As we were sitting in our hospice team meeting yesterday, someone shared a story about how a Santa Claus brought comfort to a dying boy and how the boy died in his arms. See our hospice blog for the video and article.
As we were sitting in our hospice team meeting yesterday, someone shared a story about how a Santa Claus brought comfort to a dying boy and how the boy died in his arms. See our hospice blog for the video and article.
The biggest challenge of Tisha B’Av is working from the collective grief to finding the light that is promised in the midst of tragedy. The following is an article that discusses the need to travel through brokenness as a means of transforming ourselves.
The following is the first in a series of excerpts from Uri L’Tzedek’s “Rising in the Night: Compassion and Justice in a Time of Despair,” a collection of reflections, poems and calls to action intended to bring mindfulness and social justice to the experience of Tisha B’Av.
No one moulds us again out of earth and clay,
no one conjures our dust.
Praised be your name, no one.
For your sake
we shall flower.
we were, are, shall
the nothing-, the no one’s rose.
our pistil soul-bright,
with our stamen heaven-ravaged,
our corolla red
with the crimson word which we sang
over, O over
–“Psalm” by Paul Celan, trans. Michael HamburgerAll beginnings lack. One could say that the beginning of the story is in the paradise we lost, in the utopia we yearn for, “as in days of old” (Lamentations 5:21). But the story does not begin in that paradisiacal stasis. The story can only begin in the occasion of a break; it only begins with change.
Tisha B’Av is our beginning (and all beginnings are the beginning of the end).
Even G?d’s beginning commences with negation. G?d’s first act is not one of creation but of self-limitation, with tzimtzum. Isaac Luria’s greatest student, Hayyim Vital, writes in his Etz Hayyim,
When it arose in the singular will of G?d to create the cosmos … then, G?d negated G?d’s infinite self in the central point within, in the focus of the holy light, contracting this light, which receded to the sides surrounding the central point. There remained an opened space, an empty void… (Derush Adam Kadmon §2)
The point of origin is one of emptiness. The beginning of G?d’s creative activity is removal, withdrawal. G?d’s self-removal is the condition for the very possibility of there being anything at all. For there to be anything else, G?d’s infinite being must recede, must make space. If G?d, in transcendent perfection, were to persist in utter wholeness, then there could be no us, there could be no relationship, there could be no dialogue, there could be no-thing at all. Vital describes G?d’s motivation as stemming from the intense desire to bring benevolence to those who would come into being. The only means to bring presence is through absence.
All later iterations of destruction (churban), of rupture (shevirah) are repetitions of the initial absence. When we confront emptiness, our experience is not that nothing is there, rather that something is there no longer. Fullness is conditioned on that emptiness. To fill something up we first must empty it out. Tisha B’Av presents us with two themes, curling around each other, fitting perfectly together. The practices of the day model rituals of mourning, calling back in our collective memory for the loss we carry with us each day. “When Av arrives, we decrease our joy” (Babylonian Talmud Ta’anit 26b). We match our living to the consciousness we inherit. But it is precisely on Tisha B’Av, the day commemorating our lowest point, that redemption, repair, tikkun become most present. We cannot mend what has not been broken. We must delve into our brokenness to come to a place of healing. The story begins in destruction, in negation, but culminates in re-creation.
On Tisha B’Av (after Tisha B’Av, we are always after Tisha B’Av) we are left with ruins, the emptiness remains. We are left with what was, with the past as such. But what is a ruin? Anselm Kiefer, a contemporary German artist, whose work confronts his nation’s own ruinous history, is entranced by what has been destroyed.
What interests me is the transformation, not the monument. I don’t construct ruins, but I feel ruins are moments when things show themselves. A ruin is not a catastrophe. It is the moment when things can start again.
We cannot allow our confrontations with destruction, with catastrophe, with emptiness where there once was, paralyze us. The gap that is opened in rupture must also be an opening to possibility. The Maggid of Meziritsh, in his Maggid Devarav Le-Ya’akov, wrote that for anything to grow, it must always pass through ayin (nothingness). To be destroyed is to confront one’s very dissolution, but it is also to be open to what one can become. G?d, precisely due to being infinite (Eyn Sof, without limits), is No-thing (Ayin) at all, radical possibility.
This is the challenge with which we at Uri L’Tzedek present you, today. Delve deep into Tisha B’Av. This fast day is notorious for its occurrence during the most uncomfortable time of year. The three weeks cut into our summer fun, the heat of the day beats down on us, intensifying our enervation. But we must make sure that these experiences of suffering bring us understanding in what it means to be in pain, what it means to be lacking, what it means to be in need.
This volume presents the reader with a selection of essays, textual commentaries, and calls to action, sharing a common goal to prompt a new way of thinking about this most tragic of times and what we can draw from it. All true justice work entails transformation, both without, redeeming what has fallen, but also within. To change the world, we must change ourselves. We must not just acknowledge but be reshaped by the suffering we witness.
Poems replete with anguish and longing are central to the liturgy of Tisha B’Av, as we read scores of kinnot (lamentations) describing for the reader the stark reality of our people’s suffering. The key to a poem is to show, not tell. It brings the reader in tune with an experience otherwise lost. It can impart truths of experience, helping to bring us all to a place of real compassion, the true starting point of all justice work. The Hebrew word for compassion (rachamim) is drawn from the word for womb (rechem), an empty space within that is not a loss, but, as in the case of the Divine, the condition for the possibility of newness, of generation. We at Uri L’Tzedek hope that, on this Tisha B’Av, you do experience loss and lowness, absence and even pain, but that these moments of ache bring you to vulnerability, to compassion, and from there to a world of redemption.
This column is an excerpt from “Rising in the Night: Compassion and Justice in a Time of Despair,” a social justice Tisha B’Av Supplement published by Uri L’Tzedek. The title “Rising in the Night” alludes to one of the Book of Lamentations’ most striking lines, imploring the reader to, “Rise and cry out in the night … pour out our heart like water before the presence of the L-rd; lift up your hands to Him for the life of your children, those who are faint with hunger, at the opening of the streets” (Lamentations 2:19). The pain experienced during the most heightened moment of national despair becomes a compulsion to care for the vulnerable in one’s community.
This is the nexus promoted by “Rising in the Night.” Uri L’Tzedek seeks to connect the Jewish people’s communal narrative of destruction and promised redemption to issues of social justice, which resound in us today. The exile central to Tisha B’Av can make us more aware of today’s plague of human trafficking. The narrative of that most high city being brought low can make us more sensitive to more personal forms of despair, such as increasing incidents of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. All of these convergences and more are brought together in “Rising in the Night,” which will soon be available for download here.
I want to just wish everyone a happy holiday. May your Passover or Easter be one of much joy and spiritual renewal and growth.
I will be back to posting the beginning of next week.
This article discusses an often misunderstood element of life. If we don’t occasionally speak up about our own needs, then we are truly being selfless. Yet, without worrying about the self in some way, we are leading ourselves to burning out, thus further limiting the kindnesses we want to provide. From a Jewish perspective, this is a concept taught in Ethics of our Fathers: “if I am not for me, who will be for me. If I am only for me, then what am I.” We need to balance self and others when being kind.
The article below provides a Christian faith perspective.
People-of-Faith often struggle with making our needs known.
Telling someone what you need is almost universally awkward, but people-of-faith often struggle against the idea that telling others what they need runs counter to the call to be generous, selfless, and committed to working for the good of others. For Christians, this struggle is crystallized by the misapplication of John 3:30 that says, “He must increase while I must decrease,” but by no means have Christians cornered the market on misplaced guilt.
-Being Faithful AND a Person: A Possible Dream…-
The impetus to place another’s needs before one’s own is genuinely admirable, but doing it to the exclusion of meeting one’s own needs can lead to burnout or “compassion fatigue.” Worse still, for the person-of-faith, being irresponsibly selfless is one of the most common reasons I see people giving up on their religious faith. They can’t figure out how to be faithful and still be a person. It doesn’t help that pastors, family, and other members of one’s faith community often give advice that appears to suggest that you can’t, or shouldn’t, do both. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way, nor should it.
To be a unique and unrepeatable person made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27) means, at least in part, that God expects the needs he built into you to be met. Why? Because getting your needs met is what enables you to come fully alive and, as St. Irenaeus put it, “the glory of God is man, fully alive.” An artist is most likely to be praised for his work when his painting most perfectly reflects the subject he painted. An author is most likely to be praised when his writing most perfectly captures the imagination of the reader. And the Creator is most glorified when his creation is fully alive–which necessitates that his creation’s needs be met.
Making Your Needs Known: A Path to Loving Others
But responsibly making your needs known does more than help you glorify God in becoming your best. It’s also an important way you show your love for the person to whom you’re speaking your needs.
To love someone is to work for their good. When you tell someone your needs, you invite them to grow in ways they could never grow if you weren’t in their life.
God puts people in our life specifically to pull things out of us that couldn’t be brought out any other way; things that he wants us to examine, to change, to develop. When people trust me enough to tell me what they need–whether a spouse, or a child, or a friend–I work hard to see what they’ve communicated as an invitation from God to grow in ways he needs me to grow so that I could, ultimately, become the person he created meto be.
When we respond generously to the needs of another person (assuming that a particular request isn’t objectively immoral or personally demeaning), we’re actually saying, “yes” to an invitation God has written on that person’s heart; an invitation to grow in ways we never would if that person wasn’t in our life.
The same applies to you. Responsibly telling others what you need invites them to grow in ways that allow them to become the generous, loving, people God wants them to be. Refusing to state your needs is, in essence, refusing to extend God’s invitation to others to grow and change in ways that are important to God’s plan for their growth and development. Keeping your needs to yourself isn’t loving at all.
Responsibly Stating Your Needs: A How-To
Still, knowing that communicating your needs is a loving thing doesn’t give you the right to boss people around or act as if your needs must be met immediately upon request. You’re a person, not a potentate.
We do have a right to expect that someone who loves us will want to meet our needs, but we also we have an obligation to be considerate of others’ concerns as we work with them to get our needs met. It’s not merely expressing our needs that makes us selfish–it’s expressing those needs without regard for the common good (between ourselves and the other) that makes us selfish.
Theologians tell us that we humans find ourselves by making a sincere gift of ourselves. Of course we should find little ways every day that we could be a gift to be a gift to others, but along the way, make sure you’re also giving others a chance to be a gift to you.
To learn more about respectfully getting your needs met, check out God Help Me! These People are Driving Me Nuts. Making Peace with Difficult People (Popcak–Crossroads)
Woman with headache photo available from Shutterstock.
Gregory Popcak, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping people-of-faith find effective solutions to tough marriage, family, and personal problems.
The author of over a dozen popular books integrating solid theological insights and counseling psychology (including; For Better…FOREVER! , Holy Sex!, Parenting with Grace, Beyond the Birds and the Bees), Dr. Popcak directs a group pastoral tele-counseling practice that provides ongoing pastoral psychotherapy services to faithful couples, individuals and families around the world.
Together with his wife and co-author, Lisa Popcak, he hosts More2Life, Airing M-F, Noon-1pm Eastern (Tune in online or to podcasts at http://www.AveMariaRadio.net). A sought after public-speaker, Dr. Greg has been honored to address audiences across North America, Australia, and Hong Kong.
For more info on books, resources, and tele-counseling services visit http://www.CatholicCounselors.com.
Is one’s brain not our best companion in life? Perhaps, as this article indicates, our brains are limited to grasping onto that will help us survive. It is an interesting premise, one which has some great merit to it, especially when considering the challenges associated with trying to understand G-d or infinite existence. Even the smartest among us is limited because of physicality. This idea has its antecedents in the famous statement from Exodus, “no one can see my face and live.” For the finite to grasp the infinite becomes an impossibility. If we truly grasp that our minds are limited, I wonder if that would change our perspectives on the grandeur of mankind. Perhaps, this could be a good lesson in humility.
What If Our Brains Aren’t Good Enough?
How our brains themselves may prevent us from knowing things
I’ve always wanted to know the answers: What creates consciousness? How did the cosmos come to be? What happens when we die? Why are we here? From a certain perspective, my life has consisted of a series of investigations into ways of discovering the answers to these kinds of questions. In college, I became interested in philosophy. In medical school, I became fascinated by neurology and simultaneously began my experiment with Buddhism. I’ve learned a lot along the way and have settled at least the answer to the last question to my satisfaction (which, for interested readers, I detail in my forthcoming book The Undefeated Mind), but as to the others, a recent conversation with one of my brothers sparked an unhappy thought: perhaps our brains are built in such a way that they can’t even properly conceive the answers.
For these questions clearly do have answers. Consciousness arises somehow. Something happens to us when we die (our soul rushes off to some version of an afterlife, or gets reincarnated, or we enter oblivion, or something else no one has yet imagined), and the universe is here so it got its start in some fashion.
Or did it? That last issue perhaps demonstrates the potential problem best. Everything in our experience has a beginning and an end. In fact, our minds rebel at the notion of infinity—the notion that something could be timeless or eternal—because we have no real experience of it. We can say the universe has always existed, marching backward in time in our minds, but the idea that we could march backward forever—well, it’s like trying to imagine how many stars there are in the universe or how many neurons there are in our heads. We can represent the ideas with numbers but our metaphorically-minded minds that must think of all things in comparison to something else really can’t grasp it.
On the other hand, the other possibility—that something (meaning, our universe) came from nothing—is equally impossible for us to imagine, violating, as it does, what appears to us as a fundamental law of the universe itself. But what if the principle that something can’t arise from nothing isn’t a limitation inherent within the universe but only within our mind’s ability to conceive? Perhaps we’re limited in a way similar to the characters in Edwin Abbott’s book Flatland, who lived in a two-dimensional space and couldn’t conceive of three dimensions to save their lives, so that objects which moved in three dimensions and crossed their plane of existence seemed to appear from nowhere (something from nothing?). As Richard Dawkins discussed in his book The God Delusion, we evolved to interact with what he terms the Middle World. That is, we can neither see atoms with our naked eyes nor fathom the distance to even the nearest star, largely because, he argues, we don’t need to in order to survive. Though solid matter is largely composed of empty space, it feels solid to us because at the level of our interaction with them, it is.
In other words, as marvelous as our brains are, they’re principally constructed to help us survive and reproduce—not to answer the big questions. After all, understanding the great mysteries of the cosmos doesn’t demonstrably convey a survival advantage. The simple fact is that we may not have yet evolved enough brain power to be able to answer them at all.
To me, this is a depressing prospect. For though I may not need to understand the answers to the big questions to survive, or even to be happy, I also evolved to care about meaning, so I want to. But how can I—how can any of us—when in order to do so we likely need to be able to wrap our minds around ideas and experiences we’ve never had—and may in fact be incapable of having?
The principles of pure reason and mathematical truths may, as some believe, exist independent of our grasp of them, as principles for us to discover, or they may only be products of the way our minds work, accurately describing not only Dawkins’ “Middle World” but the worlds above and below it well enough for us to make wonderfully accurate predictions about them—but which may still fail to answer the big questions. (Already math and physics can describe things we find difficult, if not impossible, to conceive: how empty space can be curved by gravity, how parallel universes may exist, and so on.)
In Buddhism, there exists a principle that states the subjective wisdom of the Buddha is fused with objective reality, meaning in essence that we human beings are endowed with the capacity to perceive and conceive of the universe as it truly is. Despite the fact that many recent advances in psychology that tell us our brains and our thinking are chock full of biases of which we can become aware but which we can only sometimes escape, Buddhism argues we retain the capacity to realize the “ultimate truth” of things.
As far as I can tell, the form of this ultimate knowledge—enlightenment—is principally an emotional state, a sense or a feeling about what the truth is, accompanied by ideas expressible in language that can only ever capture the experience of it incompletely. The sense I have is that to become enlightened is to tap into a completely different way of knowing.
Or maybe not. Enlightenment could be nothing more (though this would be far from nothing!) than a supremely joyful state in which we feel all matter and life contained within the universe are one. Though Buddhism presumes the knowledge and wisdom one can gain from enlightenment actually reflects the truths about the cosmos, the skeptic in me recognizes this to be a first principle—meaning it’s unprovable. And the scientist in me recognizes that our brains—again, marvelous as they may be—may actually not be marvelous enough, and that the experience of enlightenment (a life-state that’s entirely reasonable to believe is possible given that many have reported experiencing it) doesn’t actually describe the way things are, but simply represents the most enviable life-state we can experience.
Then again, science may eventually become capable of testing ideas that enlightened people argue are true. I wonder, though, if that happens, whether only enlightened people will be able to understand the results.
If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to visit Dr. Lickerman’s home page, Happiness in this World
I have often argued that by the time social workers or chaplains are meeting families during hospice care, many of the troubles expressed by family members cannot be changed but can merely be heard. Of course, many are challenged by this thought, because we wish we could make it smoother and “fix” the problems. The reality is that most issues families fought about before will continue, unless directly related to the stress of loss. I came across a list of things therapy cannot cure, though therapy can provide alternative means to deal with particular difficulties a person is facing. As you will see below, these items are issues that will often come back during crisis moments.
I’ve extolled the virtues and benefits of psychotherapyfor years. But therapy isn’t a cure-all, and it won’t help every person, with every problem, in every situation. In fact, it’s important to realize when going to see a therapist isn’t likely to help your situation much, because it can save you time, money and needless frustration.
Therapists, by their nature, tend to want to help every person who comes through their door. Even well-meaning therapists may not fully appreciate when they are largely going to be ineffectual in treatment because of the type of problem presented. After all, psychotherapy isn’t some magical elixir. Talking about some topics simply won’t do much to help the situation.
Here are five things that psychotherapy won’t help you much with.
1. Your Personality.
While indeed personality disorders make up a good chunk of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the so-called DSM), they also got their own category within that reference book for a good reason — they’re really hard to change.
Personality disorders are typically more ingrained and therefore more difficult to change than most other mental disorders. After all, our personality — the way we relate to both ourselves and the world around us — starts in childhood and is shaped by decades’ worth of experiences, wisdom and learning. You can’t expect to undo decades of personality development in a few months’ worth of psychotherapy. (Years, maybe.)
While psychotherapy won’t likely cure you of a personality disorder or long-term personality trait, it can help mitigate some of the worst features of the problem, or reduce its intensity. For instance, while someone with narcissistic personality disorder may still go through life thinking they’re better than everyone else, they can learn to tone it down in their individual dealings with others so it becomes less of a social and work impediment. Introverted people will still be largely introverted, but they can learn to feel more relaxed and comfortable in social situations.
2. Your Childhood.
Sigmund Freud and many others of his era traced a lot of emotional health problems back to a person’s childhood. As much as we would like to try, however, we can’t go back and fix our lousy childhood. It is what it is — a piece of our history.
What you can fix in psychotherapy is how you interpret what happened in your childhood… And whether you choose to cling to those issues, or whether you can grow from them after obtaining insight into their significance. But therapy won’t cure you of your bad parents, rotten siblings, crumbling childhood home, or sketchy neighborhood where you grew up.
3. Half a Relationship.
It takes two to make a healthy relationship work — and to continue to grow and move forward after the relationship has hit a few rocks. Psychotherapy can help couples through those rocky parts, but only if both people agree to counseling with an open mind and a willingness to work on the relationship. This means both partners also have to be willing to undertake some changes (not just pay lip service to them).
While one half of a couple can go into counseling to work on relationship issues, it’s not going to be nearly as effective as having both halves in therapy. Therapy with only one side will usually only help that person to better cope with their partner’s problems or issues (this is more of a band-aid than a long-term fix). Or, worse, help that partner to decide whether the relationship is even working at all.
4. A Broken Heart.
Nearly all of us have gone through it — the feeling like your heart has just been ripped out of your chest and stomped upon. When love dies, it’s one of the worst feelings in the world. Sadly, it rarely ends after just a couple of days.
But talking to a therapist isn’t likely to help much with this issue. The end of a relationship is one of those really difficult times in almost everybody’s life where there are no shortcuts or quick solutions. Talking to a close friend, focusing on activities (even if you don’t feel like doing them), and immersing yourself in things that will keep you busy are your best bets, as time does its magic.
Therapy may help a person who gets “stuck” in ruminating over the details of the old relationship, even years after it’s over. If a person can’t move on, talking to a professional may help them understand the relationship better, and bring perspective to their life.
5. Losing Someone.
The proposal for the new revision of the DSM suggests that normal grief may become diagnosable as depression, but grief isn’t typically considered a mental illness in need of treatment. Despite the popular common wisdom of the “5 stages of grief,” the reality is that everyone grieves loss differently and uniquely.
Like in love, psychotherapy isn’t going to do much to help speed the natural processes of time and perspective. Grief needs space for remembrance and being with your thoughts of the person who’s passed away (in other words, grieving is best done when it’s done mindfully and with patience).
Therapy can help, however, a person who gets “stuck” in a life oriented toward grieving or a person who, even years later, still cannot get over the loss. But for most people, psychotherapy is both unnecessary and overkill for what is a normal process of life and living.* * *
Like an antidepressant or aspirin, psychotherapy isn’t a treatment that can be used for any challenge life throws at you. But even in many of the circumstances described above, there are exceptions when therapy might be a helpful alternative to consider. Understanding when it’s likely not a good use of your time, money or energy may help you avoid unnecessary treatment
This is an interesting synopsis of a study on what happens as our brains age.
As we get older, our cognitive abilities change, improving when we’re younger and declining as we age. Scientists posit a hierarchical structure within which these abilities are organized. There’s the “lowest” level – measured by specific tests, such as story memory or word memory; the second level, which groups various skills involved in a category of cognitive ability, such as memory, perceptual speed, or reasoning; and finally, the “general,” or G, factor, a sort of statistical aggregate of all the thinking abilities.
What happens to this structure as we age? That was the question Timothy A. Salthouse, Brown-Forman professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, investigated in a new study appearing in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science. His findings advance psychologists’ understanding of the complexities of the aging brain.
“There are three hypotheses about how this works,” says Salthouse. “One is that abilities become more strongly integrated with one another as we age.” That theory suggests the general factor influences cognitive aging the most. The second – based on the idea that connectivity among different brain regions lessens with age – “is almost the opposite: that the changes in cognitive abilities become more rather than less independent with age.” The third was Salthouse’s hypothesis: The structure remains constant throughout the aging process.
Using a sample of 1,490 healthy adults ages 18 to 89, Salthouse performed analyses of the scores on 16 tests of five cognitive abilities – vocabulary, reasoning, spatial relations, memory, and perceptual speed. The primary analyses were on the changes in the test scores across an interval of about two and a half years.
The findings confirmed Salthouse’s hunch: “The effects of aging on memory, on reasoning, on spatial relations, and so on are not necessarily constant. But the structure within which these changes are occurring does not seem to change as a function of age.” In normal, healthy people, “the direction and magnitude of change may be different” when we’re 18 or 88, he says. “But it appears that the qualitative nature of cognitive change remains the same throughout adulthood.”
The study could inform other research investigating “what allows some people to age more gracefully than others,” says Salthouse. That is, do people who stay mentally sharper maintain their ability structures better than those who become more forgetful or less agile at reasoning? And in the future, applying what we know about the structures of change could enhance “interventions that we think will improve cognitive functioning” at any age or stage of life.
There is a series on the Huffington Post’s website dedicated to Christian perspectives on end-of-life issues. The author is Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs. I have previously read and commented on some of the posts. Today, she published “Who Is In Control When Your Loved One Has Cancer?” One of the challenges faced by those during crisis is a sense of loss. In this piece, she examines a situation in which the terminally ill person wants certain control but her family wants to deny it from her.
What is a family member’s role in helping someone who has a terminal diagnosis? This question was recently put to me by a patient who is at odds with her family about how they can best help her as she struggles with facing her mortality while also wanting to live life as long as she can.
This patient, who I will call Susan, is frustrated by the way her extended family is acting in light of her prognosis. Susan said that she had told them that she did not want them discussing “her condition” behind her back and also wanted them to try to live their lives in as uninterrupted way as possible, even though they knew that she would most probably die sooner rather than later. She wanted to control how they were reacting to her.
Some members of her family and extended family were angry with Susan that she placed these parameters around her disease and how they were to discuss it. Were they “rightfully” angry?
Susan’s request may sound unusual and it may sound harsh, but in light of the fact that she is the one who is ill, she feels that she has the right to “control what she can.” As she said to me, “I can’t control my disease, but I can control how others react to it and to me.”
In reality, Susan can’t control what is happening in her body, so she needs to control what she can, and so she is trying to control how others handle her disease … at least as far as it concerns how they will deal with her. She wants them to maintain certain boundaries and control how they talk about her when she is not in the room. While her family members may choose not to do what she has asked them to do, Susan doesn’t want them talking about her behind her back. She doesn’t want them speculating on “how long” she has left or what anyone might have noticed about how her disease is being manifest. She wants to be the one to let them know what she wants them to know and when she want them to know it.
Before seeing the theological questions that come up when it comes to trying to maintain semblances of control, I want to discuss the challenges posed in a situation like the one above. Susan wants to maintain the only control she thinks she can have, namely, how people view what she is going through. It is, after all, her illness, regardless of the pain and suffering of her family and friends. As such, she feels that she should be able to express her wishes to them and have them respected wholeheartedly. The problem, unfortunately, is that she is trying to control other people’s emotions as a means of trying to control her own. She feels lost and probably believes that if she were able to somehow prevent others from dwelling on her dying, she will also be able to ignore the reality at hand.
Is this so wrong? In the “What Would Jesus Do” realm, what do you think Jesus would have done had Susan put these parameters on him? Would he have abided by her wishes? Would he have listened to her need to control what she could and honor that? Or would he have tried to get her family to counteract her wishes and find ways to talk with each other “behind her back” about her disease progression so that they could all be “on the same page” and know things that Susan didn’t want them to know? What is our responsibility to those we love when they ask us to do or not do something that impacts them directly in a way that they perceive is negative?
While I cannot speak directly to her questions, except for the last one, the need to reflect on these questions from a theological standpoint is important. If we believe that we must often take a secondary role when helping another in crisis (though not to neglect ourselves), then it is our responsibility to try an find a means to respect that person’s wishes. Yet, people do need the opportunity to discuss their concerns as well. Perhaps there are other means to work through the challenge in front of them through other modes of expression, like journalling.
One final point. I wonder if implicit in Susan’s words is a desire to be able to avoid seeing the pain that they are feeling. She doesn’t feel she can fight if she also is focused in on comforting her loved ones. It is common for people to attempt to be stoic for the sake of the perceived ability to avoid the sadnesses and traumas family inevitably face when a loved one is dying.
As a Jewish chaplain who has worked in various eldercare settings for the past 6 plus years (My first job began right after Thanksgiving six years ago), I feel the need to share about issues that face people during the challenging periods of life. Since I am an occasional blogger, having at various times kept two other blogs, I decided I need one blog dedicated entirely to this subject.
About this blog:
1. I will state at the outset that I cannot guarantee a post daily. However, my goal is to write something at least once a week.
2. The material will focus on:
3. I will post over the next few weeks some of the older posts from my other blogs so that they are kept in one place for future reference.
Please join me as we explore the deepness and fullness of life.