Collective Grief

Chaplain Resident Kelsey Lewis

One Sunday afternoon I was doing my best to get through a yoga session when my sister barged into the room saying, “I just got a tweet: TMZ is reporting Kobe Bryant’s dead.” My response was, “TMZ must be desperate for attention.” Within minutes, every news station, ESPN, and social media erupted reporting that a helicopter carrying nine passengers crashed in the hills of Calabasas, California. Two of the passengers on that helicopter were Kobe Bryant and his thirteen-year-old daughter, Gianna. The father daughter duo were headed to Gianna’s basketball game with teammates, family members, and coaches John and Keri Altobelli and their daughter, Alyssa; Sarah Chester and her daughter, Payton; and Christina Mauser, an assistant coach. I was watching the live news coverage and reading the ticker tape scroll across the bottom of the screen but could still not process it. It was unbelievable.


My sister fell to the floor in tears, my brother-in-law searched incessantly for validity in the
reports, and I was unable to move feeling the shock circulate through my entire body. As I stood there, I found my mind going back to elementary school when I would wear my #8 Kobe Bryant Lakers jersey to school any time we didn’t have to wear our white, collared shirts and blue bottoms uniform. I thought about shooting free throws for hours in the driveway trying to lock in my ‘Mamba Mentality’. At the same time, my sister was talking about how they went to the Lakers verses Cavaliers during Kobe’s final season. Within hours of the crash, there was a mural painted on the windows of my street of Kobe with his iconic outstretched arms palming a basketball. We, as individuals, a family, a city, a nation, and a world, were all finding meaningful ways to relate to this news… to this loss.

Collective shock occurs when people share stories, unload feelings, and connect with others within a difficult situation so they do not feel like they are bearing the weight of the event alone. Nobody in my family ever met any of the Bryant’s, Altobelli’s, Chester’s, or Mauser’s. But our need to verbalize what this accident meant to us was important because we were all unconsciously feeling the magnitude of the reality. The world lost a legend who formed his legacy on the court. Family members lost parents, daughters, siblings, husbands, and wives. Professional and amateur athletes alike lost friends, teammates, and role models. Media outlets tried to attack the integrity of the pilot, Ara George Zobayan, who also died. Many lost in ways that cannot be labeled or described.

I flipped on ESPN this morning and saw footage of the crash site, montages of Gigi growing up playing ball, and highlights of Kobe on and off the court. Throughout the day, athletes and many notable figures paid tribute to Kobe and honored the Bryant family’s loss. One year has gone by since the crash. After watching ESPN, I carried myself through the day feeling sad. I was thinking that my sadness was irrational because so many days had gone by in the last year where I didn’t think about Kobe, Gigi, John, Keri, Alyssa, Sarah, Payton, Christina, Ari, or their grieving families. I felt bad about feeling sad.

Rationality does not influence how and what I feel. There is no systematic approach to the onset of grief. Feelings do not come from the same place for the same reasons in the same way. My sadness was feeling empathy for the passengers and pilot on the helicopter and their families. Three young women’s lives were cut far too short. I recognize the magnitude of what athletes sports, and competition lost. As a fan since Kobe wore #8, I felt like he was unfairly taken away from me, and from all of those who loved him.

One of the primary modalities of healing is the concept of acceptance. I’ve struggled with this for my entire life because, as a former competitive athlete, my feelings got in the way of success. They got in the way of winning. Accepting the reality of a loss, I thought, meant that I was okay with it. Allowing my feelings to over take me in a game changing situation would disrupt my plans, skills, and techniques causing me to lose control and confidence. Losing a game is not the same as grieving a loss.


Accepting reality is about acknowledging what is real and what is being felt in the moment. It does not mean you have to be okay with the reality. Acceptance is noticing what you feel to avoid emotional suppression. It is about being mindful in the moment without trying to evaluate or change anything. While I sat on the edge of my bed staring at Sports Center, I thought about the last time that the world felt okay, that I felt what I knew to be my normal, was last January, on a Sunday afternoon, right before TMZ reported on the helicopter crash. Right now, I don’t have to be okay with it. I don’t even have to think about it. I just have to feel it.

Listen

Chaplain Resident Alyssa Muehmel

In one of my seminary classes, we had a weekly practice called “dwelling in the Word”. In this activity, we were given a passage of Scripture to read and were given one minute to read and “listen” for what God was saying to us. At the end of this minute, we would turn to a classmate and take turns sharing what we heard in the text. Each participant had one minute to share what they heard, totally uninterrupted. In fact, we were instructed to not even make affirming sounds or add interjections like “yeah!” or “how interesting!”. The listener had to do their best to focus on what the speaker was saying, and avoid plotting a response or a rebuttal in their mind. Once each person had their minute to share, volunteers would share what their partner shared with the whole class, while avoiding sharing what they themselves heard in the text. For the first few weeks, this was a clunky exercise. Partners began to interject while listening and then had to stop themselves, students shared their own thoughts intermingled with the thoughts of their partner, or misrepresented what their partner had said, revealing that they weren’t listening as closely as they had thought. In this exercise, we learned that listening is a discipline.

As I practiced this exercise over the course of a few years, I began to notice how often I wasn’t really listening when people were speaking to me. I realized that it is my tendency to plan a response when another is speaking to me. Perhaps you can relate to this. In my job as a chaplain, listening is at the very center of the work. I sit with patients in their joys and pains, and mostly just listen. My work has forced me to continue to hone this craft of listening, and it has been a delight to discover that it really works. I often finish a visit with a patient, having said very little at all, and yet they say, “thank you, I feel so much better!” or “you really helped me see this more clearly!”. I find this amusing at times, as I usually do not give this person anything that they did not already have access to within themselves. Yet I know that, through listening, I helped them feel heard, and thus feel that they are important and loved.

I still find the practice of deep listening to be challenging. I still find my mind wandering while patients are speaking to me, or notice myself planning my response. When I begin to feel anxious that I do not have a good or helpful response to their story, I pause and return to listening, and a response usually comes naturally. Often the only “response” needed is a reverent silence and assurance that they have been heard.

            When one is suffering, there are not magic words that can make their pain go away. Most often, people simply need a space to share the burden they are carrying and to place just a portion of it on someone else. If you find yourself in a situation where another is pouring out their pain, and you fear that you do not know what to say, take comfort in the fact that listening deeply can be a balm of healing in itself. Truly listening touches the wound of one’s spirit in ways that words cannot. Sharing one’s pain, and truly being heard, is the first step in the process of healing. Listening without interrupting, giving unwanted advice, offering your opinion, or getting distracted is the greatest gift you can give someone who is hurting. The discipline of listening takes practice, but is well worth the effort. A deep listening presence has the power to heal and comfort those who trust you with their pain.

Hope For This Time

Chaplain Intern Ronke Olawale

DISCLAIMER: This post does not in any way seek to or diminish the measure of grief and suffering, and loss felt by families, friends, and all those connected to the over 1.62 million global deaths due to the COVID-19 epidemic but rather hopefully to offer some hope for the future amidst this reality.

The coronavirus pandemic has largely defined our path during the year 2020, to the extent everyone might have had to reimagine our lives’ events. From March this year, our New Year Resolutions became irrelevant, and we have all pursued only those goals that would keep us alive. Others do not keep a yearly-resolutions but still make plans weekly, monthly, or yearly. We keep planners because we want to make sure that each day counts for something. We love to be in charge or in control of our time. Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future but from wanting to control it. One lesson this year has taught us, therefore, is that we are not in control of how the universe functions. What about your dreams for 2020? What is it about 2020? Don’t blame every mistake and unrealized dream on the year 2020. God has a plan, and God’s agenda is often different from our plans.

Right now, life might not mean much to some people- family losses, business losses, hopes dashed, and many dreams far from being realized – so it seems, right? Remember, “Weebles wobble, but Weebles don’t fall down.” Regardless of how much you push, press upon, hold them down, hit, or kick them, they would always rise again. The other lesson for 2020 from the Weebles is: THIS TOO SHALL PASS. History and, indeed, research teach us of society’s ability to mitigate, cope, adapt to, and overcome natural, technological, and willful disasters, as evidenced by the World Wars, Hurricane Katrina, the Indian Ocean tsunami, the September 11 terrorist attack on the United States, and many other disasters. When the COVID pandemic is over, what will you be doing?  Have you considered how you might take advantage of current events to bring hope out of hopelessness? After every disaster comes a period of rebuilding.

After this time of destructions will come a time of rebuilding and renewal. When this storm – the coronavirus outbreak, ceases, the world will need to be rebuilt. We would need to rebuild our lives, families, communities, cities, and our entire world. Love would need to be rekindled where it has been lost or broken, and healing would begin. Life in itself is full of uncertainties and violence. Therefore, as mortals, we experience disruptions in our daily lives. These disruptions and sometimes disasters are caused by natural or unnatural events, including sicknesses and disease outbreaks, accidents including fires, air and road crashes, marine casualties, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. When these events happen, we are broken. Our outer bodies – the human houses are often destroyed – deaths occur. For survivors, our hearts are broken, our spirit crashes but never crushed. We are not “utterly” destroyed. Hence, we often say we pick up the broken pieces of our lives and keep going.

            This, too, shall pass. Today, there are COVID-19 vaccines, there are medications too, even though expensive and still out of the reach of millions of people. When the storm ceases to rage, then we will begin to dream big dreams and have aspirations. Depending on where the outbreak left you, where will you start?

I think of Biblical David and his many struggles and battle as a pattern for discovering God’s purpose. At the time, he thought he would become a king, that did not happen. His best friend, Jonathan, even rose against him, but David did not give up. He was the least among his brethren; hence when they sought a king-figure, he was not considered. Although some people have it all laid-out or pre-arranged for them, for the vast majority, success in life is a process that may take years, series of conversations, crises, many years of serious toiling. When David chose to stop trying to be in control was the beginning of the actualization of his dreams. Growth is always on some level of letting go, enduring difficulties, and allowing the divine purpose behind the scenes to take its full course. No matter where you are today, understand that you have influence and impact on the lives of the people around you. Live with the understanding that you hold the light of hope for those who you can reach. Therefore, even when we are apart, we can be together during this time of our lives.   

            As we approach the end of the year, in light of the prevailing negative and often pessimistic events around us, the attitude of so many in this season is not gratitude. Many are struggling to keep an optimistic outlook about life generally, while others unsurprisingly are questioning God. But there are a couple of truths that not one philosopher questions; one, there is nothing new under the sun, and two, everything that has a beginning surely has an end, and this too shall pass. And for those of the Christian faith preparing to celebrate Christmas, what comes to mind about this holiday is joy and celebrations. The Christmas decor and lighting will be up. The temporary events of the pandemic should not distract us from seeking intimacy with Immanuel. Whatever betides us, we can cling to this truth; because of Immanuel’s arrival, we have hope and a future.

Untethered: When Caring Hurts Too Much

Chaplain Resident Michelle Jendry

I remember the first time I realized something was off with me. I was in my car driving to work. I was a chaplain intern at another hospital at the time. Nothing was unusual about that morning really. I remember my mind was running that day. As someone with anxiety, it’s not at all unusual for my mind to be churning on something, overthinking as usual. But this wasn’t overthinking as usual. Honestly, I barely remember having any one particular thought or one big thing I was worried about. It felt like, out of nowhere, I just fell into this confusing spiral of emotions and thoughts: about work, about school, about my patients, about the state of the world. I was surprised when I started crying seemingly out of nowhere. I didn’t even really know why I was crying. I was crying over everything, yet also nothing the same time.

I also started having problems sleeping. I had been a night owl for quite a long time (and was especially used to it as a grad student). Usually though, the physical challenge of working a 9-5, Monday through Friday schedule where I was often on my feet was enough to have me falling asleep right when I hit the bed. In the couple of weeks leading up to me crying in my car, I’d started having a hard time falling asleep even when I felt physically exhausted. It felt like I just couldn’t turn my brain off. Even when I felt physically about to fall over from exhaustion, I would lay in bed awake. Thinking about different things: about stories I’d heard from patients and staff, about events I’d witnessed recently, about what I might witness the next day…

Maybe a few days after the crying in the car incident, I almost passed out at work. I walked in that morning, extremely tired as usual but determined to tough it out. As I was looking at my patient lists for the day, I felt dizzy. I thought maybe I just needed to get some caffeine or something to wake me up, so I got up from my chair. Right away I felt like the world was spinning around me. I freaked out and called my boss, who told me to go home for the day. Though she strongly advised I find someone else to pick me up and take me home, I made the risky decision to drive myself home. Having someone else come get me felt like I was being a burden, like I was making a big deal out of nothing. Luckily, I made it home safe, and I slept the entire rest of the day once I got in bed.

I was overflowing with emotions and stories from my work, and I didn’t realize it until then. As a chaplain, the one thing I love the most is being able to listen to people’s stories and find a way to help them that’s spiritually meaningful. I love helping people. It’s my purpose in life. But I’d experienced too much without processing, without letting out my emotions in some way. I was bottling things up. I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing enough even though I was running on fumes. I was increasingly irritable. I would try to numb or deny my exhaustion by caffeine and constantly snacking on junk food and sugar. I had trouble concentrating in my visits and ran out of mental energy faster. I couldn’t stop thinking about patients and trauma and what heartbreaking situation I might encounter next, even when I wasn’t at work. I felt untethered in a choppy sea.

These are all signs of something called compassion fatigue. The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project defines compassion fatigue as “emotional, physical, and spiritual distress in those providing care to another [that is] associated with caregiving where people or animals are experiencing significant emotional or physical pain and suffering.” Some common signs of compassion fatigue include (but aren’t limited to):

Cognitive

  • Lowered Concentration
  • Apathy
  • Rigid thinking
  • Perfectionism
  • Preoccupation with trauma

Emotional

  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Numbness
  • Sadness
  • Helplessness

Behavioral

  • Withdrawal
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Appetite change
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Elevated startle response

Physical

  • Increased heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Impaired immune system
  • Increased severity of medical concerns

I’m no doctor or mental health professional, and my intent isn’t to diagnose or treat. My goal is to help raise awareness through sharing my own personal experience. Compassion fatigue isn’t confined to what we typically think of as helping professions—healthcare, social service, public safety—either. Anyone who is exposed regularly to stories of people experiencing trauma can be at risk. Steven Petrow of The Washington Post wrote this article exploring compassion fatigue in those who care for family or friends with long-term illnesses. Elisa Gabbert wrote this piece for The Guardian exploring if our constant exposure to horrific news stories can cause compassion fatigue. These were both written before the current COVID-19 pandemic too, in which many of us have faced prolonged fear, exhaustion, and trauma.  

So, what can help? There are lots of resources out there with information on how to face compassion fatigue. For me, I needed to re-tether. To myself, to my community, and to my spirituality. A few things helped. The biggest overarching change was a change in my attitude: I realized that I needed to change the way I was living. I couldn’t spend my life running on fumes and still feel happy. I prioritized my needs: I made sure I took breaks during my day for relaxation and for making sure I was fed, hydrated, etc. I started journaling to process the events and emotions I was experiencing. I started working on getting more sleep. I came up with a ritual for starting and ending my work to help me not take work home with me as much. I eventually made time to see a therapist to help me work through things and make a self-care plan. It wasn’t one single overnight fix; it was a bunch of smaller changes I made to my life that had effects over time. It was not (and still isn’t) easy, but it’s so worth it to be able to do the ministry I love for the long-haul. To be able to give without losing all of me. To be able to reach out to help others while remaining securely tethered, connected to my own inner sense of home and self.

For More Information and Resources on Compassion Fatigue and Self-Care:

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network on strategies for taking care of yourself in the face of trauma

Overcoming Compassion Fatigue” in FPM, the journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians

The Michigan Medicine Wellness Office (for MM students, faculty, and staff)

The Michigan Medicine Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience (for MM faculty and staff)

Michigan Medicine Spiritual Care Department’s Resource Page

Compassion

Chaplain Resident Kelsey Lewis

Compassion is a primary inner strength humans are capable of having and expressing towards others. These days, the value of this inner strength has been particularly magnified over the last eight months because of mass suffering across the globe. Have compassion. Be compassionate. Commands such as these are easily said, but how does one experience compassion?

I remember receiving birthday invitations in the mail as a kid. The real trend of the mid 90s was to send out jazzy card stock with the ‘who, what, when, where, why’ details written out on the front. It was a more fun way to say that Courtney was having a bowling birthday party next Saturday. In high school, my favorite class was Etymology: the study of the origin of a word. It was a class that helped me understand the ‘who, what, when, where, why’ of a word.

This is obvious, but words are basically just condensed descriptions of meanings and actions. What a word says is not always exactly the same as how a word is defined. When I look further into the etymology of compassion, I understand that it is not just a word describing an act to be sympathetic towards others. It is an invitation to feel sorrow with others. The literal translation is “suffering with another”. I believe compassion is an emotion rooted in morality leading humans to feel that all suffering, internal or external, deserves a response of relief. In his research on inhibiting compassion, South African theologian, Phil C. Zylla explains that the response of relief is a dynamic and empathetic process that works to identify, support, and alleviate the presenting pain.

Compassion, just like a relationship, is a two-way street. It is a psychological resource necessary to nurture personally so you can express it to others interpersonally. One cannot outwardly express compassion without inwardly feeling compassionate. Bringing compassion into personal pain is not selfish. It is building an inner resource that can be used to support others. Presence is a fundamental element of compassion. Being understanding and understood without judgement is a way to enter into the suffering compassionately. Simply being is often an underestimated, yet powerful entity of facilitating healing. Time is the most valuable element of life we have, and giving time to endure, validate, and relieve some sense of pain with another reclaims these moments of continuous presence into compassion.

It’s easy to think that compassion is a grand gesture and doing something little won’t make a difference. I recently ordered a pair of shoes that I was really psyched about, but they never arrived. Weeks had gone by and I had tried everything with the store and filed claims with FedEx. On Saturday night, I was watching the Michigan football game and I got a text from a Georgia phone number with a photo of my missing package. It turns out that I had accidently put in the incorrect shipping address, and the shoes were delivered two blocks away. I replied right away and we organized a way for me to pick up the package. Her final text to me said, “… I’m a firm believer in karma… pass it along with you can.”

Without realizing it, the next day at work I was an overtly kind to everyone I encountered. Nothing monumental happened in my day where I changed another person’s life. I just held doors longer, said thank you more often and meant it, gave up a parking spot, and made eye contact and smiled at strangers. Driving home at the end of the day I was thinking… “Today was a really good day!” but I didn’t fully know why. The compassion of the woman who helped me get my shoes back was contagious, and the idea of paying it forward sets off a chain reaction in me. Compassion is something you give, but by these acts it can become part of who you are. 

This inner strength of compassion is critical to build in current times so we do not become numb to the pain we feel, or accepting the suffering of others as, simply, the way it is.  Today, you are invited to feel and build compassion. Be aware and sensitive towards the pain you feel. Receive compassion as often as you offer it. Compassion is a starting point when suffering arises and builds self-worth along the journey of healing. It is caring about how you feel and wanting to do something that will make it better.

Compassion

By Chaplain Resident Kelsey Lewis

Compassion is a primary inner strength humans are capable of having and expressing towards others. The value of this inner strength has been particularly magnified over the last eight months because of mass suffering across the globe. Have compassion. Be compassionate. Commands such as these are easily said, but how does one experience compassion?

I remember receiving birthday invitations in the mail as a kid. The real trend of the mid 90s was to send out jazzy card stock with the ‘who, what, when, where, why’ details written out on the front. It was a more fun way to say that Courtney was having a bowling birthday party next Saturday. In high school, my favorite class was Etymology: the study of the origin of a word. It was a class that helped me understand the ‘who, what, when, where, why’ of a word.

This is obvious, but words are basically just condensed descriptions of meanings and actions. What a word says is not always exactly the same as how a word is defined. When I look further into the etymology of compassion, I understand that it is not just a word describing an act to be sympathetic towards others. It is an invitation to feel sorrow with others. The literal translation is “suffering with another”. I believe compassion is an emotion rooted in morality leading humans to feel that all suffering, internal or external, deserves a response of relief. In his research on inhibiting compassion, South African theologian Phil C. Zylla explains that the response of relief is a dynamic and empathetic process that works to identify, support, and alleviate the presenting pain.

Compassion, just like a relationship, is a two way street. It is a psychological resource necessary to nurture personally so you can express it to others interpersonally. One cannot outwardly express compassion without inwardly feeling compassionate. Bringing compassion to personal pain is not selfish. It is building an inner resource that can be used to support others. Presence is a fundamental element of compassion. Being understanding and understood without judgement is a way to enter into the suffering compassionately. Simply being is often an underestimated, yet powerful entity of facilitating healing. Time is the most valuable element of life we have, and giving time to endure, validate, and relieve some sense of pain with another reclaims these moments of continuous presence into compassion.

It’s easy to think that compassion is a grand gesture and doing something little won’t make a difference. I recently ordered a pair of shoes that I was really psyched about, but they never arrived. Weeks had gone by and I had tried everything with the store and filed claims with FedEx. On Saturday night, I was watching the Michigan football game and I got a text from a Georgia phone number with a photo of my missing package. It turns out that I had accidently put in the incorrect shipping address, and the shoes were delivered two blocks away. I replied right away and we organized a way for me to pick up the package. Her final text to me said, “… I’m a firm believer in karma… pass it along with you can.”

Without realizing it, the next day at work I was overtly kind to everyone I encountered. Nothing monumental happened in my day where I changed another person’s life. I just held doors longer, said thank you more often and meant it, gave up a parking spot, and made eye contact and smiled at strangers. Driving home at the end of the day I was thinking… “Today was a really good day!” but I didn’t fully know why. The compassion of the woman who helped me get my shoes back was contagious, and the idea of paying it forward sets off a chain reaction in me. Compassion is something you give, but by these acts it can become part of who you are. 

This inner strength of compassion is critical to build in current times so we do not become numb to the pain we feel, or accepting the suffering of others as, simply, the way it is.  Today, you are invited to feel and build compassion. Be aware and sensitive towards the pain you feel. Receive compassion as often as you offer it. Compassion is a starting point when suffering arises and builds self-worth along the journey of healing. It is caring about how you feel and wanting to do something that will make it better.

Healing, Hope, and the Holy Spirit

Deborah Metcalf, Chaplain Resident

We live embodied lives, and this experience of living in a body informs and is intertwined with all other aspects of our being. In fact, I recently sort of re-learned the importance of taking care of my physical body and the impacts it has had on my mental and emotional well being, as well as my ability to think clearly and perform mental tasks. At first, I felt like I was doing these things instead of a spiritual practice. But soon, I began to realize the impact it was having on my overall mental, emotional, and physical health. I began to feel like I had more time for my more traditionally “spiritual” practices like meditation. I began to feel that my spirit was lighter, I was kinder, less tired, and had more energy for the things and people I enjoy.

All this is to say that our physical bodies have an impact on our overall sense of health, healing, and wellness and is an integrated part of our holistic selves: mind, body, and spirit. Our physical bodies are prone to aches and pains, disease, and infection, prone to hunger and to thirst. This matters. They matter to our spirit, and to the livelihood of our bodies in community with others. Our bodies matter in connection to our minds and our emotions, and are integrated with our whole selves. Care of the body is concern for the whole self in community and relationship with others. 

One example of this can be seen in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow’s triangle depicts that our physical needs must be met as a foundation for growth and flourishing in other areas of our lives. Jesus was all about the physical body. Jesus didn’t say, don’t worry about your blindness, or your aching back, or your bleeding lesions, it will dissipate in heaven. No, he addressed real needs of the physical body here and now. He made heaven on earth for these people by healing their aching bodies, in turn allowing their spirit to be free from physical pain. 

But, when we find ourselves or our loved ones in the hospital, it can feel like our bodies are failing us. So, then, what does it look like to care for the body? When healing the physical body is not an option, does this mean that god has abandoned us? That we are not worthy of his healing? No. I think this is when wellness for the physical body as means to promote soul-care switches over, and soul-care becomes a means to help cope with physical ailments. It’s not that one is more important than the other, it is that they are uniquely and divinely intertwined with one another.

Here at Michigan Medicine, we focus on healing these physical bodies we possess, and this is spiritual work. Hospitals are places of physical healing, but there is also a need for spiritual and emotional healing alongside it. I think this is a huge part of where chaplains can come into play and help extend healing beyond the physical body, as well as helping the physical body heal through the mind and spirit. Physical healing is linked to healing in the mind and spirit. Mental and emotional pains can manifest physically. In turn, physical pain can impact our spiritual and emotional health as well.

Healing can be done in a number of different ways. Doctors and nurses, chaplains, and social workers help address our various needs as holistic people. In their roles, each have the opportunity to heal through the intentionality they bring when they enter a patient’s room. A caregiver can practice healing through compassionate touch as they perform various caregiving tasks and/or procedures on each patient. A social worker or chaplain through holding a hand if/when appropriate. If touch is not appropriate, then compassionate gaze could be utilized.  “Holy listening” can be utilized either through the practice of empathetic and reflective listening or through music. Music can be utilized through the use of song, bells, singing bowls, or a professional music therapist. Many of these items could be used by anyone, and even adopted by visiting family members.

I think healing is and should be seen as a holistic endeavor between mind, body, and spirit. In a hospital setting, such as I work in, medical staff, along with chaplains and social workers, and sometimes others in specialized fields each play a role in the holistic healing of patients, and family members, because they are a part of our holistic, spiritual selves. The Holy Spirit works through each of them as they utilize their gifts and talents for the holistic care of patients. It is always done best with intentionality and love at the forefront. Jesus showed us through his life, that healing of physical bodies has an impact far greater than physical relief. 

Weeping Together

Alyssa Muehmel, Chaplain Resident

“WEEP” the sign said. Well, it actually said “SWEEP” and some other words I couldn’t see because they were obscured by a hospital bed, and in it, a man who laid dying. And next to him, his fiance and mother, holding his hands, weeping.

The sign felt like a command, “WEEP!” The moment called for weeping. I felt like weeping. This man was not old, he would never get to marry his fiance, his mother would have to bury her child, his death happened suddenly. I felt the tears well up in my eyes.

Sometimes people ask me why I do this work, how I can face moments like these, and is because I believe I am commanded to weep. In the New Testament there is a verse which is sometimes translated, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” I believe one of the holiest things we can do is to weep with those who are weeping.

In these saddest, darkest of moments, how can we find hope? When our loved one is dead and they will not come home from the hospital with us, when we receive the grim diagnosis, when our marriage crumbles, what can we hold on to?

Sometimes the only shred of hope to be found is that we are not alone. I believe that God weeps with us when we weep. Another story in the New Testament tells of Jesus weeping at the death of his friend, Lazarus. Jesus knows the next scene of this story, in which he brings Lazarus back to life. His friend does come back, and yet Jesus cries at his death. This story tells me that God sits in our pain with us, and even cries when we cry.

I heard a song this week by the band Rend Collective, which opens with this verse:

“Weep with me

God will You weep with me?

I don’t need answers, all I need

Is to know that You care for me.”

In the moments when there are no answers, when all we can do is weep, God is present. When someone else is suffering and we don’t know what to say, may we learn how to care for each other by offering our tears.

She is Called

This month the Department of Spiritual Care at Michigan Medicine welcomed four new Chaplains for the year-long residency “interfaith professional education for ministry. It brings theological students and ministers of all faiths (pastors, priests, rabbis, imams and others) into supervised encounter with persons in crisis. Out of an intense involvement with persons in need, and the feedback from peers and teachers, students develop new awareness of themselves as persons and of the needs of those to whom they minister. From theological reflection on specific human situations, they gain a new understanding of ministry. Within the interdisciplinary team process of helping persons, they develop skills in interpersonal and inter-professional relationships (www.acpe.edu).”

Please join us in welcoming the following four women into our Chaplain Residency program:

Michelle Jendry

Michelle Jendry was born and raised in Michigan and attended the University of Michigan as a student prior to her seminary education. She completed her Master of Divinity at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas and is a candidate for ordination in the North Texas Association of the United Church of Christ. She completed her first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor. Alongside ministry work, Michelle enjoys reading and journaling as well as exploring Ann Arbor’s many beautiful nature spots, meditation, Star Wars, and going to waterparks.

Kelsey Lewis

Kelsey Lewis is a CPE resident originally from the Metro- Detroit suburbs. After graduating with a B.A. from Albion College, Kelsey moved to Oklahoma City, OK to train with the United States Sprint Canoe/ Kayak team, as well as coach the Junior and Masters team at the Team U.S.A. Olympic Training Site on the Oklahoma River. While coaching, Kelsey also became very involved with programming at her local United Methodist Church and a community wide interdenominational Christian ministry program as a leader for youth and young adults. The experiences connecting with kids and their families as a coach and in ministry led Kelsey to Garrett- Evangelical Theological Seminary at Northwestern University where she obtained a M.A. in Pastoral Care and Counseling.

Deborah Metcalf

Deborah Metcalf is happy to be living back in her home state of Michigan! She recently completed her Master’s of Divinity from Iliff School of Theology, in Denver, CO. She also holds a BA in Cross-Cultural Religious Studies from Valparaiso University in Indiana. Deb is passionate about social justice and ethics, has spent time working as a volunteer coordinator in hospice care, and has a big smile! Deb finds peace in nature and loves getting outdoors in any way possible whenever she can.

Alyssa Muehmel

Alyssa Muehmel is from Southeast Michigan, but she has spent the last 7 years in West Michigan earning my B.A. in Sociology from Calvin University in Grand Rapids, and then a MDiv. degree from Western Theological Seminary in Holland. She is a licensed candidate for ordination in the Reformed Church in America. She is pursuing ordination as a specialized minister, likely in a hospital chaplaincy role. She did her first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Grand Rapids, working with patients experiencing acute mental illness. In her free time, she loves to be outside walking, hammocking, hiking, or just enjoying nature! 

Joy is a Radical Act

KI TAVO

A REFLECTION BY CHAPLAIN BENJAMIN FREED, STUDENT, THE RABBINICAL SCHOOL OF JTS (CLASS OF 2021), GLADSTEIN FELLOW

“Art is a radical act. Joy is a radical act.”
—Rebecca Makkai, The World’s on Fire. Can We Still Talk About Books?

A few weeks ago, my fiancée and I re-watched the Disney/Pixar movie Inside Out, where anthropomorphized emotions work together and compete to control the feelings and actions of an 11-year-old named Riley. One of the primary lessons is that unchecked “Joy” cannot by itself bring true happiness or properly prepare us for handling life’s more difficult moments. Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust all play a role in making us who we are, and we ignore those emotions at our own risk. As someone who strongly identifies with Amy Poehler’s peppy and unrelentingly optimistic “Joy” character, this message is both sobering and powerful.

However, after re-watching the movie in 2020, I was forced to wonder if our collective pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. The last six months of uncertainty and fear have been so devastating that even as a naturally jubilant person I am hesitant to speak out on behalf of joy. The challenges we face today are both so great and so evident that we can recite them by rote—every article, sermon, and conversation is framed by a litany of disasters. I have noticed that even when feelings of joy do come, they are often accompanied by guilt. But it is not in spite of everything happening around us that I speak of joy this week; it is because of it.

Twice in this week’s parashah, Ki Tavo, (weekly reading) we are commanded to be joyful: we are instructed to be joyful in our bringing of the first fruits along with the Levite and the Stranger (Deut. 26:11) and we are to also be joyful after offering up—and eating—sacrifices of well-being (Deut. 27:7).

These instances of joy are tied to specific actions, and the Sages of the Talmud use these verses to establish that joy is experienced when singing (BT Arakhin 11a) or when eating meat and drinking wine (BT Pesahim 109a).

Joy appears for a third time in our parashah in the midst of the tokhehah, a long collection of curses meant for those who do not obey God’s command:

Because you would not serve your God in joy and gladness over the abundance of everything, you shall have to serve—in hunger and thirst, naked and lacking everything—the enemies whom God will let loose against you. God will put an iron yoke upon your neck until God has wiped you out. (Deut. 28:47)

Here the expectation of joy is not tied to a specific action or a specific time. We are warned that if we fail to be exuberant when serving God, calamity will befall us. Tucked into the middle of one of the most difficult passages in the Torah is a huge and timely blessing, the necessity of joy in our daily lives.

The lesson here, just like in Inside Out, is that one emotion cannot be compartmentalized and only experienced when we feel it is warranted. Even as we grieve for friends and loved ones lost to COVID-19, fight for justice for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Americans, and work to save our environment from those who would destroy it, there must be room for joy in our lives as well.

Yehudah Amichai appreciated the impossibility of compartmentalizing and separating our joy from our pain. In his poem “A Man in His Life,” Amichai writes:

“Kohelet was wrong about this [that there is a time for every purpose].
A human must hate and love at the same moment,
To cry and laugh with the same eyes.”

As a staggering 40 percent of US adults surveyed by the CDC in June reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse, it is critical that we tap into Judaism’s directives for infusing our lives with joy. We must utilize the tools at our disposal to allow our crying eyes a chance to laugh.

Thankfully, we are entering a time of year when our tradition places an added emphasis on joy and happiness. In the next month we will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot—respectively, the birthday of the world, a day of forgiveness and renewal, and the holiday when we are supposed to be אך שמח, entirely happy.

While it is true that these holidays ask us to tie our joy to the calendar, our tradition also recognizes that one cannot set a timer and say “this will be my joyful moment.” These holidays ask something of us that is more difficult: we must actively set the stage for joy and allow ourselves to revel in it if and when it arrives. We cannot force joy, but we can beckon it.

Our Sages prescribe certain things to help bring joy: eating meat, drinking wine, singing songs, and Torah study were all ways various rabbis brought joy into their lives. During the coming holidays we traditionally dress in white, eat meals with guests, engage in small construction projects, and experience long periods of prayer and quiet contemplation. Hopefully one of those practices sounds compelling to you and has the potential to spark your joy.

Beckoning to joy can also require assistance. For those struggling with their mental health or with substance abuse, setting the stage for joy can include a call to a mental health professional.

In Inside Out, Joy has to learn to step back and make space for Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. As the latter emotions take hold of our national psyche, let us remember the words of Psalm 30: “One may lie down weeping at nightfall; but joy comes in the morning.” Let us collectively embrace the radical Jewish call to set a spot at the table for Joy, and to welcome her with open arms.