Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A latte and a peach scone always help...

me rebound when I'm extra tired, but the remedy hasn't kicked in yet and I'm feeling the effects of a long church year, a year which got particularly stressful in its final 6 weeks or so. Actually, it could be any kind of scone, doused with butter and gently warmed, but this morning it was peach.

"Rode hard and put away wet" is a phrase I probably picked up in my eastern Oregon days, when the Pendleton RoundUp was a major event in my life and those who did the riding hard and putting away wet were to be much maligned. This was no way to treat a horse and we were careful not to make that mistake (other mistakes, yes, just not that one).

In my last post I wrote about the five week stretch of time preparing for a marathon memorial service and how important it had been to do it right. I suggested at the time that there was a second idea embedded in that post that would be dealt with later, and here it is.

I'm writing about it now because last night, after arriving home from yet a third late gathering in a row, I got a message from a mutual friend that a woman I've known since I did her wedding three years ago, a woman who has battled lethal cancer for seven years, is in her last days and we need to meet to plan her funeral/memorial service.

There's a part of me that wants to scream at the universe "NO! This is one more tragic moment in time when I am required to put on my mask of professional distance and do what is needed for this woman and her family. Professional distance SUCKS!" And there is a grateful part of me that appreciates the professional distance mask and welcomes its ability to keep me somewhat insulated from grief.

Professional distance makes it possible, if not pleasant, to fulfill the duties of my work as pastor and priest, the one who comforts and consecrates the ceremonies of death. Professional distance makes it possible to bury/memorialize people whose lives and families I cherish. It's what our mentors hope we will cultivate, as ministers, in our relationships, so that it is easier to perform the duty of helping a community say goodbye to its beloveds.

I can grieve, but I must grieve in a way that does not frighten others or make them question my ability to lead them through the valley of sorrow. That often means that I postpone grief or I keep it inside or I sublimate it in some way. Or I get whiny, which I am doing right now, I guess.
Or, of course, there's always the latte and the scone.

That I can postpone grief or deal with it in other ways may be handy in a way, but I wonder about the longterm effects of doing this. I feel sometimes as though I have developed callouses on my heart, to keep me going in the tough times without giving in to the emotion that surrounds me. I have learned to blink back the tears, clear my throat, and keep going without missing a beat.

I'd guess most of us who work in the helping professions develop a certain facility at doing this. I know when I did my CPE (clinical pastoral education) in a Denver trauma center that there were code words that distanced us from too much emotion. We'd mention a patient's "circling the drain" instead of "about to die". I can't remember others, just that there were ways of keeping ourselves from feeling too deeply when we had work to do.

It's easy for resentment to creep in, too. I find myself battling irritation at people whose responses aren't what I think they should be----too controlling, not thankful enough, too demanding of my time, that sort of thing. Grief does funny things to people and others' grieving behaviors manage to push the buttons of my grieving behaviors, I guess.

Maybe that's all that's going on. Maybe I'll go get another latte. And maybe a blueberry scone.


Heather said...

In my experience, the latte & scone cure is a two-part pleasure. The immediate joy of sweetness and cream, with the balancing bitterness. There's a pause, and in an hour or so the caffeine kicks in, my mood lightens, and my body finds the energy to get going.

Thank you for the good work you do, both here on this blog and in your real-world ministry. I'll put an imaginary love-message-in-a-bottle in the Turnagain Arm today, and send it down the coast to Whidbey.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Heather. I didn't go get another latte---once the caffeine from the first one wore off, I took a two hour nap. That helps too. And I'll be looking for that imaginary bottle!