Monday, March 27, 2023

Being the Other - Fitting In -

I was reared with both of my parents saying, "Why would you like to be like everyone else?" I remember the first time I was told to be myself - 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Gooch, looking at my cursive writing, and knowing that the year before, Becky had been in her class, was my neighbor, and my idol, said to me, "Ronda, why would you want to be like someone else when being you is so important." I'm not sure that I truly understood what she was teaching me, yet the lesson lingered, and while my cursive did look a little like Becky's, it was definitely my hand-writing. 

Tough thing about this statement though, is that I have spent my years being different, and yearning to fit in. From 4th grade writing lesson to 5th grade not passing the "join the club" vetting, to my first marriage, divorcing, remarriage, and even my education and careers, I have been the black-sheep, although still a sheep. I believe being the other, has, to some degree, allowed me to step away from competing and comparing, and to forge my own path, my own hand-writing. 

If you don’t fit in, then you are probably doing the right thing.

Interestingly, shortly before posting this, a call came in that a patient had coded. All the medical team was working on the patient, and I was able to stand back with the spouse and explain what was happening, and hold her hand, and give the team space. 
And when everyone left the room, I remained, the other, the one not in scrubs, and the patient leaned in and said, "Thank you for being here." 

Today, when I was not fitting in, I stayed, doing what I do best, my right thing.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Mark Twain and Kind Words -

I believe in the power of kindness, a kind gesture, a kind word, a quick smile, a dollar to the dude
on the corner. As much as I give them, I seem to figure out they never come to me, so I savor 
the satisfaction that comes with giving. 

Michael Singer, in his book, The Untethered Soul, suggests that we are very good at holding onto the unkind words, actions, that are given to us, consciously or otherwise, acknowledging them and then shoving them into our heart where we keep them, protect them, hang on to them, and pull them out when we need the validation that we are the no-body we thought we were. And when kind words and gestures come our way, we listen, thank, then blow them off, because the unkindness in our hearts tells us we're not worthy of the kind words, or we're faking it, or the giver has no idea what they're saying.

Singer suggests that perhaps if we flung those unkindnesses away and hung onto the goodnesses that others send our way, we would be different people, ones to be  constantly looking for good, for ourselves and others, rather than always on the look out for bad. 

Six weeks ago, at work, with my gesture of transparency and honesty, I reached out to management with two requests. Both requests could have been done without approval, yet I wanted to make sure my requests were honest and timely. 

In an untimely fashion (after the fact) I received one response with a firm "no." And then hours after making my second request, I likewise received a "not in your job description, so no," response. 

I left my office for a short walk, trying hard to let go of the negative, hold on to the goodness. But I was tired, still recovering from a 10 day cold, and I did not want to be at work. So the negative lingered. 

I walked into the Palliative Care Clinic, into an office, and our newest employee sat down next to me. She said, "I have told all of my friends who ask about my interview, that sitting by the chaplain was the best thing for me. You were calm, your energy was reassuring, and I was not anxious at all. I told them, if you ever have a healthcare job interview, request that a chaplain is seated next to you." This was unprovoked, a surprise to me, and a very generous gift. I held on. 

I came home, had to call my insurance representative for some car insurance info. After the business was finished he said, "Now we're finished with business, yes?" And I agreed, wondering. And he shared, "When I took the writing class from you (probably 5 years ago), I was so impressed with your teaching style. You pushed us all to go outside of our typical thinking when we gathered resources for our research papers. I remember one student wanting to write about a religious topic, and you told them that was fine, but they needed to find other resources as well, religious magazines were not scholarly documents, rather popular. You really pounded this into us. And as I began writing my paper on DACA (his SIL was a DACA child), I looked at popular articles, and you told me to think critically, think outside of my box. And I did, on that paper and on so many other things that were troubling me at the time. I looked past my comfort zone, and what I found, on so many other things that I wanted to take as truth, that there were many many other sides." 

He continued, "I was doubting my religion, questioning the size of my family, looking for reasons to stay in my faith community and reasons to totally walk away. And then I looked critically, talked to others inside and out. And - we're out, and became foster parents, and then we adopted two of the children, and one is transitioning, and I could not have done any of this without your lessons on critical thinking and validating resources. Thank you." Wow, and thank you. 

And then, as he was sharing this with me, I received a text with a picture of a prayer note left for me in the hospital chapel. The note was from the father of a young couple who were married in the hospital chapel, where their very sick father could attend; I arranged for treats, arranged for the nurse to bring the father to the chapel, and made the place as simply perfect as I could. The note said, "Prayer of Thank; Chaplain Ronda, My Absolute Gratitude for Helping our Daughter Have the Dream Wedding she thought she wouldn't be able to have. Thank You for being so kind and willing to Make This Happen." 

Mark Twain said, "I could live for two months on a good compliment." Six months worth here, and I'm holding them closely and tenderly. 

Monday, March 13, 2023

Medicine and Taste -

I have guzzled nearly 20 oz of cough syrup these past several days, swallowed enormous antibiotics and their associated probiotics, renewed acquaintances with Zinc, C, K, and Mucinex, all while also considering the associated gut trauma that taking these meds (and this terrible cold) cause. No appetite, no taste, no smell, no desire, just lingering between tissue and toilet paper, bed and couch, snot head and med fog. 

I often tell my patients to make their daily meds, that often trigger ridiculously awful side-effects, their friends, particularly because they will be together for a very long time, as well as because they're meant to help rather than hinder. So give the med a name or a positive characteristic, and take them with robust rather than drudge. Ingest kindness. 

Yesterday I was talking with two sisters about Karma - what goes around, comes around. What the mind thinks tends to be realized. Positive thinking. The conversation turned to, "Getting a taste of our own medicine." And of course, this phrase has a negative connotation to it - "Well, now they can get a taste of their own medicine." "I hope he'll get a taste of his own medicine, he'll see." And we think of this as bitter nasty medicine. 

But - why would we ingest bitter nasty medicine? If I want a taste of my own medicine, it better darn well be scrumptious, or at least cherry-flavored. This what I better be ready to share. 

So the meds I've been taking - they're awesome; they're the bomb-diggity; they are filled with goodness and healing and wonder and miracles, and I am forever grateful for them. 

And today I will give others what I want to receive, a taste of my own yummy meds. 

Amen. Cough, cough, where's the tissue? 

Friday, March 3, 2023

Grief and Loss and Exhaustion -

One of my strengths is helping others as they deal with tough times; I do this full-time at the hospital as a chaplain, and then I spend typically 3 hours, 4 days a week, counseling others as they deal with life changes and the emotions that come with change, including grief. 

Ten days ago, a patient of mine for the past 4 years passed away after a terrible journey of cancer. She walked this path more graciously than many others who've had similar cancers. And she did not lose to cancer. And she did not fight cancer. She lived every moment she could; existing was not an option. Her husband helped her live, and while there was a touch of denial that living includes dying, they were incredible support to each other. 

Sadly, my patient hid her cancer from her daughter until just a few months ago. While parents had a chance to grieve and question and explore all the options, daughter was broad-sided, and was angry, and lost, and afraid, and grieved the not-knowing as well as the things-not-said that now would need to be said in a rush. And her grief, and then her parents grief at not sharing earlier, was so thick and heavy and dark. There was lots of reconciliation, yet their sorrow is a burden. 

Another patient and his wife and their family have been holding their breath and breathing, in tandem, as they try to live every day to its fullest, realizing it may be their last day. And now, ten years since diagnosis, that "last day" is coming quickly, and yet so very slowly. "Stop the hurt" is now their cry, "even if it means for him to go." I can't bear watching him," "I can't handle another hospitalization," and they are exhausted with their grief and the loss that's been a part of their lives for so long. 

And a beautiful athletic friend, with a young family, whose cancer is gone, cured, yet she is left with so many remnants, including slurred speech and unsteady hands and gait. And she grieves the loss of herself while also trying to figure out who she is now, as she continues to change, and accept, moment by moment. 

A friend I haven't spoken to in probably 5 years called, out of the blue, to share the news of the death of our friend two weeks ago, who I haven't seen in nearly 20 years - I'm grieving the lost friendship, grieving the days when our children played like siblings, and we lived like there was no tomorrow, in innocence and joy because we had hurt, we had lost, and we knew that what we had, for the moment, was spectacular and the gloriousness could change on a dime. And it did. And I'm sad that we didn't stay in touch, and I'm sad I couldn't help her in her last days, dying of breast cancer. 

Grief for the family whose father passed away 3 months ago, who have only a small template of what life forward looks like without husband, father, friend. And advice coming out of many mouths of what they could and should be doing, including feeling blessed, when all they want is to feel the loss, to linger in the spaces where his scent lingers. While also thinking about life going forward. 

I'm grateful for the times I've been able to grieve - and they've been plentiful, and there are plenty of losses that are recent, plenty of sores that I think are healed, until a friend, patient, client hurt, and my losses rise to the surface as I grieve with them, for them, for me. 

Monday, February 27, 2023

Happy Anniversary - 19 Years -


I am not the first person you loved.
You are not the first person I looked at
with a mouthful of forevers. We
have both known loss like the sharp edges
of a knife. We have both lived with lips
more scar tissue than skin. Our love came
unannounced in the middle of the night.
Our love came when we’d given up
on asking love to come. I think
that has to be part
of its miracle.
This is how we heal.
I will kiss you like forgiveness. You
will hold me like I’m hope. Our arms
will bandage and we will press promises
between us like flowers in a book.
I will write sonnets to the salt of sweat
on your skin. I will write novels to the scar
of your nose. I will write a dictionary
of all the words I have used trying
to describe the way it feels to have finally,
finally found you.

And I will not be afraid
of your scars.

I know sometimes
it’s still hard to let me see you
in all your cracked perfection,
but please know:
whether it’s the days you burn
more brilliant than the sun
or the nights you collapse into my lap
your body broken into a thousand questions,
you are the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
I will love you when you are a still day.
I will love you when you are a hurricane.

Clementine von Radics, “Mouthful of Forevers

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Valentine for Ernest Mann -

 Oh how I love this piece - 

Valentine for Ernest Mann

 - 1952-

You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter, say, “I’ll take two”
and expect it to be handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, “Here’s my address,
write me a poem,” deserves something in reply.
So I’ll tell a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment 
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn’t understand why she was crying.
“I thought they had such beautiful eyes.”
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries 
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.