This column is about the profound feeling of inadequacy that can come from caring for the bereaved. I ask you to not simply jump to the quick-fix of reassuring each other that we’re adequate; let’s sit with that awkward nagging misery that comes from feeling inadequate so that we can dig deeper and see what there is for us to learn.
I’m not talking about inadequacy like “I’m horrible, I’m a failure” (outside of the realm of cooking, I don’t consider myself horrible or a failure) I’m talking more about situations that are so difficult, it is hard to know if anything can even be done or said to help.
I learned that a young woman I had been long-distance mentoring into her Nursing career (with the hope of being a Neonatal ICU RN) was considering abandoning her dream. She had a job as a Certified Nurses Assistant in a NICU but when she saw death there, it bothered her so much that she was reconsidering her life goals.
How could I get this young lady to see the sacred hidden side of this difficult but honoring task? Neonatal nursing isn’t always about making life possible, it is sometimes about providing for a peaceful death where life is no longer an option. How is one to teach (and also to remember for myself) the profound sacredness of being invited into such powerful circumstances?
I crafted a letter to the young aspiring nurse and this is part of what I told her.
There is a belief that if we are capable of something then we will feel it, but there are times when God picks us for something and we still feel fully unprepared….the Old Testament is filled with this “no God, find someone else” yet maybe it is us that were picked. It’s humbling (almost to a disabling degree) to know that a baby is unavoidably dying and we are going to walk these first tentative steps of a long journey with a mother/family that we may have just met.
I have met with over 500 people at the time of pregnancy loss and infant death, I have come to see that a gnawing sense of inadequacy (on top of the normal feelings of unfairness and sadness) is the cost of admission into the place of sacredness. It is the toll that your soul is burdened with before you step foot in that room. If and only if you are willing to accept that burden and try anyway will you possibly make any difference.
Neither of us will ever be “good enough” to deserve to be there, but in His wisdom, God looked in His tool box and decided that in addition to His Grace and other spiritual gifts, He also intended to use people who have given themselves over to be willing to be there for those who need us most.
When we do our job well, we create a fertile safe place where people feel loved and cared for. We can’t control if people heal or not, but we do control how we treat them when we know they are hurting. In time, most people heal well…most of my ladies come back to me with smiles on their faces.
Even those I have held when they wailed the screams that only a grief-stricken mom can make have come back better. What you see on that day of the death is not normally the end, it is only part of the story. I have spent time with my ladies who are healing well and they sometimes laugh until they snort. God makes us to heal, body and spirit.
Please don’t let the sadness of death scare you away from serving those you have a heart to serve, they need someone who cares about them as much as you do.
Please know that even if the people I care for aren’t comfortable with any words about God, I can still gain strength from God as I gently care for them. God is pretty good at being a silent partner in this work and it is important to not bring up words and ideas that aren’t respectful of the already-existing values and beliefs (or lack thereof) of the hurting person you are serving. As St Francis said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.”
I was also speaking to a young nurse I mentor at work and this is part of an exchange that we had, “It is an amazing thing to care for a person when you know it will affect them for the rest of their lives. A few hours well spent by us might yield decades of peace for them…what better way is there for us to spend our time?”
Don’t think for a minute that each of these opportunities doesn’t cost us (as caregivers) that same heavy toll of inadequacy, the feeling firmly shackled to the soul of the person who ventures in. The gift of knowing you helped only comes after you have fully submitted yourself to the burden of the moment with no assurance of success. Having accepted this terrible burden, the success of really helping does feel all the sweeter.
© 2013. Tammy Ruiz. All Rights Reserved.