The Taser's Edge

Shaken and Stirred, Broken but not Crushed

“Jesus looked directly at them and asked, ‘Then what is the meaning of that which is written: “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone”? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Luke 20:17-18)

 “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” (Job 13:15)

 It’s no longer “What will happen to me if he dies?” but “What will happen to me when he dies?”  Mr. Chiton (so-called in two verbatims I have presented this semester) is going to die, and it will be soon.  Maybe he’ll survive this weekend as he has several other weekends, beyond the expectations of everyone who has had contact with him.  But he will die soon.

 The ‘me’ in the middle of the question is the important part, because it’s the question asked of me when I presented this case.  I have now seen this patient 12-15 times.  And a month ago he was already actively dying.  We had a single visit when he was able to communicate even minimally.  It has been hard.

 As the first questions were asked about the verbatim, I began to feel the weight of this thought on my mind: “I feel like I am being crushed by this, and I don’t know whether I should choose it.”  I had to say it to the group, and out in the open it is a thought which goes deeper than I know.  I am in the middle of this thing.  I feel deeply about it and when I speak or write it is clear how much I am involved, personally, emotionally, far beyond professionally (whatever that means for Christian ministers offering pastoral care).  Consider that both of my verbatims and several weeks’ worth of written reflections have centered on this patient.

 This patient has become this unit.

 It was helpful to present on him yesterday.  It was freeing to have others know.  But still he eclipses this unit.  He is the center and he has all the gravity and every other patient that I visit is planet circling him as the sun.  In this metaphor, it seems to me that my care to other patients would be suffering.  Perhaps it is.  I am not this one patient’s pastor.  I am this whole congregation of patient’s pastors.  Is my care for them suffering?

 Inasmuch as I can be objective, if my care for them is suffering, I don’t think they notice.  Is that good enough?  I can be very critical of myself on this point, cling to my ridiculous expectations of myself rather than listening to the fact that other patients are being ministered to.  But I do feel like I’m cheating on all those other patients.  I don’t find myself thinking about them at various points of every day.  I don’t find myself talking about them in oblique ways in every conversation I have.  I’m not writing yet another weekly reflection on them.

 It’s been a grace to me that I haven’t been able to see the patient as much as I would have chosen to, were I actually in charge.  Some days, education has squeezed a visit into a hand wave from the door frame.  Other times, my unavailability has led me to feel very good about having S visit.  I know that I offer this family something very good, but I am certain that others can offer very good things (different things) as well.  And there has been yet more grace, beginning at the end of last week and continuing throughout this one.  The patient’s wife, with whom I talk, has not been there when I have been there.  I want to name that as a grace.  I might have already been crushed by this had she been there every time that I’ve been able to stop by, even with S visiting.

 What will happen when Mr. Chiton dies?  What will I do when Mr. Chiton dies?  The evidence of how personal it has become is that I find myself viewing his death the way I would view a loved one’s death.  I will hurt, I hope I will cry (as sometimes I can’t when I want to), I will hurt for others (perhaps more so in this situation than in the deaths of relatives who have always been a good deal older), and I will still find that I have hope, that I have love, that I can see Death and his death swallowed up by Christ.  Will I mourn?  Yes.  Will I grieve?  Yes.  Will I be wounded in ways I might not recognize for a long time, even years?  Will I receive (stomach dropping as I write it) wounds that I will die carrying?  Very possibly.

 It’s too late.  Too late not to be hurt.  I already care too much.  I already hurt now, before he’s dead.  I mourn, am filled with tears, for his wife in particular, for their children (although from a distance for them).  This morning, she wasn’t there and I prayed for her and for their children.  I want to end this reflection hopeful, and I do feel hopeful.  But hope is the first olive branch that came up in the wasteland after the Flood.  Like that first branch, something may even come along and pluck it.  Will I be crushed? Will I be crippled?  No, I don’t think so.  I really don’t believe so.  Will I be deeply hurt, wounded, wounded deeply?  Yes, and it’s already begun.

 Lord God, sanctify this (my and his) suffering.  Let it not be poured out on the ground for no reason.  Let me not be emptied out, burned out, disintegrated.  You are our God of mercy.  Have mercy.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.