First Day of Chaplaincy

 June 4th

Chaplaincy has begun, on day one, and it’s already intense.  I am going to love chaplaincy and I’m going to be very afraid of it.  The responsibility looms – how do I minister to people in grief, in pain, in suffering, and not add to that grief or pain or suffering, inadvertently?  That is my biggest fear.  I’ve heard horror stories of chaplains saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, not noticing that they increased the pain instead of helping.  As we found out today, we are here to learn.  It was amazing to see the 4 others in my group, all of us of different faiths, one Catholic, one Lutheran, one Presbyterian, one Baptist, and me the all encompassing Unitarian Universalist.  I will definitely learn from all of them. 

We began the morning, after a wonderful breakfast of bagels, fruit, doughnuts ( I skipped those) and coffee with a spiritual practice to begin our time together.  How wonderful ritual is!  I am appreciating more and more the sacredness of ritual.   We blessed each other on our new journey and appreciated all the special gifts we each contribute.  Oh if only the rest of the world could be this kind to each other.  To appreciate and acknowledge that everyone has special talents and weaknesses, that will enrich the world with our unique combination of life experiences.  If only we could see each other in this way on a daily basis.  I hope I thrive here.  I hope I gain insight and love.

We toured one of the hospitals, we’re going to be picking our choice of units later this week, and we are eventually touring all of them.  I learned terms I hadn’t heard before.  Fetal demise.  We may be encountering fetal demise.  This campus deals with many births on a daily basis and some of them – even though it’s a small amount – will not end in joy.  And yet we are told, we will know what to say, the Divine will guide us.  I hope so.  I sincerely hope so.  We were shown the viewing room of the morgue, where the possibility exists that I will have to accompany a family to see a family member for the last time.  Hospitals seem to hold more grief than joy. 

And yet, there are staff members there who devote their entire lives to serving the sick and the grief-stricken.  We are there for them too.  I never took advantage of these services when my parents died, when my aunt died, when I saw friends in the hospital before they passed away.  I’m not sure if I just never knew  or – back in the day – I didn’t feel very spiritual.  There are chapels in hospitals and I think in the back of my mind I knew this, but I never visited there when I was in my own grief.

We are here to learn about ourselves, to gain insight into what our past experiences will contribute to assisting those in need, whether it is negatively or positively, I will learn about me.  I heed the warnings of issues that may come up for me regarding patients or colleagues and how I will deal with these emotions.  Quoting Bette Davis, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

But I’m up for it. May it be so.

From my little piece of Mayberry,

Jo

Preaching and My Cat

From April 12th

I haven’t written in a very long time, but I thought I would now.  I had an assignment in my preaching class this semester that I’ve decided to share.  It’s a small homage to Callie, my kitty who recently died.  I had to ask myself the other day, how do I talk about something that’s funny when I feel so sad?  I know that there will be days when I will not feel like being funny in a sermon, yet know that that is exactly what the congregation will need.  There will be days where I don’t want to even write a sermon.  Maybe I can come up with something that the congregation can do and then I won’t have to do it.  Hey that’s an idea!  Will there be days where I don’t want to be a preacher?  Will there be days where ministering will be the farthest thing from my mind?  I’m sure there will be and then maybe I can pull a Ferris Buehler day off.

 But for those days when I can’t, what is my solution? 

I went to visit Southern Ca last June to see my cousin’s son graduate from UC Irvine.  Firstly that made me feel …..really old.  They live in Texas and I had not seen him for years before he began attending the University and he towered a foot above my head.  We had a wonderful time, 5 cousins out of 30 actually gathered and it felt like a mini-reunion.  After a few days at this rented condo in Newport that we occupied visiting with each other, (my cousin really knows how to party), I made the trek up to LA to visit friends before returning home.  When I was there – in the company of one of my old congregational members where I had stayed before moving up to Berkeley, I received the news that my 14 year old orange Maine Coon cat had died.  I had thought he would have made it till my return but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.   It was ironic that I was in the place that we all last stayed before the great move.  And he died on what used to be my mom’s birthday.  I saw it as a sign, as his way of saying goodbye.

So life goes on.  I then made a trek back to Los Angeles during Fall break week, purely for recreational reasons this time.  Upon my return I discovered that my dear neighbor Anita, who had allowed me to bury little Sequel in her backyard, where he loved to jump and play, had passed away on Halloween.  She had so warmly welcomed me to the neighborhood when I first moved up here and had been so kind to me.  My immediate reaction and those of my friends in the area was,…….

I can’t seem to go to LA without someone close to me dying.  I thought to myself, I can’t go down there again,

who knows who’s next? 

The coincidence was rather unnerving.  Yet I knew in my rational brain that it had to be coincidence right? 

My last visit to LA was in February to take care of finalizing the eviction of the tenant who stopped paying rent and took my tuition money for next year in the process.  I came back and….

Nobody had died. 

No one was sick, no one was in the hospital, no one had had an accident.  Everyone was safe. 

That’s when I discovered through my High School Facebook page that my very first serious boyfriend in High School had passed away.  Now he lived in Missouri, and as I did more research and google work, I discovered he passed away 8 years ago. 

But I had never known that.

Oh my God I thought, now my radius is growing. 

I’m not just killing off people and pets in the Bay area, I’ve extended my reach to the Midwest.  It began to look grim for ever having a visit to LA again.  I’d have to just phone people or email them,  just to keep them safe. 

So that brings us up to the present day.  My 4th death of someone close to me has just occurred.  My dearly loved kitty of 16 years had to be put to sleep on Tuesday.  I didn’t want to write, I didn’t want to read, I didn’t want to study.  I just wanted to cry. 

I thought, but I didn’t go down to LA!  I didn’t even consider visiting! 

How could this happen?  She was 16 years old, and from talking to other folks I discovered that’s actually pretty old for a cat.  I had thought she’d live to 18, don’t ask me why, I guess I just decided that, as my brother had a cat live to 18 and I thought she was just as good as he was. 

I just never thought she would die. 

She had always been there.  I got her from the Burbank shelter when my beloved Willie disappeared and I waited a year for his return, checking the surrounding shelters, knowing he was still alive somewhere out there and he’d just lost his way or been kidnapped.  She was there to console me when the realization set in.  She was there to companion Sequel, the second orange cat I got. (What other name would I choose in Hollywood?) 

She was there when Sequel died last June and she was the rock, the constant, the taken for granted kitty that would never leave.  She was there. 

She was always there.

I learned a great lesson from her.  How to be present. 

Constantly. 

How to just be THERE.   She didn’t ask for much.  She wasn’t a snuggly animal, she rarely sat on my lap, would much rather actually sit on the other side of the room and watch me.  But she never knocked over vases of flowers and broke them like Sequel did.  She didn’t want to go outside and constantly make a break for it like Sequel did. 

She was content to be.  She ate

and she slept

and she played

and she was. 

Where do you look to learn lessons?  What little tiny things that happen day to day can teach you so much?  It doesn’t have to be a dire situation to learn a great truth from it.  Look around.  Open your eyes.  Help those you may not have seen before.  Watch and see and BE. 

I didn’t want to be funny today.  I didn’t want to have any sense of humor.  But what I’ve discovered is that there is a certain transcendence in humor.  There is a release, a gratification, a rising up of my spirit, when I can find the humor in the situations of my life.  What do you do to find the humor in the situations of your life? 

What do you do? 

There may be times when the only way to approach a dire situation will be through humor.  After some distance and after some reflection I now know I’ll know those times.  I look around my home and I think I see her.  I know her spirit is still there and I am content to feel that spirit.  She would not want me to spend weeks grieving.  I think she liked it when I was happy.  I think most people like it when I’m happy.  Now I can also know how ………..to just be. 

May it be so.