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

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Sidebar: Katie Rottner Sings About “Broken Records”!

One of my readers sent me an email regarding my last post on helplessness and hopelessness.  She had actually written a song very relevant to the discussion and shared it with me and I wanted to pass it along. She shared some of her valuable insights as well.

“I wrote it because my stepmother was struggling quite a bit in her grief, following the loss of her mother. She expressed to me that she didn’t want to sound like “a broken record,” by talking about her mom’s death so often. But she just couldn’t stop thinking about it. My reflection was that this language of “broken” language is problematic. What if there isn’t anything wrong with the record at all — what if it’s repeating itself because what it’s saying is important?

Perhaps, like you wrote in your post, a grieving person just needs a different listening ear after a while, to help them process it?”

You can listen to her perform the song here on Bandcamp.

Thanks Katie!

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

The Bookshelf: “Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded?”, by Dwight Carlson

The relationship between body, mind and soul is one of the most complicated and least understood in the modern world. One reason is that while the three certainly seem distinguishable (at least to those who believe we have a soul) the boundaries are extremely hazy. Is depression a result of a chemical imbalance, a poor self-image, or guilt from personal sin? How you answer this question will be a reflection of not simply your faith but your worldview as well (and the answer is most probably “yes” to all three). Continue reading

Serving the Servers: How Chaplains Can Help Prevent Burnout

The Rev Daphne Preece (right) gives support to a member of staff. Photograph: Milton Keynes University hospital NHS foundation trust/The Guardian

Burnout is a common problem for those in helping professions, and while the word or term “burnout” may be used without much thought at times, it is a real problem with specific features. Maslach noted that the features of burnout are multifaceted, including  “emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment”. Since caregiver burnout was first described in the early ’70’s a great deal of material has been written in order to study its effects and possible ways to alleviate it. Because of their visible role in the workplaces where they serve, chaplains can become a resource to help their coworkers prevent burnout and provide staff support as well as indirectly provide better patient outcomes.

Continue reading

Joe Malm: 2 Things to Remember When Struggling With Grief

I came across the following short but insightful article on Relevant Magazine’s site. It highlights two basic observations that may seem obvious to some (the cyclic nature of grief and the importance of a social network), however the fact that it’s written at all shows the necessity to continue to educate and assist those grieving any sort of loss.

2 Things to Remember When Struggling With Grief

Joel Malm: March 5, 2018

Several years ago, a pastor who was a longtime mentor and friend of mine did some things that caused havoc in my family. Overnight we lost our church community. We felt totally betrayed. For weeks I was angry, then sad, then just depressed. I avoided interaction with people. I didn’t want to hear any Christian platitudes that just made me feel worse.

Continue reading

Words Fail

Starting out as a chaplain I was very concerned about what I might say and what counsel I could provide to others. As time went on I learned chaplaincy was more about listening than talking, and learned to silence my inner psychologist and problem-solver (or at least to keep that voice in my head, if not silenced). Then there are the times where words just fail. Continue reading

James Ford: The Zen of Letting Go Before You Die

La Pieta Rodanini, Michaelangelo

A short reading from James Ford, originally posted on Patheos’ Buddhist page: Continue reading

Assurance When You Aren’t So Sure: Chaplains, Funerals and Nonbelievers

Funerals are something that Chaplains are well acquainted with. I’ve attended and presided over more than I can count over the past ten years. These can be challenging for Chaplains as more often than not, we know very little about the person we are eulogizing. Many times we may know little more than a person’s religious background and the stories told about them by friends and family.

Chaplains are also occasionally called on to perform services for those who never believed, at least as far as we know. I’ve done a few of these services myself, and they can be challenging. Ministers who believe in the final, eternal punishment of the unrepentant sinner can feel torn when asked to perform a funeral for someone whose faith may be unknown, unclear, or even blatantly unbelieving. Typically at the funeral of a believer we comfort those who mourn with the assurance of heaven and salvation. How do we comfort those for whom that assurance is not so sure? Continue reading