So, when this week finishes, I will have finished my six month rotation at the children’s hospital I work at. And over these last couple days and next week, I will be transitioning to another unit for the last six months of the residency, which is the Neurology unit.
First things first: the grief. I am very sad to be leaving the Children’s Hospital, where I have learned and visited and been present in the NICU and Pediatric ICU, the Children’s Center and Clemen’s Wing. It is sad to be leaving a place that I had set my sights on since early in 2006 when I decided to get my Master’s for chaplaincy and set my mind towards chaplaincy. From that moment, I began a Masters degree and moved to Texas for this experience, which was well worth it. I will grieve the relationships with staff that I have shared, since they have been an incredibly affirming group and fun to work with! I will miss the likes of S and J, of M and L, of K and K (names protected for privacy) as well as J, Y, B, N, and all the others in the PICU, NICU, and Children’s Hospital. And I will grieve the opportunities to play, to risk, to love families that are broken and somehow communicate the loving presence of God.
My six months in a Children’s Hospital taught me a lot of things. First, I like to play, love to joke, love to be a kid once in a while. It is why I now look at my ministry not as a shepherd, but as the wise and intimate fool- or even as a wise clown or something like that. Second, visits can be significant whether I am visiting for 5 minutes and saying hi or dealing with issues of grief over 4 hours. Third, normal grief response varies greatly, which means one can expect anger (punching a wall or door), sadness, isolation (not wanting to talk), fear (silence, tears, shaking), denial or disbelief (rejecting doctors’ assessments or not accepting the reality of death), bargaining (if I am more faithful, God will heal…), desolation, desperation, feeling lost, feeling in pieces, becoming confrontational, anguished, sorrowful and doubting. And the key is that as a minister I need to be welcoming to all the responses, whether they are trusting or doubting, full of faith or full of fear because those are all normal and okay. Fourth, the bond of parents and children is immeasurable. I saw in those parents the distance I sometimes feel from my own, and cried along with parents because I was touched by that special intimacy. Fifth, the world can be both a tender place and a wretched capricious place. No matter how well parents or families try to manage life and risks, children get hurt and die fairly and unfairly, beautifully and brutally, silently and boisterously- and the constant is that even these innocent lives are not spared the tragedy this life brings. Sixth, tragedy and injustice often come together. I cannot even begin to talk about the amount of pain and anger I experienced in the present of children abused, beaten, neglected, drugged, raped, or abandoned by parents who raged against their kids, were drunk or high, felt smug in demeaning their child, or felt no love or care towards an innocent and helpless child. The need of Social Work and CPS is much more understood in these circumstances. Seventh, the little baby is a beautiful, precious, tender, and needy piece of creation. The smiles, the cries, the squirming, the opening of eyes- it is all amazing and beautiful and one learns to value those small things when seeing a baby who cannot do any of those things. But that baby is needy in its helplessness, and strikingly, knows to take care of its needs by crying out, something I have yet to learn very well. Eighth, rituals matter, no matter what Protestants or Churches of Christ may say. The baptism of a child where God’s presence is manifest in love and care, or the anointing of the sick for a dying child, or a liturgical prayer that brings comfort in the tradition and “sameness” when all else is failing, or the chanting of Scripture by a Hindu or Buddhist at the bedside inviting a peaceful atmosphere. Moments where God’s presence sneaks in through mystery and in the midst of pain, darkness, and fear. Ninth, dreams fall apart in the Children’s Hospital. Parents may not even be able to name those dreams they have, but whether they are with child in waiting to give birth or at the bedside of a child with a incurable skull fracture or with a child with the flu, they have dreams. And they are being shaken. Parents find their dreams for their children of health, of greatness, or playing with their kids in the yard, of building a treehouse, or watching them grow up and get married- they find these dreams being broken and challenged. Tenth, children’s care needs a multitude of disciplines: social workers, advocates, friends, playmates, patient rights, HIPPA policymakers, nurses, doctors, child life workers, directors, guardians, chaplains and parents. Sometimes I fill a role, and sometimes those roles aren’t filled. There are many more things but those are the most important. Last, I learned about myself too, and many more things than can be written here. But I learned that I somehow don’t remember my childhood, that I am torn by being dutiful and being creative, that I struggle with self criticism and not disappointing people, and that I am still trying to find the genuine inner freedom that is content in my own skin. I am still learning that “I am who I am and that’s all that I am.”
All told, it was a wonderful experience, a challenging experience, and one that left a teasing taste for me to look forward to, hopefully as a pediatric chaplain. But in transition as I grieve for one thing lost or passed, I look forward to another. In this case, the Neuro units.
What do I look forward to? Learning about the function of the mighty and still mysterious brain. Learning about patience with a patient who cannot speak clearly or quickly because of a stroke. Learning to be minister on my own without a staff chaplain in those units. Learning my own pace and style without the presence of another chaplain. Learning how the body is controlled, manipulated, and staged by the brain. Learning terms and names of brain issues and sicknesses. Learning more about myself, why I feel uncomfortable around neurology issues, who I want to be, learning how to be a good all around staff chaplain. Learning about the ministry skill of facilitating story telling and processing alternatives about what life looks like after brain issues, as well as envisioning future lives. Yes, there is lots to learn.
As always, it is a mixed transition, but one that should serve me well as I look back on August 31, when I am transitioning once again…