The List

Last Sunday I absolutely hit the chaplaincy wall, the I-can’t-handle-this-can’t-spend-another-day-feeling-like-this wall. I had just found out that the husband of someone I went to seminary with, and wound up visiting at the hospital where I’m doing CPE, had died. I did not know him and I did not know her well, but it felt like the last straw. Weeping didn’t help. Calling friends didn’t help. I was just so tired and burnt out, angry at nobody, at God, at the universe, tired of people dying.

And then I did something I’d been thinking about doing for a while. I opened a TextEdit document and started making a list of the dead from this CPE unit. I was surprised at how well I remembered their names, and the order in which I met them. Then I hit return a few times and listed the names of those who are close to death on my unit. Then some more line returns and a list of those I’m concerned about; not people who are actively dying at this moment but those whose condition is in danger of deteriorating, those that I’m afraid aren’t going to have a happy ending.

There are a lot of names on the list. Typing them all in, thinking about each one in turn, how I had encountered them, what I knew of their stories, made me feel better. Somehow it makes it more manageable to have the list in front of me. It also helps reinforce the idea that I’m not crazy for struggling with grief over all the patients who have died while I was their chaplain, because there are a lot of them. I added two more this week – a baby who died in the NICU and a woman who died of cancer. It was almost a relief, after providing care for each of those families, to come home and type in the names. It’s a concrete way to acknowledge that these losses touch me too.

Sadly, as an oncology chaplain I expect there will be more names to add to the list as time goes by. At the end of my time in CPE (in May) I am going to put together some sort of ritual for myself, with some candles and incense and prayers, and burn a printed-out copy of the list as a way to bring some closure.


~ by Sophia on November 28, 2009.

2 Responses to “The List”

  1. Hi,
    I work as an aide in long term care and over the summer several of our residents passed away in a fairly short amount of time. I, as well, started a list of people that had passed away while I have been working at this facility. I don’t think they came back with quite as much clarity as yours did, and I continue to add people to it as they die, or as I remember them.

    I’m not quite sure what I’m doing with it, or if keeping it brings me comfort in knowing I’ve helped them or just depresses me more.

    I hope your list brings you comfort and you update us on what you do with yours.

  2. When I had my manic run of funerals in October, I found that I needed to do the same thing…clearly it was a much smaller number (tho 14 in 3 working weeks felt quite alot at the time!) but there’s something about pausing to remember that asserts the reality of each one as precious child of God. Also, somehow consiging the list to paper relieved me of the need to carry them all around with me afterwards.
    Do hope that you’ve had some space to breathe, to mourn and to remember that there is a whole world out there where people have nothing to do with end-of-life care…Love and prayers xx

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