Thursday, February 27, 2014

Being called to Calvary, being called to a new understanding.

1 Peter 4:10-11

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies - in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

I was called to Calvary, as surely as I was called to write my blog, for a multitude of reasons that I have still not fully understood. During my time here, my understanding has been slowly evolving. Little by little, I become aware of a new lesson learned, a new level of perception, and yet I am forced to acknowledge that I will never fully understand God's plan. This is hard for me, as I am a person who likes to analyze, and over analyze, everything. I like to know the why behind things, and I like to know the plan from beginning to end.

My job at Calvary Hospital came at the end of the months of unemployment spent home in Vermont, it is seeming to me like so many of my blogs, so many of my experiences on my faith journey, relate back to that period of time in some way. Which says to me that I am still learning how important that time was, it was a time to focus on faith, growing in my relationship with Christ, learning, and evolving, as well as being an important time with my family. I think I could easily write a dozen posts about what I learned during that time, but that is not my focus for this, back to the point!!

Calvary Hospital is different from any hospital I have ever experienced. The focus of Calvary Hospital is palliative care for end of life cancer patients. The hospital has an excellent reputation, and does a very good job within their specialty. I have never done palliative care or hospice care before, and was surprised that this job was offered to me with none of the usual interview process. There were a whole series of events surrounding this job offer that made me feel very sure that God was calling me to come here, although I could not fathom the reasons.

Initially, I struggled with the different mindset, and skill set, that was required for the day to day needs of palliative care nursing. Soon I was struggling with much more!! I have dealt with death and dying throughout my nursing career, every nurse had, but I was not prepared for the emotional implications of knowing that all of my patients were approaching their final days. Nor was I prepared for the impact of caring for end of life cancer patients when someone very close to me was actively battling cancer. It was evident, early on, that Calvary did an excellent job of managing the needs of their patients, and that their patients comfort was the priority. And yet....I took every death personally, I was use to doing everything possible to save patients, to extend life.

While they were infrequent, there were nights when we would have two patients on our floor pass, and on one occasion there were three in one night. I would find myself coming home from work and sobbing, or on occasion I would find tears streaking down my cheeks when I left the floor for my break. I frequently sent tearful and emotional messages to my Pastor back home in Vermont. I would say that God bestowed many gifts on that man, and that he probably had to draw on many of them during this time frame to help me through this emotionally charged period of my life!!

My Pastor came up with an excellent suggestion to help me deal with the emotional and spiritual drain I experienced with so much loss. He suggested that I have a private ceremony to say my goodbyes, to release the pain I was experiencing, to let go. He expressed it so much more clearly, he was more eloquent in his words, but this expresses the essence of what I took away from the conversation. He also suggested possibly incorporating elements of fire, air, water.

Since I was lucky enough to have an apartment on the water, I decided that the beach would be the perfect place for my ceremony. Every Sunday I would walk on the beach, say a prayer for patients who had passed on, and then I would throw a flower out onto the water for each patient who had passed that week, speaking each of their names as I threw a flower. The calm, the sense of peace, the relief that this simple ceremony brought was amazing!!!

After a period of a couple of months I had gradually become aware of my changing perception that these patients were going home, were being embraced and welcomed by God, and were beyond any suffering. I started to see their passing as their ultimate reward, I began to wonder why it had taken me so long to understand this. While I still would shed a few tears at their passing, there were times when I would have been very pressed to determine if they were tears of sorrow, joy or relief. I decided I no longer needed to have my ceremonies. I had finally come to a point of being able to care for patients as they passed without feeling such a personal drain.

What a mistake that was!! After a couple of weeks I noticed I was feeling down, was unhappy, something just wasn't right. I couldn't figure it out. I examined my feelings closely, and I was sure that it wasn't the passing of my patients that was making me feel this way. It took me a while to realize that, towards the end of my weekly ceremonies, my prayers had slowly started evolving. My prayers had become less about my patients and more about praying for God to provide their families with comfort, strength and peace as they dealt with the death of their loved ones. You see, in this setting, the families also become our patients. I immediately resumed my ceremonies, this time with the families as my focus, and the relief was instant!!

I suspect God brought me here for many reasons, the list of lessons and growth is long, but I suspect that very lesson is one of the most important ones. That grief is more about those of us left behind, missing our loved ones, wondering about the unknown, addressing our own faith and mortality, than it is about the ones who have passed. I also suspect I should have known this all along, I experienced a lot of loss at a relatively young age, but some of us learn more slowly. Maybe, just maybe, He knew I wouldn't start learning and understanding until I experienced a larger volume of loss in a short period of time.

Revelation 21:4

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.