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
“Dying is very lonely”
“Helen” is an elderly woman who lives in one of the nicer nursing homes in my area. She had an extremely difficult life growing up, which caused her to deal with addiction and its after-effects for many years. While she has remained a staunch Catholic, the “big book” of Alcoholics Anonymous holds a place in her heart as well. Helen is quite crippled and is in bed most of the time. While this leaves her rather isolated, whenever she is up she becomes quite anxious and often asks to be put back in bed. She is in almost constant pain from arthritis, which aggravates her anxiety, which in turn aggravates her pain. However, she is remarkably pleasant to visit. She treasures her Catholic faith, watching Mass every day and often talking about her faith with me.
On a recent visit, as I was leaving, she called out “thank you so much for coming, dying is very lonely.” This statement struck my heart, as it’s the most direct someone has ever been about their own dying experience.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 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
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
CPE Verbatim: Avoiding the Unavoidable
I revisited an older verbatim that I wrote back in 2011. It’s interesting to go back and review older visits and interactions with the lens of history and experience. I don’t remember this particular case, but it reminds me of several other cases. I do remember that it was rather frustrating for me, which will be evident in the interaction. 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