Fasting Toward a Fistfight

The kids noticed right away that my husband and I were not doing some of the things that we usually do every day, and were doing some new things instead. And yes, it was hard not to notice the cross of ashes on my forehead. Of course they asked why. I tried to explain why our church observes Lent, and why a lot of us choose to give up some things, and add new things, in our daily routines. “It’s making a sacrifice of something we like,” I told them, “to bring us closer to Jesus before we celebrate his resurrection at Easter.” It seemed an inadequate explanation, but it was the best I could do on the fly, as we rushed to get homework and violin practice done, before packing lunches and reading the next chapter of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets together at bedtime. By the next day, my Lenten disciplines were in a way bringing me closer to Jesus, but maybe even closer to punching a total stranger. Continue reading “Fasting Toward a Fistfight”

5. Get DNA Tested

(This post is part of my at-least-year-long series 40 New Things at 40.)

There are some things that still make me feel like I am living in the future. The fact that I can spit into a test tube and some scientist in a lab can use it to examine my DNA is one of those things. Last year, I got my test kit from 23 and Me, one of a few different options in the DNA testing market now. Full disclosure: I chose them because my husband gained a perfectly delightful cousin through DNA testing, whose story was so compelling that 23 and Me turned it into a promotional video (which was filmed on our wedding day, but cousin Jordan still managed to make it to the reception). I wondered if my own DNA results would reveal anything surprising about my ancestry. Continue reading “5. Get DNA Tested”

Extremis: A Netflix documentary on end of life issues

extremisThis week, a short documentary premiered on Netflix. In less than half an hour, Extremis follows several different patients and their families facing end of life decisions, as well as the doctors caring for them. These people were very brave in allowing the film crew to capture such intimate and heart wrenching moments. Everybody dies. We all know that on an intellectual level, but for most of us it doesn’t become real until we are faced with the undeniable fact that we or someone we love is dying. And with the medical technology available in 21st century hospitals, death can often be postponed. The documentary raises many questions, but perhaps the most crucial one is, What counts as life for you? Continue reading “Extremis: A Netflix documentary on end of life issues”

“I’m Sorry for Your Loss, and Congratulations.”

FullSizeRender 10On Tuesday morning, my boyfriend’s mother died. No warning, no easily determinable cause of death. She just up and died. He and his family were in shock. So I went with him to stay at his sister’s house, while the whole family tried to absorb this news and begin adjusting to their new normal. Time seemed to slow down. The grief in the house was palpable. On Wednesday morning, I sat with Will and his family around the kitchen table as his sister Ginny read us the obituary she was writing. And that evening, Will, his sisters, and their father spoke with the funeral director to plan their mother’s service. A few minutes later, Will invited me to take a walk with him down to the dock on Lake Murray, where he asked me to marry him.  Continue reading ““I’m Sorry for Your Loss, and Congratulations.””

R is for Ready

(This post is part of my continuing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

Not long ago, my boyfriend and I took his two sons to a local waterpark, on one of the Saturdays I didn’t have to work. It was a fun day, and I felt quite relaxed as we floated down the Lazy River on inner tubes. But just then, I heard a familiar beeping, and I wasn’t so relaxed anymore. It took me a moment to locate the source of the sound. It was not, as my mind had instantaneously concluded, coming from the pager I carry at work in the hospital. Rather one of the nearby water slides used a very similar tone to let the person working at the top of the slide know that it was safe to send the next rider down. Once I figured that out, I breathed a sigh of relief. Still, after nine years of responding to all kinds of emergency calls that begin with that sound, I had a Pavlovian response to it every single time, a small rush of adrenaline. Some subconscious part of my brain has learned that when I hear that sound, I have to immediately be ready for anything.  Continue reading “R is for Ready”

Looking for the Helpers

loveneverfailsIt’s been a week since Orlando. It’s been a year since Charleston. Anniversaries of tragedies can resurface all the feelings of shock, anger, and grief that we initially felt. The grief of public tragedies lately has been overwhelming for me. Through the combination of clinical depression, a deep sense of empathy, and a vivid imagination, I get stuck imagining myself over and over in the place of the victims when I hear the horror stories in the news. I had to stop listening for a while. But still again and again my mind returns to the Pulse nightclub a week ago, and Mother Emanuel AME church a year ago. The only thing that makes it bearable for me is to do what Fred Rogers said his mother taught him to do when he saw horrible things on the news: “Look for the helpers.”  Continue reading “Looking for the Helpers”

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?

Like millions of other people, I’ve spent the past few months obsessed with the soundtrack to the Broadway musical Hamilton. If you’re not familiar with the play, it dramatizes the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, telling the story through modern American musical styles. It is brilliant and funny and moving. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to it, and I still cry every time. Before he puts young Hamilton in charge of a battalion of soldiers to fight a crucial Revolutionary War battle, General George Washington sings words of paternal wisdom and caution: Continue reading “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”

Depression Doesn’t Care That You’re Happy

I’ve written quite a bit here about my experiences with depression. It’s something I’ve been dealing with for a long time now. And yet, some days it can still catch me off guard and knock me down before I know what’s happened. I’ve had a few of those days lately. It’s hard to explain to people who’ve never been depressed. If they notice that I seem down or if I tell them I’m sad, the first thing they ask is, “What happened?” And in most cases, that would be a reasonable question to ask. But in this case, in my case, there really is no reason. Or rather, the reason I’m depressed is that I have depression. Continue reading “Depression Doesn’t Care That You’re Happy”

What to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving (If You Have to Say Something)

Recently I shared on Facebook a great piece from BuzzFeed, “What You Say to Someone Who’s Grieving vs. What They Hear.” While I liked what it had to say about how our well-intentioned platitudes can actually be hurtful, some of my friends found it discouraging. Their (very valid) point was that there were no positive alternatives offered, nothing like, “Say this instead.” One friend suggested that, since I work with grieving people every day as a hospital chaplain, I should write a list of better things to say to them. I hesitated, because every situation and every grieving person is different, and I don’t want to give anyone the impression that there are magic words that will make the hurt go away. There just aren’t. But as I thought about it, I did come up with at least a few guidelines and suggestions for words that, in most cases, I believe will help more than they hurt. With a subject as messy as grief, that’s the best I can do. So, here we go. Continue reading “What to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving (If You Have to Say Something)”

M is for Morgue

(This post is part of my ongoing series ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy.)

The sign by the door reads “Decedent Affairs.” It’s a euphemism. Nobody whose loved one is being treated in the hospital, or who is actually a patient there, wants to see the word “Morgue” as they walk down the hallway. That’s the rationale, as I understand it. But the morgue is there. We all die sometime, whether or not we want to admit it, and a lot of us die in hospitals. When that happens, the morgue is where a body stays until it is picked up by the funeral home. Continue reading “M is for Morgue”