It had taken me a long time to get through Frank’s* door. He had cared for his brother at his home until his symptoms became unmanageable and he had to go to a skilled nursing facility. He wasn’t on service for long though, as after his admission he died within a short time. Prior to this, we hadn’t had much contact with Frank. He wasn’t making medical decisions for his brother, and he often came across as gruff and reserved over the phone. He had declined a chaplain for support as well as our social worker. However, after the death our staff raised concerns about Frank, given how close he and his brother were and his own health problems.Continue reading
Choice, or Lack Thereof: Lenten Reflections in a Pandemic
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
Mental Health and Worship: Relating Faith and Psychology Part 3
Last time I wrote about practical ways in which churches can work to address the concrete needs of those affected by mental illness and emotional distress in their congregations. That frankly is something that is not too difficult or controversial. The more difficult task for clergy is how to address mental health during the service. Here as well I think a holistic approach is best and necessary. Every aspect of the service, from choice of music to sermon, can and should speak to these issues. Continue reading
Mental Health and Your Congregation: Relating Faith and Psychology Part 2
Previously I wrote concerning the importance of faith communities as well as professional support in addressing mental health in our congregations. I advocated using a holistic approach, addressing the spiritual, emotional, physical and social aspects of the whole person. Today I am going to look at practical ways that churches can do that. 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 Art of Ending Well: Grief, Grieving and Avengers: Endgame
Before I start, I don’t think I can get two sentences in to this subject without mentioning massive spoilers for Avengers: Endgame, so if you don’t want them read this after you’ve watched the film. I also assume you’ve seen Avengers: Infinity War, so you may as well watch that too. Heck just go watch all 22 movies. I’ll wait. 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
There’s No Wisdom to Share: Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting
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
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 friend 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.
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