Saturday, January 28, 2017

Well, Well, Well

I recently received two books I’d ordered and realized, when I saw them together, that there is a glaring similarity in their titles: Remembering Well and Dying Well.

The former is by Sarah York. The subtitle is Rituals for Celebrating Life & Mourning Death. I have this idea that I might like to be a part-time chaplain and a part-time bereavement counselor, maybe just because I know someone who does both these things and who is overflowing with good cheer. Being a bereavement counselor sounds nice because, presumably, most clients are not themselves ill, probably not going to die anytime soon, and what ails them will in most cases eventually pass and they will feel better. One of my peers was in a bookstore looking for a book about memorial services or something, and someone sidled up to her and recommended this one, which is out of print, but Amazon seems to have plenty of them.

The latter is by Ira Byock, M.D. The subtitle is Peace and Possibilities at the End of Life. There is a copy in the student office at work, and another of my peers said she thinks it’s very good.


We have inaugurated a 15-minute midday mindfulness session in the meditation room at the hospital on Mondays and Thursdays. I led the first one, which attracted 1.5 participants—a patient awaiting surgery, plus a staff member who came in toward the end, but seemed to appreciate her short time there. She thanked me when she left.

One of my goals for this unit of clinical pastoral education was to offer care to staff members, so I have gone to three of my five areas to let them know that I am available to speak with people one-on-one and also to lead meditation sessions, if desired. Two of the areas, which are on the same floor and often share personnel, said they would like weekly meditation, so that began this past Friday. It will always be led by me, unless I’m not available. I will now go to my final two areas and say I am available to care for staff, and tell them about the mindfulness sessions in the meditation room.

There are nine ACPE (Association for Clinical Pastoral Education) “outcomes” that must be met before one can advance to Level II CPE, hopefully after the second unit, halfway through the year. By the end of the first unit, I had met all but one of them, so I am trying to take care of that in the next month—the second unit ends February 24! This year is flying by. The outcome I still have to meet is to “Recognize relational dynamics within group contexts.” (I did actually complete this in my first unit of CPE last summer, but that probably doesn’t count at the Truly Wonderful Medical Center.) To this end, I will write about family and/or staff dynamics in my “weekly reflections,” which I discuss with Anita, and for the remainder of this unit, I will make sure my verbatims—transcribed conversations with patients—feature group dynamics.

We also have a mid-year consultation to arrange and prepare for. This is required before we can go on to Level II but isn’t something we have to pass or get a certain score on; we just have to do it. This is a discussion with a group consisting of my own supervisor, me, a member of my sangha, one of my peers, and a member of the Professional Advisory Group. Two weeks before our meeting, I have to provide a short autobiographical statement, my most recent self-evaluation, my supervisor’s most recent evaluation of me, a write-up on my goals either for the unit just finishing or the next unit (preferably the latter), and a document explaining what I want consultation on.

Finally, our self-evaluations for the second unit are due a little before February 24, and tax season is rolling around, so there is a lot to do.


I went to see the surgeon who took over when my breast cancer surgeon retired, and she said everything looks good to her, and now that it has been five years, there is very little chance of a recurrence. She also said she takes pretty much every kind of insurance, including Medicaid and Medi-Cal, and even if I don’t have insurance next year, we’ll work something out. That’s what my eye doctor lately said, too. Reassuring. For many years, I let fears about money and health insurance paralyze me, but I am not scared anymore.

After I saw my doctor, I stopped by the place where I did my first unit of CPE to see if anyone was around. One of the yearlong residents was there—the one who thanked me for being the only person who was nice to him when he started—and the administrative assistant and a woman who works in finance. It was good to see all of them, and I had a lovely chat with the resident. We agreed that one of the great things about being a chaplain, or training to be a chaplain, is that it forces you to practice excellent self-care and also to prioritize your spiritual practice. I now consider the time I spend sitting in meditation at home to be a part of my job, just as important as reporting to work and seeing patients.
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