Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Walking with Life and Death

Everyone told me that Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE here on out) would transform me. I have only begun to touch the surface of that I think. I had my first on-call shift last night and was up most of the night with families. My daylight hours were mostly spent bolstering hope, praying with families, and finding supports and answers, even in the face of dreaded news.

The nighttime is when I walked with death though. Most of the night was spent honoring those that had passed on to the next part of their journey, comforting their grieving families and being present to the losses that we face in the darkest hours before dawn.

After an exhausting night, we presented verbatims, and I am so grateful to our amazing and subtle supervisor. He has a gift for bringing out the gifts that are inherent in our growing edges. The opportunities that we have are what he sees in every interaction, not to dwell on what could have been, but how to become more present, honor the sacred, and enhance our self awareness in every interaction.

On my way home, I had more time to reflect on my relationship with death, which has up till now been one of awareness but avoidant fascination. Last night I walked with that personification of death, felt its breath, watched its hand fall on three people, felt the awesome fragility of the veil between living and dying, between breathing, and the cessation of breath.  I witnessed the awesome power of our human technology and its ability to bar death from entering, but only temporarily. I also felt the simple and profound power of prayer - something that I do not formally do very often, but what was what was needed in many moments. Prayer brought comfort and peace, hope and faith, to those whose path I journeyed with for a time yesterday.

CPE is transforming, mostly in the sense that it forces me to tear down the very last walls that protect me from the reality of the fragility of life, and the distances we go to hold on as hard and long as we can. It is really a gift of gratitude and humility. Death is good at teaching humility. It is indifferent, but not cold. I will learn to walk with her, so that when she touches me more closely, I can hopefully understand her a little better. And when I walk with healing and light, I can respect her decision to wait, just a little longer.

4 comments:

ms. kitty said...

Kelly, I appreciate your thoughts about CPE. I had much the same transformational experience in my CPE course. Thanks for sharing.

Sophia said...

This is a beautiful reflection about walking with people at the time of death. It mirrors much about my experience in 3 units of cpe and the deaths of dozens of patients.

Blessings on your cpe summer.

Kelly KH said...

Sophia, thanks for the link to your blog. It is so wonderful to connect with others on this journey of ministry. I am hoping to do 4 units of CPE residency after I graduate from seminary, and reading about your own experience is helpful. Blessings!

Marshall Scott said...

Congrats on surviving your first night on call. There are opportunities to learn on call, and especially to learn about yourself, that just don't come in other ways. After a long time in chaplaincy, I still get something of rush when I'm called in in the middle of the night.

I also have had nights walking with death. Death is something of a miracle in itself, even as it's "part of life." There are times when that is how healing comes.

Blessings in your CPE.