07 November 2009

The Temptations Abound

I don't know if it's a result of working in prison or just the warped sense of humor I have, but the greatest temptation is look at my work and see blog titles.

For instance, Tuesday's gem was "Two Days, Three Dead Grandmas."

Not funny at all, especially to the three men who lost a grandmother in those two days, but the juxtaposition of events, and their similarities... my brain just went in that direction. It's partly a defense mechanism. Work with several people in crisis situations within a close period of time and the connections are blazingly clear some days. The twisted humor is one way to stay at arm's length from my own memories.

Breaking the news to a man that his grandmother has died does several things. First, there is the concern about how he'll take the news. Was he close to his grandma? Did she raise him when his parents wouldn't or couldn't? Did she support him through thick and thin or did she finally draw a line and tell him enough was enough? Were they estranged for years, but he'd written her a letter recently, pledging to remake his life so she'd be proud of him? Will he try to staunch the tears with his jumpsuit or will he get mad and start throwing things?

Meanwhile, the chaplain brain goes in several directions: memories of my own grandparents and the circumstances of their deaths, the imminence of death in general, the precariousness of life and how it intrudes on people living in prison who didn't imagine that death would touch them here. The practical questions rise up: was the death in state? Will he want to go to the funeral? Will the family want him there or will there be problems? Who is his counselor so I can get the paperwork started? Who is the unit supervisor so I can call with an update as soon as the man leaves my office?

Multi-tasking happens. It has to. I place the tissue box within reach without being obtrusive. I take notes as I listen to the conversation. I look up information on the computer and begin to draft a letter with death and funeral details to go to the counselor.

I try to extricate my own experiences from the front of my mouth and I just shut up. I ask a few questions when he is off the phone. I invite him to write his grandmother's name in the Book of Memories I keep on my desk.

And there are times, like last Tuesday, when my mind goes down that road and thinks, "Two Days, Three Dead Grandmothers. What a great title for a blog post." I whack myself up the side of the head and get back to the business of chaplaincy.

It's always a good marker for me, a sign on the road that I need to do something not related to prison work so that my perspective is more broad, a sign that I'm a bit too enmeshed in work that I love. If I'm seeing blog titles and not the people in front of me, it's time for me to do some soul-searching and brain-cleaning.

Or I need a good laugh.


Fran said...

Oh Shannon - wow, I love this post. Your honestly just knocks me back, your faith lifts me up and your humor- ever wry, keeps me standing.

cy said...


Teresa said...

I think you just needed a good laugh...it's good for the soul! The everyday stress of what you do, can take it's toll, I'm sure. Your blog is wonderful, thank you for sharing

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I know it may seem a little hard-hearted when the humor wells up, but humor is a valuable commodity. It is what came me sane through the raising of three handicapped children, two gifted children, and to talented children. (Not 8, but 7 -- one of the handicapped children was a gifted artist, published by the age of 12. Not my biological kid, either, but inherited from a family in Siberia.) Truly, no humor and I would have been locked up - for insanity. I think there is a reason we refer to comic RELIEF!