I slowed down writing after the intensive effort of the book, even in my own personal journals, as if the effort of actually getting a book all the way to publication was so exhaustive that there was nothing left to write.
I was glad when chaplaincy training started, and writing assignments were given as prompts to my spirit.
Still, it was hard to write, and this morning I realized why.
I was walking from my car in the parking garage to my office at the opposite end of the hospital, feeling the unusually warm air blow through my hair. This was significant, mostly because I actually have hair now. I realized this yesterday when the office secretary found my old chaplain badge from my first unit of study, back when I got life flighted with Kyrie to Cincinnati. There was almost no hair in that picture, as it was right after the second round of chemo.
Realizing that, and the hair I have now, helped me understand my hair really has grown back, albeit much thinner and finer.
Anyway, with my hair worn down today, I was enjoying the outside walk instead of going through the tunnels, and soaking in the sensory input of the warm winter morning before the ice-calypse arrives this weekend.
That’s how, right as I arrived at the hospital building itself, I realized that part of why I had struggled to write was because I wasn’t sure what the story was anymore.
I had so focused on writing the book, which is different than the discipline of writing such as I post here, and so considered the outlines of the next books, and our older children are getting old enough that I can’t just write anything I want about them, so our story has shifted.
It has also shifted because it’s not just about fostering anymore, and back to just my journaling rather than so many exciting adventures.
Nathan and I are okay with a little break from some adventures.
Realizing this was simply a shift, rather than a block, in writing, made it easier to come back without any pressure and just start writing. I am grateful, even if the meta-narrative on writing isn’t as exciting to read. I’m okay with that for now.
Starting fresh, then, would be about this very day, as I settle back into a journaling routine and just let words flow without all the formal writing. Who know it was such a separate process? Maybe Nathan and I have book-PTSD as much as we did medical-PTSD!
Today is Wednesday.
Wednesday is my class day in the chaplaincy residency program. Instead of doing rounds and visits in the hospital, we all gather in a classroom near the chapel and spend the day together. We take turns sharing verbatims from visitations we have done, or reflections on particular ministry experiences. These aren’t just about learning the mechanics of how to be a chaplain, but rather is a very intensive group therapy session about our own sense of self. Because it is our own selves that become the tool we have to use in our ministry, we work to increase self-awareness beyond just our own theology or background from our faith tradition. It’s very raw, very difficult, very emotional work, and often unpleasant, except for the healing that comes.
Today was my turn for a reflection, and I wrote about Kyrie and our experiences with her palliative care team. I wrote it before Christmas, but today was my turn to process my assignment with the class. It took two hours to get through it, and I cried, and shared about my faith tradition’s theology of suffering: how we see purpose in suffering, not that we want it, but our understanding that we cannot fully experience joy without also experiencing sorrow. It was very good for me, and very healing, and helped me process these personal issues so that when I am working in the hospital with families in similar circumstances, I will be able to offer compassion that is authentic but without interfering because of my own trauma with that experience.
Every day when I get off work, I rush to my car and race down the street to a different hospital, where I work until after midnight. I always call Nathan on the way if I can, to touch base with him and FaceTime with the children, but these are stolen moments that go far too quickly. It’s worth it, though, and holds us together if only in remembering we are priority to each other, no matter life circumstances.
My evening job is as a clinician, not a chaplain. My job is to assess people who come in to the ER for suicidal or homicidal ideation, or because of drug or alcohol use. I help them connect with community resources for outpatient followup somewhere, or do the work (which takes hours) of getting them in an inpatient facility for treatment. If they need that but do not want it, I have to put them on a psych hold for the court, which is even more paperwork. If they used so much that it is an overdose and they are not medically stable, or if they actually attempt suicide and so need to be hospitalized (gunshot wound, overdose, etc.), then I follow them in the hospital tower and monitor for safety while they are here. There are also other in-hospital things I can do, like if someone reports to a nurse that they are feeling anxious or depressed, then I can visit them and assess if they are safe or just need support; or if someone wants to refuse treatment then I may assess for capacity to see if they really are capable of refusing treatment or not; or other cases cause changes in mental status, like urinary tract infections can cause psychosis in the elderly, that sort of thing.
It is very busy, and very fast-paced, and my time on these shifts flies like anything, and I am grateful. I hate being away from home, but I love the work, and so I really appreciate being able to enjoy my work if I have to be away from home.
My chaplaincy work is Monday through Friday, plus one overnight a week (a twenty-four hour shift), plus a Sunday rotation (right now there are six of us chaplains, so I work every sixth Sunday). My clinician work is five nights a week, but I can pick which nights as long as I take every other weekend. That gives me date nights with Nathan, more Sundays I can be at church, and having afternoon church this year means I get to catch up on sleep after a week of working twenty hour days. Well, as much as a girl can sleep in with six children at home!
My chaplaincy work will finish soon. We are trying to decide when that is, but either in a few weeks or in May, we think. I want to be home with Kyrie as much as possible, even though Nathan takes her to preschool three mornings a week. But either way, I will finish chaplaincy about the same time the second graders get out of school for the summer, so that will be perfect. I will be able to be at home with them during the day, do our homeschool and other routines that we do during the summer, take them on field trips and all of that, but then go to work when it is time for supper and bed and not miss too much. That’s about as close to ideal as we are going to get, at least until more people buy books or someone will produce one of Nathan’s amazing musicals.
Then, in the fall, the house will be quiet in the daytime, and Nathan and I can write in the day while the children are at school, and then I can work in the evenings still.
I pretend as if our life has ever been that stable, as if we could ever predict even what tomorrow will bring.
We know nothing, that’s what we know.
Oh, and that I have hair again.