There are a lot of people who live in fear of their phones. Doctors, EMT’s, firefighters, and pastors all know that in a moment, their phone could change their day or week. Maybe it’s a car accident they need to get to quickly. Maybe it’s the hospital calling them in for an urgent case. Or maybe it’s a family member calling to let you know that someone died. I received one of those phone calls on Memorial Day, laced with tragic irony – a soldier had killed themselves, and now I, as the chaplain have to “do my thing”.
The thing that frightens me, the thing that I want to process “out loud”, is just how comfortable I am with these situations. People tell me all the time that they have no idea what to do or say in these moments. That’s not my problem. My problem is that it begins to feel scripted or rote. My problem seems to be how comfortable I am talking about death, grief, and suicide. It feels strangely familiar.
It’s like that old suit or dress that hangs in your closet. It’s only for special occasions, and you always feel a little different when you wear it. There’s a weight that comes from wearing it because it’s so unfamiliar. The first time you walk through grief, it’s odd and uncomfortable. It’s all so unknown that the experience of saying goodbye is one of the most powerful memories you have. There are stings you’ve never felt before, pains in places you didn’t know existed emotionally.
If you “put on your grief” enough times, you learn where all of those nooks and crannies are. You know what the weariness and exhaustion feels like. You know what the depression and anger feel like. You know when the numbness will settle in, and when you’ll be able to get back to normal.
The thing that frightens me most about grief isn’t the pain from it; it’s the familiarity of it all.
You know that child who watches a movie time after time, again and again. To the point where they can quote it with near perfection.
I’m afraid that I am becoming that child. I’m afraid I’ve become so comfortable in the suit that the sorrow, anger, and frustration begin to feel more and more like commonplace than unfamiliar companions.
Now, I admit that there is a great benefit in my line of work to this level of familiarity. I cannot tell you the number of times that people tell me they have no idea what to say or do in a moment like this. “I don’t know how you do it” they say. And I politely shrug my shoulders and try to move the conversation along. Because let’s be honest; no one wants to talk about it.
The benefit is that I do know. I do know what I can say or not say. I do know what to expect. There are special or unique circumstances that may change some of the details, but ultimately, I feel like I know these dance steps.
And while I am glad I can offer comfort to a family that has to do the unthinkable, or a spouse that is lost in that moment. And I know that whatever I feel or experience in those moments pales in comparison with their grief or loss. But that doesn’t mean I can’t also hate it. I hate how common these things have become. I hate how well I can write eulogies.
I hate how comfortable this old suit is.
So I write this out so that I can process some of these things, so I can leave some of these feelings aside for the moment.
So thank you for reading this.
I love y’all and there’s nothing you can do about it.