Wednesday 14 March 2007

Focusing On "Things That Really Matter" (Part 1 in a series of reflections on this theme)

(Warning, this reflection piece is long, but it's my process of the last 30 hours and what is ahead - an intense time, indeed.)

I've arrived home several hours ago from a day away from the hospital, but involved with family and friends at my deceased parents' final estate sale and what it represents - the end of an era. My mother Edna died last April 25, and then my father Dean died October 30. I and my siblings and our family members had plenty of opportunity to obtain the special items we wanted to keep beforehand. That was handled quite fairly and equitably among us all in recent times, but it was hard to see the rest of the stuff just flitter away today into the rest of the community and other parts unknown - most of it at ridiculously low prices, of course! It was a multi-estate sale with stuff from three other families - all being sold in two simultaneous rings at the Elkhart County Fairgrounds.

The conversations were good though, and there were some memorable moments as well, watching who bought what to keep as symbols of their relationship with my mother or my father. For example, I had a great time getting to know a couple living in California who bought a number of things, including Dad's 1769 huge leather-bound Swiss German Bible still in pretty good condition and the old book on the sinking of the Titanic, and a great big box full of old Farm and Home Journals dating back to the 1910's and 1920's -- items which we'd left in the auction to help attract people there. I got to share some of the history behind the various items he and his wife had picked up. He got the Bible for $175 -- for his 87 year old mother who spent her life as a translator (knows a dozen languages and taught herself Hebrew and Greek) and still spends a chunk of each day reading the Bible in German.

Well, its just another significant milestone along the way in my ongoing grieving process.

The first thing I read when I got home earlier this evening was an email from Richard Yoder, one of our supportive and concerned volunteer on-call chaplains at Goshen General. He was asking if I still need someone to take call while I go to D.C. this Friday and Saturday. (Background: I'll be helping to drive a min-bus filled with Goshen College students and some other community members in a caravan to the National Cathedral in Washington to attend a
special worship service and vigil marking the fourth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. (By the way, if any readers here are involved locally in conjunction with that major ecumenical event this Friday evening, are you aware of this resource?)

Anyway, here's the essence of my reply to Richard (which I copied the rest of the chaplain team)

Yes I do, Richard. Friday night is covered but I still need help during the day Friday, or Saturday if that would suit you better. But also on Sunday - since I'll be doing a major funeral that day - due to the accidental drug overdose of the son of a much loved and respected ICU nurse; he lived at home with his family here in Goshen.

This young man's father called me from New Hampshire while on a business trip, just a few minutes after his wife (the ICU nurse, at home) was informed by the police about their son's death. He was found at the home of a couple of acquaintances from work. Though a very bright young man, he had, by all accounts, a very boring job at an automotive parts factory, but it's what he chose to do right now. These co-workers whom he barely knew invited him there after completed their third shift together, and he had apparently used their bathroom to "shoot up" - apparently thinking this was a "safe" place away from home where his actions wouldn't be discovered. Something went terribly wrong and he was discovered about 2 pm yesterday, out cold forever.

His parents are committed believers in the Christian faith, but have been in transition and "shopping around" for a church, thus do not have a good local connection yet to a pastor or a local community of faith. I spent quite a bit of time with that devastated mother and and this young man's traumatized girlfriend yesterday afternoon and evening, waiting for dad to catch a plane home from New England. They had no clue he had decided to use again, but had been through quite the ordeal with him in recent years. Later, in the evening, I helped the rest of the ICU staff on duty process this extremely difficult news from a beloved hurting colleague. They hurt for her deeply, as well, for they knew how much she had invested in her son and his recovery efforts - she had been very open with them about all this. This young man, now 22, had enlisted in the National Guard, over and above the objections of his parents, as an 18 year old, and sure enough - was sent to Iraq. The military offered virtually no follow-up debriefing nor counseling to him and his colleagues who returned home from that experience. He came back, having survived the war there, but with memories and issues he could barely speak about - likely afflicted by PTSD, but never diagnosed, then sunk into drug addiction to bury his pain while becoming a student at Purdue University. An earlier overdose there put him in the ICU at Lafayette for quite a while, then he came home, got involved with Narcotics Anonymous (his parents with Al Anon) as he finally "came clean" over many months - and then this.

Absolutely devastating. Such a huge waste of talent. He didn't get killed in the war there, but the one here got him.

His mother and father are not trying to find ways to put responsibility on others for what their son chose to do - they really do understand addictions and did an amazing job with the "tough love" and all that - but at the same time they are very, very angry at what has happened to him and his friends by being caught up in this war -- being ground up and spit out like they were - much more than an 18 year old should have to handle.

Ironic, that yesterday at about the same time he was discovered dead,
this report was released and is a "top story" in the news today.

But I think the actual numbers they quote there are way too low because this is a study of the mental health issues of soldiers returning from Iraq was only among those actually being cared for specifically by the VA, and this young man was denied any help by the military. His mother told me she knows there are tons more just like her son.


After examining my calendar for the rest of the week, I took some time to reflect for a couple of hours on what I've been experiencing lately, and to prepare myself for what will likely unfold as a very challenging/interesting/memorable week:

If you read this far, you already know that besides supporting this particular family as much as my schedule will allow, and preparing for the funeral on Sunday (it will likely be a big one and somewhat difficult to prepare for) I am already committed to that quick but important journey to Washington DC Friday, returning back to Indiana by 1 am early Sunday morning. By the way, I shared with that grieving mother, my dear ICU nurse friend, just why I am going to Washington DC and a bit about the nature of that event, because it was potentially going to effect on the timing of the funeral. But her response was heartening to me -- she said she is VERY glad I'm going and would not want me to miss it for anything. Now I'm going to be there on that young dead soldier's behalf, as well, representing his whole family.

At 7 am on Thursday, however, I'll be sitting down with our hospital's Ethics Committee when we will, among other things, be reviewing a proposed first draft of our policy for dealing with the ethical issues likely involved in a Flu Pandemic -- which are going to be overwhelming and inevitable if THAT ever comes around!

I'm also involved in an ongoing way with our (ecumenical) Goshen Ministerial Association, which meets monthly. Sure enough, our next one is this Thursday noon, the third session of a special series focusing on the immigration issue and discussing the plight of many of our local people directly affected by the attitudes and approaches of various business and government practices. We are, as pastoral leaders, in the process of getting better acquainted and developing deeper sustaining relationships between the Anglo and the Latino/Hispanic pastors which were heretofore virtually separate groups. And we are discussing various viewpoints on necessary reforms. But this time, in particular, we plan to focus on appropriate pastoral responses, as a community of faith, to the ICE raid in our area last week - and all the attendant vibrations set off in the immigrant community and among the rest of us trying to figure out the best way to be supportive, yet also constructive while calling for systemic legislative changes that make better sense.

I guess it's all part of what it means to be a hospital chaplain in a small town dealing with things that really matter in people's lives. I was thinking again this evening about how distinctively different many aspects of my life are from the way my parents lived theirs, yet undergirding it all are a lot of the same values. When it comes right down to it, I'm just a chip off the old block - finding joy in serving others - and dealing with issues that really matter. There is a deep joy and sense of fulfillment in doing that - and I can't think of a better way to honor them.

I read this piece to Carole Anne before sending it off, to gaining her comments and perspective. She thinks I need to send this it to various family members, as well as certain other friends - and I'm indeed grateful she is so supportive of these endeavors on my part.

For those of you taking in this message, who know and care about what is happening in my life - and Carole Anne's - know that I deeply value and acknowledge the importance of relationship, your support, and especially your prayers. Please pray that I will be able to maintain a warm heart, a sharp mind, an open hand, and a receptive spirit to all that God is asking me to do - and not do, as well!

All the best,
Clair Hochstetler

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