This morning, I was delighted to hear more details about Robert Mueller being appointed as special counsel to lead the Russia-and-Trump investigation. Exuberant, in fact. Then I heard two seconds of music between segments which I knew was Soundgarden, and then I heard someone say something about Chris Cornell. “Must be his birthday,” I thought, and was staggered when I learned he had “died suddenly” after a concert in Detroit.
I arrived at work in tears, clutching my copy of Superunknown. Sam, about to lead the morning meeting, turned on “Fell on Black Days” loud, and Jodie, one of our supervisors, came in and offered her condolences. I love working where crying when you’re sad is expected, and whatever you’re sad about isn’t judged. “It’s hard when we lose our poets,” she commiserated. There are many musicians I love for many reasons, but I think he was my most beloved, for the way he so transparently and vulnerably grieved and suffered and raged and comforted.
Many years ago, I took the train from San Francisco to Michigan to go with a relative on a round-trip drive across the country. We drove back to San Francisco in her car, and were just south of the city on 101 when I heard “Fell on Black Days” for the first time. I drove straight to a record store to get Superunknown, and on our drive back to Michigan—I’m not sure we spent even one night in San Francisco before turning around—we listened to it over and over and over.
Theoretically, we were taking turns choosing CDs, but every time it was my relative’s turn, I said, “I have an idea: Why don’t we listen to Soundgarden?!” She, such a good sport, said, “Yes, let’s listen to Soundgarden.” So we heard Superunknown from beginning to end however many times you can hear it while driving 2,359 miles. Then, for the next year or so, every time someone telephoned me and asked, “What are you up to?”, the answer was, “I’m listening to Soundgarden.”
Right after morning meeting started today, there was an urgent call from one of the ICUs, and I went to spend an hour with a family who had lost a member. I watched a mother looking at her daughter for the very last time. She did up the snaps on her daughter’s hospital gown sleeve and I thought she had to be picturing herself doing the same years ago for a tiny child, back at the beginning and now—how can it have come so soon?—at the end.
My intention until now has been to be a hospital chaplain. I am planning to go to school over the coming two years, and since the place where I’ll be studying requires students to volunteer, I was planning to volunteer at the county hospital, just because I want to, and also at what I will call the Buddhist Hospice, not its real name. This is all toward becoming a board-certified chaplain, so I can get a job at a hospital.
I had thought that, while I’m in school, I would look for a couple of days’ work per week, at the hospital where I did clinical pastoral education last summer, or at a hospice. But I was sure I didn’t want to be a full-time hospice chaplain. I don’t have a car and don’t want one, and I am a little scared of driving all over the Bay Area and presenting myself at the front doors of strangers. I’m not scared of the patients themselves, but family situations come in all varieties.
However, today, for the umpteenth time, I was visiting a palliative care patient with the team, and our doctor was explaining the main two things palliative care offers: help managing symptoms, and help sorting through medical information to make decisions. This patient, of his own volition, suddenly asked, “What about hospice?” and so we talked about that, and right there, my life suddenly changed direction. Suddenly it was clear to me: I have to, I wish to, I must work in hospice. And maybe in a hospital later, but first I am going to work in hospice. I will get a little car if I have to, and I will drive around the Bay Area. I am also even going to break down and get a smart phone, since people mainly communicate at work via text messages.
Therefore, there is no point in volunteering at the Buddhist Hospice, since I can probably get paid work as hospice chaplain and embark on the next phase of my career right away. I told all this to Jodie and she said, “I endorse your plan!” She said I can easily get work as a hospice chaplain after a year of CPE. She was chagrined when she remembered I don’t have my master’s degree yet (and never will; I’m going to get an equivalent that will suffice for chaplain certification).
I ran into our palliative care doctor who works at the outpatient clinic, who is the dearest, sweetest, absolutely loveliest person (also a Buddhist meditator), and she was excited for me and said, “Yay! Home visits!” So, yay, home visits!