Time to Look Back

“Work should not be given priority over relationships.”

Quite a challenge for perfectionist, Type A workaholics but a very pertinent statement made by Pastor Katie at Las Vegas’ First Presbyterian Church in the course of her first sermon as the new leader of this congregation. She spoke movingly about the spiritual lessons that come through mundane daily events, such as those surrounding her recent transplant from Colorado to New Mexico.

One of these lessons was about the need we all have, to have persons to whom we can vent our toxic thoughts, persons who will listen and help us clear our spirits without judgement. I recognize this to be my primary role with some of my clients at work. Not as part of my formal job description, which only talks about assisting them to access the services and supports necessary for them to achieve and maintain the maximum of health and quality of life. We include mental health in the range of services we Care Coordinators support, and many of my clients do have counseling or psychotropic medications included in their service plans. They manage the scheduling of their services and their overall health maintenance with little input from me beyond completion of the mandatory assessments which enable them to become eligible for those services.

Some clients, however, cannot accomplish this self-management without an outsider to their daily lives to whom they can express their frustrations, fears, angers or constraints – and they have elected me to be the receptor of these toxic thoughts and feelings. I’m glad when I can provide this service, sometimes also having a suggestion or insight to offer that helps the client move past the blockage. In rare instances, I’ve been used as the means for two people, each with a need, to connect and jointly resolve their separate concerns. I know, when that happens, that I’ve been what I aspire always to be, a “clear channel” for the Divine to work through.

Why is it so much harder to be a similarly clear channel when the issues are not someone else’s but my own?

Why can I “speak truth to power” on behalf of a client but find it so difficult to speak up for myself appropriately in my own relationships and my daily interactions with the various manifestations of power, such as erroneous charges on a bill, or petty tyrants who take pleasure in making me wait unnecessarily before fulfilling their job duties providing service to me?

Is it because I’m female, of “a certain age” and therefore raised before feminism brought out the extent to which women have historically been taught to accept the denial of their right to dignity and respect?
Or is it just my own personality, resultant from an upbringing in a less-than-positive or supportive family?

Does the reason even matter?

I would like to be able to maintain a clarity and simplicity of day-to-day existence such that I can be aware of the spirit flowing through me in service of my own needs, in the same way that I’m able to let it flow through me to serve others. Instead, it seems that ego, or the rough edges of my personality, or both or neither but something else altogether, create blockages and I end up feeling drained and exhausted.

“Too much outflow without enough inflow” my MasterPath teacher would say. Or, as Pastor Katie also shared, not enough quiet time taken to process what is being left behind before new experiences are presented to be taken in. She recognized the need to grieve leaving behind a home where she’d raised her family, and planted iris given her by her mother-in-law.

We have in common that we have both worked in Hospice care, and understand the need to grieve losses, including ones less dire than loss of a loved one to death. A training program I attended for grief counselors emphasized that seemingly small losses can become the triggering event for previously unexpressed pain over the loss of a family member – the man who seems to handle the death of his wife but collapses a year later when the family pet dies, for example. One of the exercises in the workshop required that we attempt to catalogue all the losses we have experienced in our lifetime, to help us recognize things we should give ourselves permission to grieve. Also to help us hear what is implied but not clearly stated when a family member of a deceased client expresses extreme anger at a factually minor loss of respect or status on their job, six months after the death.

Moving from one community to another is a clear transition that will bring up for any sensitive soul – as it did for the pastor – the need to grieve what is being left behind. Other life changes should also be accompanied by time to grieve, but are less likely to be recognized as such. My own fairly extreme change in life pattern is one such, that I did not see as needing to include time for grief, until the pastor’s sermon brought it to my attention. I do appreciate that I am able to hear the suggestion and receive the input just when I need it. I think I’m not being unduly self-congratulatory when I accept that I must be in a fairly “clear” state to be gifted with just the right input at just the right time, even though I felt anything but clear. Indeed, before hearing the sermon, I was angry, feeling disrespected and as though there was no longer room for “me” in my daily life.

All because, as Pastor Katie instructed in her list of lessons learned during her move, work should not be given undue priority over relationships. Including one’s relationship with oneself. I have been so busy trying to meet, to a perfectionist’s standard, the many demands of my job, my clients, my marriage and my daily existence, that I’ve neglected my relationship with me and, more importantly, my relationship with the Divine.

I have been so engaged with my exciting, rewarding but very busy new life that I’ve also not left myself space to process the loss of the old (semi-retired, leisurely and thoughtful) life left behind two years ago. Nor have I been able to properly grieve the termination or the transformation of some relationships from that old life. Pastor Katie will always have the memory of her yard full of blooming iris, but she is no longer able to walk out of her house into that yard. I will always have my memories of frequent and satisfying visits with distant friends, but I can now see those friends only rarely and under different circumstances. The pastor and I each carry an aspect of the past with us into our new lives, but we each also know a sense of loss that deserves attention and time to be grieved.

So much emphasis is placed on the window that opens when a door closes, that people seem to feel guilty paying attention to what’s behind that closed door. We are urged to move on, look forward, appreciate what is being offered and let go of what is being left behind. Good advice, overall, but sometimes too hastily offered.

Moving forward without reviewing and properly saying goodbye to what is past can have the feeling of devaluing that past, and the consequence of leaving us feeling devalued ourselves.

Taking time to dig up a few flowers and bring them along to a new home helps assure that we give ourselves time to say good bye to the life behind that closing door. It is thus that we increase our ability to be clear, and present, with the new experiences coming in through the window, and – for me – it seems that taking time to properly grieve what has been lost is essential to clearing out the toxins that prevent me from achieving a level of clarity of spirit for myself that at least approaches the level which I try to offer to others.

Added benefits – improved health and easier maintenance of desired weight. But that’s a topic for another day.

Autumn Color

Autumn Color

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2 Responses to “Time to Look Back”

  1. Jane Foraker-Thompson Says:

    I agree
    We need to honor & appreviate the past pary of or lives ig it was positive, or the parts that wrtr; and work through the parts that were painful. Then we can welcome the new & build on the lessons we learned from the past. We also need some quiet time, down time, & alone time for contemplation & communion time with the Divine, however we define that.

  2. Sharon Vander Meer Says:

    Very nice post. You have an amazing gift.

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