GUEST BLOG: Death and Taxes, Trust and Faith by Susan J. Katz
Encounters with death are a usual and inevitable part of my work as a hospital Chaplain. Having a day bookended by Death and Taxes, such as I had last week however, caused me to pause and reflect on how the secular and the holy can become one and the same. My day began with Taxes. Oy. The annual day of dread for Susan J Katz.
Encounters with death are a usual and inevitable part of my work as a hospital Chaplain. Having a day bookended by Death and Taxes, such as I had last week however, caused me to pause and reflect on how the secular and the holy can become one and the same.
My day began with Taxes. Oy. The annual day of dread for Susan J Katz. I have nothing to hide, nor anything to show, for that matter. I just hate organizing those pieces of paper that have been loitering and filling up my file cabinet all year, creating a pregnancy that, well, must come to term somehow. I organized the nursery, thinking at least there is a good month before the due date.
As I gathered the papers into groups of income, deductions, tax slips and so on, I started to get punchy. Can’t I just bail and finish this next week? But I was seeing my accountant the next day. Why didn’t I have a daily ritual for filing papers throughout the year? To my chagrin I was mixing up the slips and putting them into wrong piles. Noooo!
As I sank into a funk, my On-Call BlackBerry began to ring. Oh Dear, I am not in the right mind to be a Chaplain right now! But as I gave my usual salutation to the caller, “Hello, this is Susan, the After Hours Chaplain” my pastoral senses awoke.
It was a call from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). A patient was being taken from full care into Comfort Care to allow them to die a natural death, and the family wanted a Chaplain during this transitional time. I left my desk knowing that those tax papers would still be there when I got home.
The family group attending the ICU milled loosely about the bed, having no more practical tasks left for comforting the patient. I introduced myself and waited quietly to discern what I could do for them, to know what their present need was. Confusion, even a quiet one, is a sure indicator that ritual is needed. Everyone clearly understood what was happening— that this time there was no rebound or discharge plan. Death was approaching. And they were clear that they wanted to know how to embrace and undertake the transition. They were wonting for a new plan.
I know the benefits of tapping into ritual for creating sacred space. Unbound grief can gain shape and meaning beyond such discomfort and confusion. Stewardship of grief and loss through ritual can lead to new meanings and a new normal.
There was a tension, a longing in the room to let go and go deep, to move into the next phase of relationship and go alongside with the patient. I asked the visitors if they wished to create their own spiritual cradle through a guided group prayer, and they did. I invited them to speak and share both from the heart and with their words. The patient, who had been dreamlike, aroused and became somewhat excitable. The words and prayers were a comfort. As the tension and momentum of the room resolved, I made myself available for a call later.
Back home I approached my own duties with a new clarity. My organizing of tax papers brought closure to a year now gone: a special meal, a getaway trip, my cat’s death, flowers for my mother, payment for a job well done. Life’s pangs and pleasures were duly accounted for.
I looked at the clock. Past time to return to the hospital. A tinge of guilt came over me. I let it pass and ate a light meal and returned to the ICU. More supporters had also arrived. My BlackBerry rang and I heard the nurse’s voice, “Could you come back now?” “Yes, I am here.” Timing in these situations is not kept by any mechanical clock.
The patient was calm and relaxed now, freed from tubes and IVs. The threshold had been crossed and it was clear that death was inevitable and on the way. The newcomers joined with the family, holding the space, creating a spiritual basinet, swaddling the delivery of themselves and the patient into the Ineffable with the now familiar ritual of prayer
On the drive home I reflected on how in synchrony our holy and secular lives underwent an accounting, a processing of remembered blessings and forgiveness’, allowing transition into a new tomorrow. I noted how the family's faith in the inevitability of death had directed them to a wish for a ritual, and how they gave their trust to me as their ritual provider. When I turned the chore of tax accounting into a ritual of allowing memories, the practical work became holy. This fine balance of vulnerability and trust is what allows engagement with Life’s inevitable processes, and in turn, these become experiences of holiness.
Providing Spiritual Care is my purpose; serving in trust for safety is my duty. The desire to seek and pursue spiritual fulfillment is in all of us. With the same enthusiasm and love that drew me to begin training as a religious professional at age 55, my hope is that a word or two I share in this blog may resonate and inspire you too. Regardless of cultural heritage, gender or ability together we can claim and reclaim our trust in the richness and goodness of our faith practices.
About the Author: Chaplain Susan J. Katz, MA, Spiritual Health Practitioner, Musician
Susan is a hospital Chaplain providing secular as well as faith-based services to people of all genders and abilities. She has served in care homes, correctional facilities, urban health and addictions treatment centres in both the United States and Canada. Susan lives in Vancouver, Canada, and is a Professional Member of the Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains, and an Associate Member of the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care. Susan’s writing and music can be found on her Web/Blog: The Compassionate Oboe
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