Saturday, June 16, 2018

Grief

My uncle (my dad's brother) recently shared a photo of his brother, who died as a teenager in a logging accident.  When I was a child, I noticed that around this time of year, my grandma was always trying to make a lunch date with my dad.  My mom had to put the pieces together for me, explaining that Grandma tended to "check in" with all of her kids every June.  That always made sense to me, but I understand it differently as a mom.  My grandma buried 3 of her 8 children before she left this world.

I work in a place where death isn't necessarily a daily occurrence, but it certainly isn't rare.  Most of the death we deal with (in a rural, relatively low-acuity facility) is expected.  That doesn't mean it isn't hard, and no one is ever really prepared to lose a parent, but most of us expect that we will lose our parents.  No one expects to lose their child.  

The older individuals usually slip away slowly, often after years of health problems. When death comes to a child, or a young parent, etc., its usually sudden, and under traumatic circumstances: the car wreck everyone dreads, the suicide that shatters your heart, the freak asthma attack when meds are out of reach, the overdose that isn't necessarily a surprise but that you hoped would never come.  In those circumstances, a strange combination of empathy and distance is required. 

When those situations manifest themselves, I think about the deaths that have had the biggest impact on me. When I was almost 8, I was at a campout for all the first graders at the school with my mom (I was a second grader, but I had missed it the year before due to illness, so Mom let me tag along).  One of the second grade teachers showed up early that morning and told my mom that the Fayler kids were missing. Our next door neighbors had gone on an evening plane ride with their uncle, and didn't come back.  My brothers and I were good friends with the younger two, Angie and Jesse. Along with their uncle, who had piloted the plane, and their older sister, Sierra, they were missing for 10 days. I remember getting ready for school the last few mornings of the year, looking at Jesse's coat hanging in our closet and hoping he'd be back to get it. I sat on the swing in the yard with Michael, discussing how there was plenty of good water in those mountains, and even a few things that would be edible in the high mountain spring--we were sure they were going to be OK, probably just too injured to hike out.  After their bodies were found, I don't think Michael and I talked about them again.  

My brother--who tended to wear his heart on his sleeve as a child--had something of a meltdown when my mom tried to get him ready for the funeral. I remember sitting in the back of our van with one of our teachers--for the life of me I can't remember why she was with us--catching occasional glimpses of my brother throwing himself about and pulling away from my mom, as he protested through tears, and thinking how utterly unfixable it all was. The teacher, who I now realize was probably horribly uncomfortable and was just trying to pass the time, made painful small talk: "I didn't go to my first funeral til I was 26, so you're doing this a lot younger than I did." Does my friend dying make me more grown up somehow? Is that supposed to make me feel better? I was much harder on her as a hurt, angry second grader than I am as an adult.  What do you say to the silent 8 year old that you barely know who has lost her neighbors and friends, and is trying to be polite to you and pretend her twin brother doesn't appear to be a total train wreck about the situation? I can't tell you if he ended up going to the funeral; I honestly don't remember. I just remember sitting on the grass at the large memorial listening to my dad give a eulogy for my friend, and nothing made sense. 

When I was a freshmen in high school, one of my brothers' very good friends took his own life. It was the first and last time that a death made me feel physically ill. I was sick to my stomach, my head hurt, and everything felt a little wobbly at first.  Luke and I weren't really friends, but he was probably my favorite of my brothers' friends at the time: he was always ready to have a conversation, had a delightfully offbeat sense of humor, and always had an interesting way of looking at things. Our meandering, funny, and sometimes fascinating band room conversations were often a highlight of the school day. It was the first time a death made me angry in that way.  Part of me--a part of me I loathed in the moment--was so angry at him. I was mad at him for giving up, I was mad at him for making my brothers grieve, I was mad at him for altering reality.  I hated that I was mad, and I never told anyone, because I assumed it meant I was a terrible human being.  I received a strange and sweet assurance that he was OK (not the only time I would receive such an assurance related to a death), and the anger melted away, and I realized that most of my anger was anxiety over the fate of his broken heart. Once I knew he was OK, I was OK, too.

Losing my Grandma Lettie just as I became a "real adult" was expected and came with no anger or denial. Of anyone I have lost in my short life, her absence is the one that I have felt most often, that has loomed largest. I regularly get bouts of powerful homesickness for which there is no cure, because its her I miss. When things get hard, I want to curl up on her couch and listen to stories. Once in a while when I'm grocery shopping I'll buy something I almost never eat just for the sensory experience of feeling like I'm at Grandma's house for a minute.  My Grandma Elda was more than a decade younger than Grandma Lettie, so I was fortunate to have her in my life until I was 30, and she guided me with humor and love through most of my young mom years. When she died, I felt more prepared than I had when we lost Grandma Lettie, but just as full of grief. My grandmas raised their large families in the same small town, and there were many inter-family friendships in addition to my parents' marriage and family.  When Grandma Elda died, I somehow felt like I had not only lost her, but had lost Grandma Lettie all over again. I miss both of them terribly.  In all of my self-doubting moments of insecurity and self-deprecation, I never for a single moment in my life doubted my grandmothers' love.  Ever. Their love is powerful, and continues to bless me and make my heart ache for the separation, temporary though it may be.

When Conner died, it felt like the earth split under my feet. I was personally devastated, and on top of that felt helpless and even counterproductive.  When Katy called and told us he was gone, I got his brother and my two small children and placed them in bed between Doug and I, and snuggled up in a tangled mess with the four of them. I need to feel their warm bodies, see the peaceful rise and fall of their breath.  I got very little sleep that night, and for months afterward.  For all the San Joaquin Valley summer heat, the world felt very cold for a while. There was so much love and support in our world, and I could see it, and I could feel it, and for moments I'd feel good and the denial and hurt would melt away.  And then the three little kids would be playing together, as they did several days a week, and my heart would scream, "There are four!!!" and it would be all I could do to not go to pieces.

I carry these deaths, and others, with me.  They aren't something I dwell on, and some of them I may go years without thinking about at all, but they have all shaped the way I deal with loss, tragedy, and trauma. After a difficult loss at work recently, a coworker said that he thought he was doing pretty well, handling it fine, until the family showed up.  That's the hard part. Most people in healthcare will tell you that, when dealing with hands on care in a traumatic situation, there's a mode you go into--you are always acutely aware of the reality of the human soul on the stretcher, but you go through the algorithms and you apply the skills and you get through it. But when you turn to the family, to explain the actions you're taking or to tell them you can't do anything more, that's where the pain hits. And that's when that strange balance becomes so important. You remember your own griefs, you feel the vastness of their loss, and you empathize. That person needs to know, in that deep devastation, that you understand their pain and feel with them; but they also need you to remember that it isn't your tragedy.  They feel like the world has ended, and in a very real way, the world as they knew it has ended. Their entire reality has to shift, to one that is worse for them, with a new and deep grief that will never completely go away.  They need someone who understands all that, who can let that immense pain wash over them and not lose their own feet: to be a solid place in a moment of profound brokenness; someone who can, by their steadiness, remind them that life can go on, and that, eventually, they can be OK, while simultaneously making it OK for them to not be OK right now.

That's part of what it means to mourn with those that mourn.  We allow them to grieve, to break, to cry, scream, get angry (at you, at God, at the deceased, at themselves--it can take all kinds of turns), or feel like quitting, and we don't turn away or let go because it hurts or its heavy.  Most people will, at some point, suffer a loss that seems unfair or overwhelms them, and our responsibility as disciples of Christ is to grasp tightly to the iron rod with one hand and cling with all our might to those stumbling souls and not let go.  There are moments when hope seems impossible, and we need someone who can still see light on the horizon to promise us that its still there, without condemning us for not seeing it. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

A new New Year

This is a screen shot from a conversation I recently had with one of the physicians at our hospital. I can't share any more of it, though I wish I could.

The year started out rough. I work in a profession where dealing with pain, grief, and loss is a daily reality, but at the hospital we rang in the new year with some particularly miserable, devastating pains and losses, some of which hit very close to home.  In addition, we were dealing with some significant frustrations at home, trying to figure out a way forward with businesses and health and projects and all that.  My mom got quite sick and ended up in the hospital for a few days (she's doing much better).  So when I went to start a whole day of chores that was supposed to include about a dozen loads of laundry and my washer instantly flooded the floor, I didn't even try to deal with it. I was exhausted and worn out, so I just went and sat on my bed for about 15 minutes and cried.  Not about the washer, really (that's more likely to make me annoyed or angry), but more over feeling like everything was broken.

It passed. This last week, I was enjoying a shared moment of pure joy at 3am with some of my favorite coworkers, and I looked around the room and thought about how very fortunate I am.  There is never a night I look at the staffing and think, "Ugh."  Every single night, I'm happy to be working with whoever is there.  Our staff is small--we have about 11 nurses total who work night shift--so even one tense relationship could make work a lot more work, but we all enjoy working together.  It isn't uncommon to have weeks where we end up spending more waking hours with each other than with our families. And its hard to imagine any other group of people that would make that OK, but these people are some of my favorite humans. They care about their patients. They care about each other. They are incredibly fun to be around.

And it isn't just our nurses and aides.  When one of the losses hit us early in the year, our HR manager showed up with treats and breakfast stuffs early one Saturday morning.  She didn't have to do that; the hospital didn't buy those, she did, because she knew we were hurting, and she wanted to something. Cards and donations flowed from the staff to those most deeply affected.  It reminded me of a night when I was at the bedside of a critical patient, trying to mix an IV med and get blood infusing as well, and a doctor was right beside me, taking a set of vitals and helping me re-position a miserable patient. I wonder how many hospitalists know the CNAs by name?  How many hospitals do you think have an ER nurse who will occasionally grill for the whole staff at 3am out of the back of his truck (or have an ER doc who buys all the meat so that that BBQ can happen)?

I have lived in towns of various sizes, but I came from a small place--Doug tells me it isn't really a town, but a hamlet--and settled in small places, and always prefer them, because community is at the heart of everything I love. Its possible, of course, to form tight-knit communities in more populous places, but doing so in such places does present more challenges.  When I was visiting my mom, one of her colleagues showed up with dinner for that night--as various coworkers and friends had every night since she got sick.  There were--completely sincere--offers of help in others ways, as well.  Everyone knows her.  She is the sort of person who would rather not tell anyone she was feeling ill, much less advertise it, but her absence is impossible to miss, so help was never asked for, it simply arrived.  The teacher who had showed up during her own lunch break mentioned that she felt like thefts and vandalism and such happened less frequently in small towns, because its very difficult to depersonalize crime: even if you don't know this person directly, she's the aunt of a friend of yours, or the friend of aunt. You are connected in some way to nearly everyone around you. I agreed heartily, and pointed out that it also makes good much easier to do, because we feel that much more responsible to each other.

Be connected to the people around you.  Do what you can to create communities of support, respect, love, and service. January began with difficulty and tragedy, and in that I watched a community of people circling the wagons to buoy up members of that community who were hurting; it peaked with watching that same community comfort and attend to an individual who had no community of his own, giving him comfort and peace; and, as it sneaks away like a thief in the night, I have watched a community celebrate together, magnifying joy for current and expected blessings.  I needed to see all of that to be reminded that, whatever 2018 may bring, we will weather it just fine and find joy in the journey, because we are surrounded and supported by angels on both sides of the veil.

Bring it on.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

On that President Monson obit. . .

There's been a petition going around to attempt to pressure the NYT to present a different obituary for President Monson than the one they published last week.  I didn't sign it.

The NYT knows that many (if not most) LDS individuals don't see the world the way they do, and they made it pretty clear that they find that irritating.  Is it surprising to any one that the staff at the NYT finds LDS doctrinal positions on marriage and Priesthood problematic?  Protesting that they tried to reduce a man of tremendous charity and personal integrity to someone of no more significance or virtue than Fidel Castro will not change the way anyone at the NYT sees President Monson, or our doctrine.  Let that rest with them.

Is anything they said untrue?  In the face of public criticism, loud protest, and clear disdain from people of the mindset prevalent at places like the NYT, President Monson continued to declare and defend the Lord's doctrine, with kindness and respect, but without apology.

He is the one who told us
Dare to be a Mormon
Dare to stand alone
Dare to have a purpose firm
Dare to make it known.

Whatever their intentions, the NYT has paid our dear prophet the profound compliment of declaring to the world that he lived up to those words.  President Monson exemplified the standard of moral leadership revealed to another prophet, who was weathering persecution far more intense than a petulant literary swipe: "No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned."  That's the spirit we ought to respond in--that's the only spirit that can really change anything and move forward the work of Him who President Monson so boldly and humbly served.  Be bold, defend the Lord's doctrine in spite of those who would see it swept away.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Really This Time

Less than a dozen blog posts last year. Less than 3 dozen the two year previous to that. And probably a third of those have something to do with how I don't write enough or resolving that I'm going to write more.

A lot of that has to do with the pace I was maintaining much of that time.  I was in school for four years, and while nursing school isn't exactly med school, for an undergraduate degree it is intensive and time-consuming.  Add illnesses, injuries, adjustments to medications, juggling all the kids, and the hubs trying to get a business going, and there just aren't a lot of hours left anywhere in the week.

But the reality is, we make time for the things that we really want to do, don't we?  All the things listed above do in fact take a lot of time.  But I found time for other things. I haven't found time for writing, at least publicly.

If I'm being honest, a lot of that has to do with a severely reduced desire to share, which itself has myriad causes.  Being both shy and introverted by nature, it is not a natural thing for me to be an "open book", and while I worked really hard at coming across as open for other people's sake, I often failed at actually being open anywhere other than in my blog and at the pulpit.  But I did try very hard to be genuinely open with the most important people in my life.

Part of the reticence is just born out of shifting in how my hours are spent. I spend 36-48 hours a week at a job where I am "on" nearly the whole time, and then I still have to be "on" for my kids when I'm home and they're awake.  After all that time giving energy to other people, I don't feel like I have anything left over.  I very seldom socialize anymore, which I need to be better at making time and energy for, because I have a lot of really wonderful people in my life that I would like to get to know better or simply spend more time with.

I've also been disappointed, frustrated, and increasingly cynical, which has reinforced my natural inclination to withhold.  I've seen trusts broken, I've been surprised by people (which I almost never am) in negative ways;  there are relationships where I've given up making much effort, after feeling like massive amounts of effort I put in over years was not only unappreciated and unhelpful, but has felt counterproductive or dismissed.  I've had moments where I felt like, after years of putting myself out there--far more than I am naturally or easily inclined to do--the other person never actually saw me.  I figured out by the time I was a teenager that it is incredibly difficult to see someone as they see themselves, so much more to see them as they really are.  Most of the time we see a version of them filtered through a shadow our own presence and prejudices cast over them; but I have had enough experiences where I have had the blessing of seeing someone through the Lord's eyes, at least to some degree, or, with His help, could see them as they saw themselves, and I came to expect that the people I invested the most trust and time and effort in could see me that way.  In some cases, I felt like they had very little desire to even try.

I don't have any anger, or really even feel hurt by anyone.  I just want to retreat, I feel uninterested in giving more of myself, of exposing my thoughts or feelings, any more than is absolutely necessary.  I've seen the reduced rate of growth in myself, of which the retreat is a partial cause.  Generally, the Lord has had to nudge me out of my comfort zone a little bit in life in order to help me stretch and rise to the occasion.  I don't think he has in many areas the last few years, and I think its because He knows I haven't been up for the challenge (which is no one's fault but my own, and the fact that I haven't been pushed in a way that would make me feel like just quitting altogether is, as far as I'm concerned, simply further evidence of the Lord's tremendous mercy and love, however undeserving of it I may be).

But the fact is that 2017 was quite good to us.  Finishing school, changing the business plan again, getting to see Brad sealed to his sweet bride and become a father and a husband all at once, buying a house, and hundreds of little blessings in between.  There is more learning to obtain, more blessings to enjoy, and more blessings to give if I am willing to be more open and make time for the things the Lord expects me to do.  So I hope to see you here more often in 2018.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Know Thyself

The school year is off to a pretty good start for the kids. Keilana has been pretty busy with National Junior Honor Society, and came home today talking about needing to see ad space in the programs they sell at high school games; Dylan is on student council (yay!); and Kylie announced when she got home today that she has been chosen as one of the editors of their little newspaper.  Then this conversation happened at the table while the girls had an after school snack:

Keilana: "Did you pick editor as the job you wanted?" Kylie nodded. "I'm surprised, I would've thought you'd want to do photographer or interviewer or the puzzle page."

Kylie (with more than a little satisfaction): "I want to be in charge."

I'll give the girl this: she knows herself. But I wouldn't mind having her for a boss.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Choose Daily

I had a moment tonight that reminded me of a brief conversation I had about my work last year with another member of my faith.  She asked if I wanted to do OB, and I gave my standard answer: "Maybe at some point. Not right now." (I have my reasons, but they aren't relevant to this particular topic).  She smiled, and her mother-of-7 eyes lit up and she said, "I would love to be an OB nurse."  I responded, "OB can definitely be interesting," and proceeded to share what I thought was one of the more amusing experiences of my OB professor, dealing with a decidedly nontraditional family.  My acquaintance responded, with a rather stunned look on her face, "I guess what I'd actually love is to be an OB nurse during the millennium".

One of the difficult realities of healthcare that is that, in most contexts, you don't choose your patients.  You don't get to decide who needs your help and care, and often the same kinds of decisions that cause physical distress in individuals also cause chaos in their lives. Physical illness is often the least destructive kind of brokenness in people.  But you treat the combative schizophrenic, the ill-tempered (and noncompliant) alcoholic, and the prisoner who gives you the heebie-jeebies with the same respect and patience that you do the sweet old man whose heart is worn out from a long life of working hard and loving well.  For me, as a Christian and a Latter-day Saint, I see it as a sacred obligation to see in each of these people the same thing: a child of God, who is loved by Him and so should be loved by me, though the degree to which they've recognized and nurtured the Divine spark within may vary widely.

I think that applies to the rest of life.  Choose you this day whom ye will serve, and once you have chosen the Lord, you don't then get to start being picky.  Often, you don't get to choose which mortals you serve: you have covenanted with the Lord to lighten the loads of those he may put in your path, whoever may be bearing them.  You have promised to lift the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.  And guess what?  Hands that are hanging down are often unclean, and feeble knees are almost never pretty.

He reached out to prostitute and taught tax collectors--in a regime where they made our IRS agents look beloved. I guarantee you aren't too good for anyone he may put in your path.  Are you good enough? He has given you His love and asked you to share it.  The Atonement may be deeply personal, but it is not yours, and in brokenness there is hope.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Back on the Wagon

I have done no consistent writing for years now. I have journaled here and there, and had an occasional sporadic blog post.  I finally sat down and did some significant journaling a few months ago, and felt sane and level for the first time in a very long time. Because I live with a verbal processor, and I have so seldom had time to write, I convinced myself that talking through some of my thoughts was enough. It wasn't.  As I always have, I need to write. I need to write to empty my head, to process and organize my thoughts, to deal with my emotions.  And I really, really need to do a better job of recording my kids, and the Lord's hand in our lives.

To get my brain in the right mode, and my habits back on track, I decided to do a 30 day journaling challenge. We'll see how many days is actually takes me, if I finish it at all. But here goes.

The first task is to reintroduce myself. This seems simple enough, but its actually quite difficult for me, because I feel like in the busyness of school and work and callings and injuries and illnesses, the frenetic pace has caused me to let go of who I've always been trying to be.

A few months ago, I asked on Facebook what was unique about me, for a school assignment. An old friend from high school responded thus: "A fiercely analytical flower child. Emotions are valuable, vital even, but they don't circumvent knowledge or logic. You have an innate ability not just to separate the two, but to weigh them appropriately to the situation. . .Lots of people can bring a smile to the room, and lots of people know the right answers to the question, but few can manage it at the same time."  He coins this as having "an air of grounded whimsy".  That response saddened and delighted me at the same time.  I'm grateful to know that I have made that impression, but I haven't felt like that is who I've been lately.

So who am I?  I'm the girl with long hair and bare feet who loved sunshine on her face and wind in her hair and fields full of daisies, and did everything she could think of to radiate smiles and compliments to the people around her, desperate to make them feel loved.  I'm the young woman who knelt at an altar in a room full of strangers and trusted: trusted the Lord, trusted her new and forever companion, trusted her family.  I'm the mom who can't think of anything more delightful than a 2-year-old and somehow never quite feels like she has enough time with her kids, even on the days when she's had entirely too much of them.

I'm someone who wants to know and understand: principles, practical knowledge, people. And then I want to use that understanding to uplift and encourage and educate. When I'm tired I get very sarcastic and critical, and tremendously self-righteous when I'm angry or hurt.  I can be too sensitive, and I withdraw too easily.  I'm an outgoing introvert, who tries to people too much and then crashes.

Hopefully this month we'll work more on the details.