By Kathleen Kaskel
I am the only daytime chaplain in a 300-bed trauma center, and I guard my own emotions in the workplace. One day in the week before my vacation, I had four cardiac arrests in progress (two died and I provided grief support to the families), a blood clot to the lung, a trauma alert for a 20-foot fall, a stroke alert, and an active heart attack. On another day in the same week, I had ten traumas. Take a breath.
A third day of that same week, I provided support to families in ICU along with five traumas and two strokes. On a fourth day, I had an infant cardiac arrest, a pediatric trauma, and an adult cardiac arrest simultaneously in the emergency department. Take a breath.
Various hospital departments, nurses, environmental workers, supervisors, or kitchen staff might approach me to share their personal and professional angst and struggles. I take a breath, knowing God is always with me.
In ancient Greece and Rome, the “dog days” were believed to be a time of drought, bad luck, and unrest, when dogs and men alike would be driven mad by the extreme heat. We are not in ancient times, but certainly the last year and a half has been filled with unrest. Since January, almost without exception, the ED where I work is at full capacity. Staff everywhere display signs of struggle on their faces and in their actions. I am witnessing deep suffering. Certainly, I am no exception, but I am trying to mitigate my own unrestful moments.
Among other actions for good self-care, the other night I looked forward to my 90-minute massage. Little did I anticipate an awareness coming from deep within. While on my stomach, I began to cry. I noticed that even the calves of my legs drank in the loving kindness of human, professional touch. My own storage of cumulative grief had planted among various muscles of my body and was throwing me off balance. Since I was face down, the therapist did not know I was crying. My body, it seems, was telling me that I had stored the pain of others, the cumulative grief in which I had participated. I felt like a vulnerable, wounded child who had been yearning for a reminder of unconditional love. And the therapist was doing her best to help this tension release.
Following my massage, my therapist and I had a heart-to-heart conversation about the challenges of this time. I shared the pain I have seen on the faces of so many people. She cried, I cried, and then we talked about the future. My mood transitioned from grief to new life and laughter, for life is filled with both.
When I was pregnant, I shared my whole day with my unborn child. Eventually, that life grew so large that when he moved, my body shifted, which amused me. However, the awkwardness of that large frontage and loss of balance after 40 weeks is why I believe God made that the ideal time for delivery – because who, in their right mind, would want to enter labor?!
The way I see it, Mother Earth herself has now entered what labor nurses call the transition period. We are no longer living the selfish age of me, myself, and I. The inner Spirit is birthing. As we look around our own inner or outer world, nothing feels right. Everything is painful. We are stretching and changing. We are moving through what once was into new understandings and changed patterns. There is no easy way through change. Grief is everywhere. I am reminded that there is no easy way to bring life into the world. It is bloody and painful. Many times, I feel overwhelmed.
How will I continue processing my own grief? What simple joys do I regularly need? Who can listen to me with unconditional love? There is such healing in being understood. I take a breath. God is with me always leading the Way and deepening my understanding of the chaos with which we are surrounded. Christ awaits.
Kathy Kaskel, BCC, is a staff chaplain at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton, PA.