Wednesday, September 26, 2012

continuing bonds

In the first weekly didactic session (fancy word for education time) for CPE a hospital social worker came in to talk with us about Grief and Loss.  She is someone who works in palliative care and does a lot of grief counseling in that role. One of the valuable pieces of information for me in her lecture had to do with moving past the cliched "five stages" of grief, a model which has been considered a little outdated by people who study grief and loss for a while now but is still quite prevalent in popular culture.  I was aware that the stages weren't as universally accepted as they once were, but I didn't know what, if anything, had replaced them when preparing people for what to expect while grieving.

In our session we learned about the new model (1990s new, so not that new) by someone named William Worden that talks about grief as work - and there are tasks associated with that work that anyone who is grieving engages in. The work comes and goes, much like housework or any sort of domestic tasks, and we cycle through it with some days being more intense than others. I like this, and may write more about it later.

But the key thing I took away, the thing I am thinking about every day in and out of my work at the hospital has to do with getting rid of the idea of "closure" or "acceptance" as the final stage of grieving a loss. In fact, according to Worden's model, there is no final stage of grief because it isn't something that you complete. It is work you do, and unlike the idea of "stages" which imply progression and completion the work of grief is something that doesn't necessarily have to end, but is instead a new way of being in relationship with that which or whom has been lost.

Now, the social worker instructed us, we consider it more helpful to talk about "continuing bonds" with the person who has been lost. She spoke about the ways in which people commemorate their dead - marking the day of their death with a celebration, wearing a treasured piece of their jewelry, writing letters or having conversations with the loved one - all these are ways to continue in relationship with the one you have lost even though they are not physically present.

I haven't been able to stop thinking this idea and how it applies to so much more than death.

For example, much of what Open Adoption is about is creating a continuing bond between a first parent and child. I struggle with how to do this in ways that are healthy, honest, and good but it is essentially what I want for my kids - for them to weave the story of their first parents into their everyday lives in ways that are healthy and normalized for them, despite the loss of those first parents' as a physical daily presence.

Or, on another tack, I think about all the ways any of us work to keep parts of our past selves alive as we change and grow away from who we have been. The tattoo on my left arm is a way for me to keep a moment in my life - playing music with incredible friends - alive forever despite knowing when I got it that the opportunity to be in that sort of creative relationship with those women was someday going to end. The box of pictures from college that I can't yet make myself sort through and thin out is a similar bond with a time in my own life that has passed.

And yet another way I've been thinking about it is religion - thousands of years of rituals, belief systems, patterns of life and prayer that enable us to reach out to and maintain relationship with the Ultimate, that which no individual can physically touch or fully intellectually conceptualize but none the less much of humanity seeks and has sought after for all of the time our species has been. Religion is a powerful continuing bond - a way of coping with the loss of our God(s), the alone-ness of being a human being in the world. For my faith tradition the story of Adam and Eve is a way of describing that primal Loss - and all of our faith and belief and ritual since has been a way to continue relationship with a God who no longer meets us to walk in the garden as the sun is setting.

What do you do to continue your bonds with that which you have lost?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

now for something a little different...

I haven't ever really gotten out of the habit of using this blog primarily for reflections on my life as a mom, although I meant to after J's adoption was finalized and I no longer needed it primarily to vent and reflect about the adoption process itself. This isn't a bad thing - I have a lot of outlets for processing many parts of my life and this is less true with some of the stuff I choose to reflect on here.  My life as a grad student/consultant/seminarian is FULL of reflection papers, peer discussion groups, and one-on-ones with mentors, so it's no wonder that I don't feel a big need to blog about all that here.  It also occurs to me that most of you out there who read this, especially those of you who don't know me in "real life," don't read here for a detailed description of what I'm thinking about models of congregational development, reflections on the book I just read on liturgical theology and practice, or even the very interesting paper I got to write recently on a cool mash-up between Soren Kierkegaard and the Christology of Godly Play. Which is fine. I like you just the way you are.

I'm about to start a new adventure that may be different, though. One of the rites of passage for almost any person seeking ordination in a mainline church (think Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.) is a unit of what is called CPE. This stands for Clinical Pastoral Education, and it is basically an internship in some sort of "clinical" setting.  People who do lots of units of it eventually become chaplains in hospitals, nursing homes, or other places where people with severe medical or mental issues get care.  The focus of the program is on something called "pastoral care," which is the ability to care for someone's spiritual needs one on one, especially during critical moments in human life - birth, death and severe crisis being some of those critical moments.

Of course there's only one place I even really considered for my CPE site - Andrew's hospital, where he works as a Respiratory Therapist.  It is both the county hospital and the only level one trauma center for our state and three others. It contains the only involuntary commital psych unit in the state. And tomorrow when the pager goes off because someone is in urgent need of spiritual care I am going to be the person tasked with providing that care.

I am equal parts excited and nervous. I know that the next 20 weeks are going to change me - I want this to happen - and I feel ready to begin.  I have no idea what it will really be like to hold that sort of responsibility and if it will be something that I'll want to blog about as I do it. But if I do, I'll do it here.

And if I disappear for the next 20 weeks well - you'll have some idea why.

Time for bed. Report is at 8am tomorrow.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

one year ago today

our sweet baby S, 22 days old.
One year ago today I woke up in a hotel room in Atlanta, GA after just a few hours of restless sleep and got into a car with my husband and 22 month old daughter for our last ride together as a family of three.  When we got back to our hotel that night there was a new somebody with us and a new chapter of our lives was underway.

The only pictures we have from that day are cell phone shots, and all four of us look pretty shell-shocked. I remember Andrew driving us back from baby S's receiving home, me wedged between the girls' carseats with one hand on a very confused J who obviously thought we had kidnapped somebody else's baby and the other stroking my new child's soft infant face as she slept. I was full of big and indescribable thoughts. I wasn't sure how we were going to do it, two babies and everything else in the big life we had planned.

Now, one year later, we do have a busy crazy life.  My girls shriek and sing together and make each other laugh and cry both multiple times every day. I'm really tired sometimes. Okay, a lot of the time. But life is incredibly good. There are adventures around every corner and many friends to share them with.
you've come a long way, baby.