Thursday, December 10, 2009


Just in case we don't see enough grief and suffering around the hospital, we also have a "once a month" class on grief and suffering that rotates to the other three CPE programs around the Upstate. Each month when we get together, one of the supervisors presents a topic and engages us in dialogue about our own inner grief work.

This week we went to one of the other hospitals and watched the movie Wit. This profound movie epitomizes grief and suffering in one's own experience of illness. Starring Emma Thompson (magnificently acted), the story revolves around a professor of English literature. This professor's knowledge of poetry and her tough teaching style are both challenged as she endures various chemo treatments for her stage IV cancer.

During the film, the viewer learns of the professor's feelings as she looks directly into the camera and describes in poetic and often ironic style what she is experiencing. In one poignant moment, she realizes that she can only get her head around what she is doing by describing it. She says, "my only defense is the acquisition of vocabulary." In many ways, her words are not enough to heal her. In the end, we hear her voice quoting from one of her own literature research subjects, John Donne, "Death, be not proud".

Moving and troubling, the film for me portrayed a deep loneliness that accompanied her suffering throughout. I connected with my own loneliness, and the fear of my own mortality. Who will be there with me as I vomit my last guts out? Who will put hand lotion on my dry, lifeless hands? Who will crawl into bed with me and read me a children's story? Of course, I yearn for this to be my intimate love. Of course, I yearn for my family to be at my side. Of course, I yearn for my wit to remain with me to the end, so that I can at last describe it.

Theologically, I believe that God will be with me through my own death and dying process. I do believe that in those suffering places, I have seen, do see and will see God face to face.

So if you see the film, bring a box of tissues. And a gaggle of chaplains to debrief all the feelings that arise.

Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere. Mark 1:45

What color are the feelings you have at this moment, the ones beyond words?

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