Getting a new job is a lot like getting a new car. At first you want to do everything right. So much so that when the salesman wants to charge you $350 for simonizing your car and adding undercarriage protection, you smile and tell him, “yeah, I guess I could use that.” Or when you go for your first service and the service manager wants you to buy the $425 Gold Star maintenance package, you say, “charge it.”
Years ago on the first day of my new job as a hospital chaplain, I was so anxious to please the staff that a urology resident could have asked my permission to practice his vasectomy techniques and I would have obliged. Therefore, I knew it was a bit out of character for me to refuse an assignment.
The chaplain always runs the grief group, ” my boss stated as fact.
“Not this one, I said.”
“But, the chaplain always….”
I can’t. My dad died two weeks ago, there is no way I can run a grief group. I need to join one, not lead one.
She acquiesced. . “I guess the social worker could run it until you think you are in shape to take it over.”
“Good plan,” I agreed.
Chaplains are supposed to be a bit more stable than that, but, hey, I had a lot of stuff.
In two months time, I had lost my father, adopted two children, started a new job where I was separated from my family for two months, changed my career and started this new one and I still hadn’t yet moved my family to this new state.
I was entitled to be a bit “whacked.” I was carrying a lot of baggage and the bags in my overhead bin had certainly shifted during flight. So, in conjunction with going to the grief group I decided to see a grief counselor.
“Let me tell you about a phone call I began.”
Something about this phone call was like waking up in a bad movie. It felt like I was being interrogated with a hose up my nose and a bright light in my face.
“I know where your mom is getting the syringes,” the caller began.
Good morning, dad.”
“You’re getting them from your hospital.”
I was use to these calls, but he was in rare form to call at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning. My father; not yet 65, had become rather paranoid in the last few years of his life.
She injects me while I am sleeping and you guys thought I wouldn’t find out.
I let him drone on because if I ever challenged him he would do something that was even more torturous – he would stop talking to me altogether. He had done it before -for six months and something about the accusations was easier to hear than the stone pitch of silence.
He finished his litany of accusations and I ended the phone call by telling him that I loved him and that I hoped he would have a nice day.
I could be sure that the next time that we talked he would not remember or really care about the needles. Most likely the next conversation would be about his dreams of becoming a Real Estate agent and being employed full time after his upcoming 65th birthday.
The disability payments he received from his heart problems would covert to SS at 65 and then there were no real restrictions on his working. He had been a man controlled by these entitlement checks he got every month. Were they helping him remain the person he was or where they helping him morph into something he loathed?
This was the same man who shooed away all the cows that would somehow infiltrate my room in the middle of my dreams. He was the same man who killed the garden snake that I was sure had to be a rattler.
Now all of his imagined terrors had come to life and his children were the only ones who could be there to hold his hand, to help him find his way back, and to show him love no matter what he showed us.
Do you always swear this much? he asked.
No, actually, I never swear. Only here.
Well, I see that our time is up. Maybe next time you won’t swear so much.
Maybe next time I’ll find someone without virgin ears.
Grief works it’s way out in many forms and people are almost always uncomfortable with it – even some professionals.
Sometimes the best efforts by people to comfort us from holding us or hugging us are actually non-verbals telling us to shut up because you are scaring everyone.
When you find someone who doesn’t scare easily and can listen and really hear your pain, you have found someone who can merge his own stream of pain with yours to form a cleansing river.
This anxiety I had to please my hospital staff may well be the pieces that constructed some of the same anxiety I had with my dad. If dad was not pleased, life could be difficult.