[I have only realized tonight as I wrote my week's reflection that I hadn't posted last week's CPE reflection at all. this week has been a very busy one for me between preparing for a wedding service and expecting a death at my facility. I have many things to post over the coming days. this will bring me up to the point where I want to be.]
CPE REFLECTION 6
I understand exactly why this disturbed me. This has been on my mind since last Tuesday when my seminary celebrated All Saints' Day by holding a Dia de los Muertos service as part of its daily chapel.
This is what happened. The ofrenda—the large ornate altar at the center of the celebration—created for the service was covered with photos and knickknacks and hundreds of small and large sugar skulls that were available for entrants to add at the front of the sanctuary. I picked up a medium-sized one and set it at an angle on the altar.
At a point after about 20 minutes we were given the opportunity to stand up and indicate what we had added to the ofrenda and explain its significance. I stepped up and said that the skull I placed there was for 2 people, one dead and one not yet dead. The dead person I honored was my mother who died about a year and a half ago. The person I wanted to honor who was not yet dead, however, was someone from my CPE site.
This is where it happened. I began to explain what I understand of this resident’s decision (without giving his name or specifics about him) for the way he’s decided to live the end of his life—that he doesn’t want to be flat on his back in bed, although that might prolong his life, but wants to be in his motorized chair and tootle around the facility and the neighborhood, seeing people and being with them—although his wounds have worsened. It was while I repeated the nurse manager's reaction to having seen bone while examining his wounds, and the way she nearly cried telling me, that I began to tear up myself. As I went further, telling how I was in awe of the decision he had made, knowing there is no turning back from it, and that the decision is incredibly hard, not only for the harshness of the outcome but also how difficult it is to make such a decision while coping with schizophrenia, I started openly crying. Someone handed me some tissues and I stumbled back to my seat.
That was what disturbed me, my crying. I often cry after someone’s death but I don’t feel right crying before that has happened. I’ve been examining this, asking myself if it’s because men aren’t supposed to cry. But that’s not the case: my father often cries when he feels sad or after someone dies, and I don’t feel ashamed by it.
The answer, I think, lies elsewhere, in the idea that I’ve often felt that, to remain effective in an emergency situation, I need to be the person who stays collected and keeps his emotions in check. This has stood me well in those situations—someone has to keep a clear head and watch for what needs to be done. After the end, when there’s nothing left to do, then I can let loose.
Here’s why I think I reacted the way I did. I’ve felt overwhelmed at times by the amount of work I’ve needed to do in order to keep up my studies and put in my time at the facility. That has made it hard sometimes to sleep enough and to stay up to date in reading and essays. I had spent that morning delivering a 20-minute presentation teaching other class members how to develop video mashups, a project I’d been working on for several weeks, and it had gone off better I think than I’d expected. However, I did have a midterm due that Friday which I’d half-completed and I
knew completing it would take much of the next few days’ time.
I’m not ashamed of having cried but I am confused by having done so while talking about someone still alive and talking about why I feel admiration for him. Part of me wants simply to chalk it up to stress and being tired, while another part is concerned that I’m going to begin reacting like this when I can least afford to: while talking with someone about his impending death or about a difficult decision she has to make.