Part of my hospital chaplaincy duties is to write a reflection on how it’s going. Identities may be altered for privacy. All the writings are here.
I’m in a room where a father keeps telling his high school daughter, “It’s all in God’s hands now, it’s all in His hands.” The girl has lost both her feet in a car accident and her eyes are blank; she’s looking past her dad, somewhere else, into another universe where the other driver had one less shot at the bar.
I want to tell the father, You’re not helping. Can’t you be more sensitive? Don’t you know it’s a process? Can’t you see it doesn’t work?
Every room, one after another, is filled with friends and family members who try to help with the same kinds of shrink-wrapped platitudes. I’ve heard them all.
“Everything will be okay.” But what if it’s not?
“This is God’s plan.” To suffer this much? Why?
“It could’ve been worse.” But isn’t it already bad enough?
I get bitter about this stuff. You’re not helping, I keep thinking at them. And more selfishly, Let me do my job.
I guess it’s easy to see the dad as the bad guy. And sometimes, the guy who brushes off your pain really is the bad guy. But — I’ve also been learning about why we say this stuff so much.
I’m learning that we’ve all learned a way to cope, whether good or bad, and we default into the only way we know how to get through.
I thought about that father and his daughter, and how much his daughter needed to process what was happening. But maybe for the dad, the platitudes were his initial way of processing. Maybe that was all he knew about coping, and it’s what he needed right then.
Of course, the daughter needed it more. She needed the honest room to talk, to be mad, to felt what she felt. But the dad was short-cutting all the honesty because he never had the room to feel how he felt, either. He never had that chance in the first place.
I’ve seen that there’s no school for this sort of thing; there’s no open venue for vulnerability in an increasingly polarized world; no one is rewarded for saying the harder things out loud. We use religious language and pep talk and positive thinking because it’s all we’ve been trained to do. Westernized prosperity and self-help and self-talk are big businesses. We’re constantly taught that if we “dream big” and “try your best,” that we can “achieve anything” and “like attracts like” and all this other brainwashed, first-world, upper-class tripe that only works in suburbia. We’re conditioned to affirm and encourage and cheer each other on, even and especially by forced, coerced, plastic smiles. Anything else is seen as a “Debbie Downer” or “Negative Nancy” or “toxic triggers” or something. No one is taught how to talk about illness, death, or dying with dignity.
So I get it. I get why we try to fix it so fast. I get the denial. We’re all indoctrinated to be scared of the dark, so we keep it light. It’s easier to spout off a motivational one-liner that looks good in typography. No one tells you how to paint without a brush and to jump in the bloody mess.
So I hear, “God has an amazing plan for your life!” one more time, and before I get too bitter, I have to pause. I have to remember where all this comes from. This is what he knows. That’s the size of his spiritual muscle. It doesn’t make me better than him. It only means I have to be better for him.
I’m trying to have grace for this.
Continue reading “Room Enough for Us: Coping With the Way We Cope.”