Sunday, July 3, 2011
CPE - Week Three
When they tell you in seminary that CPE will be the most rewarding, and the hardest thing that you will ever do, they're not exaggerating.
This has been a very difficult week, both in CPE and outside of CPE.
And when the two are added together one tends to magnify the challenges of the other.
On Monday I walked in the door of the hospital at 8:30 am and was promptly told that there was a death in one of my units that morning and I needed to head down and wait for the family to arrive. This is a unit that rarely experiences a death, and the staff were visibly shaken up. Over the next four hours I sat with the grieving family, consoled each member as they arrived and were told the tragic news, accompanied them to the morgue, held a sobbing spouse as he reluctantly released his grip on his wife's lifeless body, accompanied the distraught mother to the emergency room as she took care of a medical issue of her own, and checked in with each member of the frazzled staff to make sure they were holding up ok. Then I spent the rest of the day trying to deal with the aftereffects of having absorbed such a large amount of grief over such a long period of time.
On Tuesday I used my experience from the day before in the verbatim that I presented to my supervisors and peers. That was a huge mistake. The emotions were still raw, and at that time I needed to be lifted up, not taken down. And take me down they did. My peers who had not yet had an experience like this critiqued my pastoral care skills and made relentless suggestions for improvement. Despite my supervisors jumping to my defense and saying, "actually what you said there was appropriate" and "the staff said that you did an excellent job as did the family" all I heard were the criticisms of my peers. In our covenant group that followed I finally broke down in tears, admitting that throughout their barrage I wanted to shout, "You weren't there!" Afterward I felt ashamed for having shown so much emotion in the face of criticism. In my mind this was a sign of weakness....I had broken down under the pressure, and I feared that the others would think they needed to treat me with kid gloves from then on.
On Wednesday I went through the day feeling pummeled. More so by myself than my peers. It was a busy day. I did morning worship, carried the on-call pager, had individual supervision (more critiquing, self and otherwise), and led two spirituality groups, including one where a patient dealing with addictions admitted that he had tried to kill himself the day before. When I got home that night I was emotionally and physically exhausted. In one week's time I had dealt with four deaths and consoled three grieving families.
And then I received a phone call from a beloved couple in my church informing me that their son had passed away that morning. The pastor had just left on a 2 week vacation and the couple had assumed that I was in charge and that I would do the funeral. I felt awful having to explain to them that another local pastor had been left in charge and that I would have her contact them. Had I failed yet again? Should I have offered to step in and do the funeral? Should I have offered to drive over that night and sit with them? How could I? I had nothing left to give.
On Thursday I juggled patient visits, group time, and supervisor didactics while making phone calls to the grieving family in my church, the church secretary, and the pastor who would be doing the funeral. I came home that night and fell asleep in the chair at 8 pm.
On Friday I did a 20 hour overnight shift in which I spent the early evening shuttling between the bedsides of two hospice patients who were in the process of dying. Graciously, neither one of them was near death, and the rest of the night passed uneventfully.
Today I lead Worship and presided over Communion in the pastors absence.Thankfully, I did not have to preach and found the worship experience to be renewing and refreshing.
Interspersed between all of these CPE and church demands were other personal issues and conflicts that cropped up and offered additional stresses to my very limited reserves. Taken all together I feel like I'm getting a crash course in what it means to be a parish minister. I'm quickly finding out what it is like to juggle pastoral and personal demands, and the need to practice self-care.
I'm quickly learning that I am not Wonder Woman, and it is not possible to be "Super Pastor" - even in my own mind - and to still keep one's health and sanity.
Take note all, I am retiring my cape.
If you see me trying to put it back on at any point, do me a favor and slap me upside my head.
I will be sure to thank you for it.