struggled with the inability to do what he felt such a strong call to do. Another member was constantly bombarded with work calls during the meeting. One member, a Rabbi, spoke of trying to figure out how to have a Passover Seder via Zoom (which she called a “Zeder” – I laughed for about 5 minutes). Continue reading

Choice, or Lack Thereof: Lenten Reflections in a Pandemic

You have no idea how important this choice is (from The Stanley Parable)

I started a computer game last night that spoke to the times in an interesting way. No, not The Walking Dead or Plague, Inc.: it’s The Stanley Parable (and it’s free for a limited time as of this writing on Epic). Sure TWD and Plague, Inc. certainly share the paranoia and dread of today, but The Stanley Parable deals with something that has affected us all around the world, and that choice – and the lack thereof. Without giving too much away, TSP is game in which the isolated protagonist office worker Stanley discovers that he has suddenly stopped receiving directions from his boss. The parable that ensues makes you consider whether or not the choices you make are really your own and how much control do you have of the story being told – if there even is a story.

I’ve been very aware of choice over the past week, as have all of us I expect. We are all now much more limited in where we can go and what we can do. Some choices are made for us, like what stores are open, and others are made on our own. Others’ choices impact our own lives as well, from refusing to follow precautions to hoarding paper towels. The idea of choice and the lack thereof has impacted my life most significantly in my work as a hospice chaplain and bereavement counselor. Continue reading

Guest Post: In Defense of Selfies, by Dom Fuccillo

At the dawn of social media, friends sent me a lot of selfies and pet photos. Nice.  Now they add a few words to them or call, and I feel better in touch. You may have had a similar experience.

This presumed march from self to thou may teach us something about our field: the value of reaching out more thoroughly and often to colleagues and chaplains-in-training. This reaching out can be personal, as with maturing social media or mentoring in the old style of my generation; formal, as in speaking or writing; and strong or subtly persuading others to tell what they have learned or felt during chaplaincy. Continue reading

Trauma and Boundaries: Membranes, Walls and Drawbridges

I recently attended a conference on trauma and grief along with members of my CPSP chapter. The impetus for the event was the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which was where our group met where some members were leaders.

While it wasn’t discussed, I realized that one of the things that makes traumatic grief so painful is that those who are going through it are so vulnerable to continued pain. Our speaker talked about how triggering events, images and even sounds can bring trauma back to the surface even years after. Some participants found that even discussing traumatic grief was difficult for them in the context we were in and had to leave the room to gather themselves. Continue reading

The Dangerous Necessity of Hope

I had a request from one of the facilities we serve to visit one of their residents. This man had some tremendous losses in the past year. His wife, who had dementia, had died rather suddenly some months ago. He also had a stroke which affected his speech and mobility, requiring him to move in to the facility as well. I spoke with his daughter  before visiting and she spoke of how concerned she was for him, saying he had talked with his physical therapists about how depressed he was. Continue reading

The Political Chaplain

An image from the Arbor Day foundation: “A rotten inner core … can cause a split trunk. The wounds are too large to ever mend.”

I have a game at home called “We Didn’t Playtest This At All”. It’s a really fun game (to some at least) based on unique cards that people play during the game that change the rules of the game as it’s played. For example, one card simply says “You Win” and when you play that card, you win (but only if you’re a girl in one case). Unless someone has the card that allows them to make someone lose whenever that person just won (but they also lose). My favorite card though is called “Politics”. When you play that card you are told to say “everything is ruined!”, then all players turn in all their cards and pick new ones. Because, as we know, politics ruins everything. Continue reading

There’s No Wisdom to Share: Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Just over a week ago the calm of a quiet Jewish neighborhood on the fringe of Pittsburgh preparing for Shabbat was shattered by a gunman who entered a synagogue, shot eleven people, and wounded several others. I live in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, but when I heard the location of the shooting I went into a panic. Tree of Life synagogue, which had been attacked, is where my CPSP chapter routinely meets. Three members of our chapter are closely tied to that community in one way or another, and one is the Rabbinical leader of New Light Congregation which was beginning services at Tree of Life when the shooting started. Three members of his congregation were killed. Another member of our group, also a Rabbi, was shot as well. It took over a day to find out he had survived but was in critical condition. Continue reading

Moving Beyond Helplessness: An Update

I recently wrote a post about the difficulties of overcoming helplessness in grief and grieving. Since then I wanted to give a bit of an update not only on the case but on my CPSP group’s reaction to it when I presented it to them for feedback.

I had written about a woman who recently lost her husband and since then had become very depressed. She felt that everything good was gone in her life and that nothing could make it better. The only thing that could make things better was for her husband to come back, and she knew that wasn’t going to happen. She often told me that there was nothing I, or anyone else, could do for her. I described talking to her as feeling like I was putting the needle back into the groove of a skipping record. After several discussions, visits, and referrals for her I brought the case up to my CPSP group for feedback and at least a listening ear.

The first response I got after detailing the situation surprised me: “so how long are you going to do this?” Continue reading

Moving Beyond Helplessness

In my working with individuals who are struggling with their grief, one of the most difficult obstacles I’ve had is the sense of helplessness that sometimes accompanies grief. I made a call the other day to the wife of a past patient the other day, and she expressed her feelings this way: “You can’t help me.” She went on to talk about how she and her husband did absolutely everything together and how they planned on growing old together. Life without him was unimaginable. Now, two years after his death, every day feels worse than the day before. She has no picture of a future without him, feels unmoored and purposeless, and lacks a sense of her own identity. She has panic attacks and is very depressed most of the time. Worst of all though is her feeling that there’s nothing I or anyone else could do to help her. Continue reading

Self-Disclosure: How Much is Too Much?

A reader asked me a while ago about the appropriate use of self-disclosure and I thought that was a great topic to write about more in depth. It can be a touchy subject, as I expect we have all met those who engage in too much self-disclosure with those we support. To completely avoid self-disclosure though is to not use our most valuable and powerful tool, our own story. Continue reading