On regaining control
Realizing I had an addiction to scrolling mindlessly on Facebook, I decided to stop looking at it for awhile.
Not only did I spend significant time mindlessly scrolling, I spent hours intentionally reading and responding as well. Sometimes periods of despondence would overtake me after I engaged in discussions that tip heavily into the social and moral justice arenas, read about tragedies, or looked at too many mind-numbingly dumb memes. So, I refused to press the Facebook icon on my phone beginning Monday morning a week ago. I mean, although social media triggers our dopamine receptors, this is not literal crack cocaine or heroin—a break from Facebook should be possible to accomplish with relative ease.
The first two days were the hardest. It’s a habit, and a time filler. Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a real thing too, explained beautifully here. In the past I have moved the icon to the third screen on my phone so it’s not as easy to see or hit, but this time I just left it where it was in the bottom left hand corner. Several times I almost checked because there was a red number glaring up at me which is the bell that triggers Pavlov’s dog for Facebook users. However I abstained because anyone who needs to can reach me in other ways. And because I like to believe I’m smarter than Pavlov’s dogs.
After the second day it was just a matter of stubbornness that kept me from checking. By the fifth day, I felt like the world had kept turning, and I hadn’t missed anything of great importance so there was no reason to get sucked back into a cycle of scrolling.
I found the most difficult aspect at this point was missing interaction with friends, true friends, not just people who sent a friend request for networking purposes. I missed seeing random information friends chose to share about their lives, serious or silly. I missed seeing the news shared from legitimate news sources since I don’t exactly look for the news anywhere else. I didn’t miss seeing the same meme ten times, rants about trivial (to me) matters, borderline porn and outright porn (your facebook, your choice.)
I also didn’t miss the constant comparisons my mind wanted to make—the automatic response to anything anyone appears to be doing better than I am.
This morning, day seven off Facebook, feeling as though I had been clean for a sufficient amount of time to rebuild my sense of self-control, I opened it and saw three emotionally provocative posts in the first 30 minutes. There was a memory about my dad from one year ago which I began composing a new post for so I could share it with the perspective I have now. There was a story about a nurse who administered the incorrect medication to a patient who later died. This led me to investigate other information on this story including diametrically opposing views on whether she should be criminally charged or not. And there was a blog post, made by a friend and fellow Tambo alumni, on the recent re-exposure of Ethnos360 (formerly New Tribes Mission) and the child abuse allegations made against some 50 of its members. I read most of this post along with many of the comments made after it.
Returning to the memory post, I continued with my new response, and as I completed a fourth run through of correcting typos and rewording phrases, it seemed to spontaneously delete itself. I felt fairly disheartened as I had visions of two or three people drawing comfort from what had comforted me which is what I was expressing in my post.
Just as I can unhappily but honestly admit that I fight an addiction to mindlessly scrolling on Facebook and its twin pariah, comparing myself to people who are most likely doing the same, I can also admit that pondering the nurse who inadvertently did something that led to the demise of her patient, and reliving the disappointment of hundreds of others who like myself felt betrayed by NTM when the final iHart report came out several years ago, leaves me feeling overwhelmed by my own inadequacies.
On not getting what we wanted
While I do see clear cut choices and what I would like to happen in both situations, I can’t see clearly how to get there. I see the path stalled by the messy, cumbersome steps needed even if everything could be resolved to my satisfaction. In the case of the nurse, I immediately put myself in her shoes—what would I have done, what did she miss that I may have missed, what support system was not in place that led to her error, what would I have expected to happen to me, and what would I have done afterward? In the case of abuse that went on decades ago in foreign countries around the world, what is my responsibility now? Can I do anything to help the situation or will I just make a terrible situation worse? In what way can we seek justice while not also destroying the good and honest and pure work of thousands of missionaries who did not abuse children–a work that continues to this day.
However, the Facebook item I was most affected by this morning is the item I am most affected by every day now. One year ago today, we faced the one month mark of my dad’s passing. At that time I was still getting the occasional comment, “You look pretty bad.” Oddly this didn’t hurt so much as it baffled me, at first. I had lost about 15 pounds and my skin felt stretched over my temples; my eyes felt too big too, but I didn’t think others could see what I felt.
A year later looking at 13 months instead of one, I’m trying to lose ten pounds as the grief weight loss has piled back on, and I’m fairly sure no one who looks at me can tell my thoughts are always running on an adjustment cycle—a cycle in which I am adjusting to having no dad on earth, and a mom who is a widow, and what that means for her, and in turn what that means for my relationship toward her. Our relationship is closer, if that is possible, and I feel abundantly more protective of her, but I also feel acutely my need for her to be my mom. As the year of first anniversaries came to a close, and the second year of navigating his absence commenced, I think we all breathed a sigh of relief only to be followed by a sharp intake of dread and settling resignation.
As January 18, 2019 approached my mom and I both felt a sense of impending catastrophe. Who has walked here before? Did this happen to you? Did you subconsciously believe something different was going to happen this time, as if the ending could be changed or that he was going to die again as the anniversary date came closer and closer? She shared her thoughts with me when I arrived in Montana last month, and I was validated to realize I was not the only one feeling this way. I had plans to buy something nurses would find thoughtful and write a note about my dad and his care to be delivered on the one year anniversary to the hospital where he stayed, but I found that I couldn’t do it. Most likely only one or two nurses would be able to recall us, but that wasn’t the intended purpose of my intended gift. The purpose would be to remind all staff still working there that we appreciated the work of the nurses and other caregivers, and to demonstrate that the care given is remembered long after the care giver has moved on. After the funeral last year, we had bought tinned cookies and baskets of fruit to deliver to the hospital. This year I limped through the anniversary week and continued composing the letter I want to deliver to them–but it’s still only in my head.
When I saw the memory on FB, my thoughts turned to where God has met me in His Word. I have found that like the case of the nurse and the case of abuse surrounding my former mission board and many of my friends, grief is a clear cut path–one with a solution I like and would be glad to see happen, and yet getting there is emotionally messy and often difficult.
Grief is a path that spools out and out and out and we must walk there never seeing far ahead of us.
It is cut through forests and jungles, up mountainsides, through dark valleys and
corn mazes of high, reedy greenness reaching over our heads.
It is lonely there, specifically in this case, because the person we lost was a spiritual guide for us, a stabilizing factor, strong in his convictions, steadfast in his faith in a world where belief in God is a choice not everyone takes seriously.
We each have faith of our own and clearly didn’t collapse when he could no longer influence us except through what he did say, believe, and do. We have had need of God and His presence to slog through the grieving process and establish the new normal. There are the emotional needs when we are drowning in the waves of grief rather than learning to ride them out. And there are the real physical needs left when a person who helps with life’s responsibilities leaves us. Finally, there are the needs that person met just by being who he is rather than the tasks he did.
In a way I felt that I did collapse after he passed, and we had buried him. My mom had decided to return to Mississippi with me, but she needed to finalize arrangements with her CPA and insurance company. She was waiting to hear about her hip replacement date as well, and I didn’t want to leave her as she was in significant pain. Her gait was altered and she had fallen twice while I was staying with her. I also dreaded returning to work with a dread that boarded on panic. I knew I had to go back, but to enter the rooms of sick and dying individuals and speak with family members in various stages of fear and shock while still trying to absorb my own loss–it felt like an impossible cruelty.
And yet I couldn’t wait in Montana indefinitely. Days ticked by. My husband was patient and understanding. My friends took my kids while I was at work, and reassured me.
We finally boarded a plane together and flew to Mississippi on Feb 12th, almost a month after my dad passed. I had spent most of that time sitting in my parents’ house, helping with small tasks, visiting family members in MT, and processing the events of the past two months. I couldn’t comprehend how anyone went back to work immediately after losing someone of such importance in their lives, and I chided myself for my weakness. I knew my children were being taken care of, but I worried about them too and about my apparent lack of motherly instinct as the days and weeks of separation lengthened. I took FMLA but because I had used up my paid time off accrued as a part-time employee, I was not getting paid. Lack of finances was a concern I pushed back as bankruptcy or foreclosure were not real possibilities.
A year later, looking back, I acknowledge that being a nurse is incredibly stressful both because of the nature of a the job itself and because of losing my dad. Many times I have wanted desperately to do something else to earn a living, but at the same time I see that God has put me into this work and equipped me for it.
This was never more clear than in an incident that happened almost immediately after I returned.
In those first two weeks after returning to work I had a patient who went on hospice care. Like my dad, he made the choice himself, and his family wanted to honor his wishes. Like myself, his family grappled to understand what he and they had committed themselves to in choosing hospice. Each of them held their emotions in check, or were in too great of shock to have any tears, and asked questions. Several of them were milling in the hall in front of his room just after learning of the decision. They were visibly shaken, but in control of themselves. I was standing in the hall as well feeling much like a guidepost including the part where the post is a guide, and the post is also solid and incapable of emotion, not because it doesn’t want to be emotional but because if it was emotional it could not also guide.
Then one of the family members turned to me with a question. I saw the intensity of her need to know. I met her eyes with the confidence bald honesty requires, not knowing what she was about to ask, but knowing I would tell her the truth. Slowly, clearly fighting to organize everything in her mind, she asked, “But will he get what he needs, the oxygen to…live…” He was currently dependent on forced oxygenation. The question fell slowly like a feather between us while the guidepost’s eyes softened comprehending in a sentence all the hopeful denial and impossibility of the woman’s situation. She was letting her precious relative, alert, oriented, capable, go to a place where he would no longer receive heroic measures to help him live because the underlying disease process could not be fixed. She knew before the ellipses suspended her sentence that her question had become a statement ending in, “No.” I held her gaze and seeing she had answered herself, I shook my head so gently, “No,” so she could have confirmation, know that her question was valid, and not torture herself too much with what ifs. She nodded almost imperceptible as well and turned away sad, but resolute.
How was this possible in the second week after I came back to work? Could I have done this with such comprehension if I had not just walked where she walked, made the same decisions in concert with my loved family member, asked those same questions grasping my own answers even as they formulated themselves?
Most nurses are somewhat jaded from the abuse we receive, but most of us are also deeply aware of the stress our patients and their family members are under. We want to help. But this interaction with this woman would not have been possible on that level, if I had not just been in the same position she had been in. It is too easy as a nurse to see that the patient going into hospice is a dying patient; no more life extending measures such as forced ventilation will be given unless the patient changes his mind about hospice. It’s not as easy to see hospice as an extension of care for life giving purposes, a program for patients who have a terminal illness and don’t want to die in a hospital being tortured with tests and procedures, but who also want to live as well as possible for as long as possible. After choosing hospice as a life promoting option, I see it now as my patient’s and family members often see it. For my dad it meant:
Never giving up, even if you know you can’t make it.
I didn’t cry on that day, but there have been several other days when the balance of my tears have been pushed out of the vault of grief by some minor thing. I have fled to the break room to stifle the onslaught, and wipe my face. Even writing this I feel ashamed of my inability to be a rock under this particular pressure. Many of my coworkers who have gone through the same or even more grievous trials say they shut it out dividing their personal lives from their work lives. I absolutely agree with this mentality, but it’s something I strive to become, not something I do as a defense against being emotional at work. My dad would call it “tightening up.” Normally I need to find more grace for myself and relax a bit, but in this area I need to pull myself together more.
Despite this need, I am grateful for the time I took off work–first in the months when he was sick, and we had to bury him, and again last summer when I spent six weeks in Montana with my kids.
But the crux of this whole blog post is this: looking back over the past year, God has been my constant during this life changing time. My constant what? “You left out a word,” the reader may say. My constant everything–my Comforter, my Rock, My Father, my Good Shepherd. It is He Who shows me–“give yourself more grace and allow your grief to run its course,” or “take My strength and tighten up.” It is He Who has shown Himself faithful.
I was reading Jesus Calling with the Bible verses listed being Hebrews 12:2 and Isaiah 41:13. Hebrews 12:2 is one of my most favorite verses in the entire Bible, preceded by a verse that cannot be ignored. I was not familiar off hand with Isaiah 41:13 but when I turned to that chapter there was a rejoicing in my soul, a recognition that can only be the Spirit communicating with my spirit. This verse, Isaiah 41:13 is the how behind Hebrews 12:1-2.
I give you Hebrews 12:1 and 2, every word and phrase abundant with encouragement and meaning—
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race which is set before us, LOOKING UNTO JESUS the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endure the cross, despising the shame and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
I love these verses and the comparison to running a race! I love how God gives us Jesus to look to as an example of someone Who did something arduous and humiliating. I love that He was able to do it because He would bring to God, and so he He did it willingly and with joy.
But even after reading these verses, it is easy to get bogged down in the trenches of whatever hardship is happening. For me, during a race, it isn’t my legs or my chest that burn so much as my stomach. I don’t know if it’s lack of core muscles or if it’s more related the blood pumping in a panic through my abdominal aorta or to the fact that I usually fail to eat properly before a race, but all my energy feels as though it has left me and the bottom falls out of my stomach. I feel like I am going to die. In a crisis moment of grief or during the ongoing grind of coping day after day, how can life be lived fully and meaningfully? How do I lay aside every weight of sin? How do I keep my eyes looking at Jesus? How do I even continue to remember the cloud of witnesses cheering me on? How do I overcome when I have dissolved my face in tears in, again, in a public place when I should be showing strength? When I feel like the bottom has fallen out and I am going to die of sorrow?
Isaiah 41:13 is how.
“For I the Lord Thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not, I will help thee.”
Having looked for God for years, and knowing His promises, but not feeling His presence in my life during desperate times, these verses struck a chord in me. As a child in the boarding school, I did not sense God’s presence. I was lost and as lonely as a child could be. Lying in bed at night trying to fall asleep, I would hear the dorm mother playing music. Immediately my homesickness would manifest as tears and running nose even though I had never heard her choice of music before. I timidly crept out to ask her to change it to something else. She did, and I then realized it didn’t matter; I was fraught with grief through and through. Any melody in the dark, lonely nights would undo me.
There are other examples of how God seemed real but distant. Really distant! Why should I know His presence now as a 40-something adult? Being a small child thousands of miles and days of travel away from my parents seems like an appropriate time for God to have acted as a protector and impress on me His loving presence. I don’t know why, and I have no explanation for why I am aware and rejoice in His closeness now. It isn’t through any great feat of faith that I have conjured up. Maybe decades of faithfulness are paying off? I find this unlikely though, and realize I may walk through the drought land of God’s silence again before I die.
And so, this is how we continue on—into year two, perhaps more difficult than the first year because fact cannot be denied forever. Reality is coldly real. The first anniversary arrived and nothing happened. Now we have only to move forward, marking the events and anniversaries without him.
This is how I do not get to say with elation, “My dad survived cancer! God is so good!”
But instead with joy derived from sober understanding, “My dad did not survive cancer. God is so good, so present, so faithful.”