Posts Tagged ‘loss’

Grieving: Expressing in Words What We’ve Lost

Posted in cancer, Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, hospital visits on July 13th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – 1 Comment

When we have suffered a loss and as we move through the grieving that follows, we often express in words what we’ve lost.

Twitter Post by Karen Putz

Twitter Post by Karen Putz

I was reminded that sometimes how we describe our loss surprises others when I saw this Twitter post by Karen Putz (@deafmom) earlier this week.  Karen’s dad has esophageal cancer, and hasn’t really been able to eat normally for the last couple of months.  So in retrospect, his response to the doctor is right on, but it probably surprised everyone when he said it.

As we’re grieving a loss, we tend to express that loss in ways that are highly personal to us — in ways that truly describe what we miss dearly, and would like to have back.  It’s part of the longing for phase of grief.  Karen’s dad longs to be able to eat his wife’s cooking again — both because it’s good, and because that would mean that he’s dealt successfully with his cancer.

One of my favorite questions while visiting patients in the hospital has become, “What one thing are you praying for today?”

I ask that question for lots of reasons.  It helps me target my prayer with the person to pray specifically for what they want most that day.  There’s often a powerful connection between us as we join together in prayer with the words, “God, my prayer is _____ ‘s prayer.”  And it often provides an opportunity to talk about the real issue the person is struggling with that day.

Karen’s post reminded me of a recent visit.  When I first entered the room, most of my conversation was with the patient’s husband.  The patient was having some pain, and just wasn’t engaging.  But when I asked her if she’d like to pray, and specifically what her biggest request was, she jumped in and took over the conversation.  Her request was simple:  “I want to be able to go back home and take care of my 101-year old mother, and help my sister get there so she can help.”  It represented both what she had lost, and what was important to her.  As we prayed together, she verbally reinforced my words with her “Amen’s” and “Yes, Lord’s.”

It was a special moment for all of us.  Her greatest desire had been heard and then expressed in prayer.

Karen’s post is one reason I’m active on Twitter — I’m always learning, and often being reminded of what’s important.  Asking good questions like Karen’s dad’s doctor did is important.

Thanks for the Twitter post, Karen.  And I am praying that your dad gets to eat your mom’s good cooking soon!

Five Common Aspects of Loss

Posted in Grief and Grieving, Personal on June 2nd, 2009 by Jim Hughes – 3 Comments

I experienced a loss last week that I had been dreading for several years — the loss of a tooth.

It’s not the first tooth I’ve lost.  Long years ago, I lost two molars and had a bridge put in.  That’s one of the reasons I dreaded losing a molar on the other side.  While the bridge has held up well, it’s not like having real teeth (or at least crowns on real teeth).  And of course, there’s also the expense of the required dental work which only adds to the sense of loss.

We had known that the tooth was on it’s last legs for several years.  The crown had come off twice in the last three years, each time taking a part of what remained of the tooth with it.  My dentist warned me the last time that the repair wouldn’t last long — actually suggesting it would probably be only weeks or a few months.  But I did what I could to keep it going, and it held together for about 20 months.

So the loss was not unexpected.  I just wasn’t ready for it to happen.  I wasn’t ready to lose the tooth, to encounter the discomfort of the dental procedure to provide a substitute, or to pay for the dental procedure.

But I didn’t get to choose when it happened (I’d have chosen never).  On a day like any other day, the crown and part of the tooth just came off.

Today I spent time in the dentist’s chair.  The procedure wasn’t as uncomfortable as I had feared, due to a very competent dentist.  The price tag was worse than I expected, as it always seems to be.

I know I’ll heal from the discomfort of the extraction and the soreness from the needle sticks and jaw soreness from having my mouth strained, and that my new bridge will probably provide a better chewing experience than I’ve had in a while.  But I’m still feeling the loss.

So, if you’ve held on this far, you’ve probably guessed that I’m now going to tell you that this loss parallels other losses we suffer in life.  And you’re right.  Here are five common aspects of loss:

  1. Knowing that we’re going to suffer a loss doesn’t lessen the impact of the actual loss.  There may not be the shock of unexpectation — but knowing it’s going to happen doesn’t make the actual loss less important.  It’s not a relief — it’s a loss.
  2. Even when we’re expecting a loss, we can’t predict exactly when it will happen.  Expertise can give us an estimate, but it’s just that.  In this case, the loss came later that estimated.  Sometimes it comes sooner.
  3. We’re never ready to experience loss, even if we know it’s going to happen.
  4. Things are never the same after a loss.  We will heal, and we will do fine with the new situation.  But it won’t be the same as before.
  5. And previous losses impact how this loss will impact us.  Losses have a cumulative effect on us, and with subsequent losses, the earlier losses have to be dealt with again.

When Words Fail

Posted in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care on April 30th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – 6 Comments

Just like I do 10 or 15 times on days I visit the hospital, I pushed the elevator button, and as the door opened and I stepped in, I made eye contact with the folks already there and asked, “How’s your day going?”

Usually there’s just some brief chit-chat about whatever, then the ride’s over for some of us, and we go about our business.

But this time, a woman I’d seen around the hospital for weeks met my eyes and said, “Not so good.  I lost my husband this morning.  We’re going up to the room to pick up my things.”

Words failed me.  And for good reason.  There was absolutely nothing I could say to help.  I knew it.  And she knew it.  So except for saying, “I’m sorry,” I said nothing.

We might tend to think this was a failed human interaction.  But I’d suggest to you that it wasn’t.

This woman, overwhelmed with her loss, chose to tell me about it.  Instead of just saying, “Okay.”

And as a result I’ve thought and prayed about her often since that day a few weeks ago.

We shared a few moments of life together.  And it had meaning.

Care Giving: Experiencing Change Means Chaos and Grief

Posted in Caregiving on February 4th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – 1 Comment

Any time we encounter change — and becoming a care giver is definitely a change — we go through a change process.

Here’s a simple diagram I’ve adapted to help explain the process we go through.

The Change Process of a Difficult Season

The Change Process of a Difficult Season

We’re happily going along in normality when an event comes along — in this case becoming a care giver — and everything changes.

Suddenly things become chaotic. The emotions of grief show up because we’ve lost our old normal.

Sometimes we’re in denial or disbelief, sometimes we find that we are angry, other times we are filled with longing for the way things used to be, and then we’ll find ourselves feeling quite depressed.  And off and on, we’ll be accepting of the changes that have occurred.  Actually, we’ll generally feel all of these emotions at the same time, but one will tend to be stronger on any given day than the others.

And guess what?  Everyone touched by the change is going through the same stuff.  Except on any given day, different people may be in different places emotionally.  It’s true for the caregiver’s family, and it’s also true for the care receiver.

Just understanding that the chaos is normal and that the grief emotions are normal helps. It provides a framework for naming what you’re feeling.

How long will this last? It depends.  How big is the change?  How disruptive is it?  How serious is what’s caused the change?  How long is the caregiving responsibility going to last.  How difficult is it to achieve a stable caregiving arrangement?

What you can be certain of is that the time of chaos will end, and you’ll emerge into a time of new normal. You don’t go back to the old normal because it doesn’t exist any more.  You bring your new experiences with you into the new normal.

Four years ago we were visiting with Dad when a change event happened and I became his care giver.  We’ll talk about that next.

I Forget the Raw Pain of Grief

Posted in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, Grief and Grieving on December 23rd, 2008 by Jim Hughes – 3 Comments

I forget the rawness of emotion the loss of a loved one produces in others.

It’s not intentional.  And it’s not that I’m not sensitive to it.

It’s because I don’t get to see it frequently.  People are pretty good at covering it up.  Folks avoid showing the raw emotion that they feel, both to protect themselves and those they’re with.

But there are some situations where people let down their guard and you get to see the pure, raw grief that they are experiencing.  Seeing this rawness is difficult for us.  It’s almost shocking, because we had let ourselves believe that they must be handling it so much “better.”  Instead, we see the deep pain, the raw emotion of loss.

I saw it Sunday during our service of remembrance as we took turns saying the names of those we have lost.  Tears were being shed by those saying the names.  And tears were being shed by others of us as we saw their pain.  I’ve seen the same thing in grief support groups.  Pure, raw pain.

Those are some of the few situations where people feel comfortable in letting down their guard and showing how much they are really hurting.

So I forget the rawness, because these situations don’t come around often.  And I forget the rawness because my short term memory wants to ease the pain I feel at seeing others’ pain.

But, it allows me to be freshly aware the next time I see it.  And that’s good.