Thursday Re-View — Of Storms Within

S shuffled into my office at the Cancer Center carrying a worn Bible in her left hand. A middle-aged large-boned woman who had never married, she had short gray hair, men’s jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. With her tired eyes and slumped shoulders, she looked like she hadn’t smiled in years, at least.

S referred herself for issues regarding her role as primary caregiver to a brother who was dying from cancer. For the past 30 years, she had taken care of five different relatives through their cancer illness and death: her mother, brother, sister, aunt, and grandmother.

Thirty years ago, on her deathbed, S’s mother grabbed the collar of S’s blouse and made her daughter swear to “take care of” her brothers and sisters. S still felt her mother’s grip on her throat and on her life.

S fulfilled her promise to the point that she even nursed her aunt through her cancer: the same aunt who, whenever there was a thunderstorm when S was a little girl, made her niece get under the covers of her bed so that she could pray over the “bad girl” that God was punishing with his rage; the same aunt whose son raped and abused S for several years as a pre-teen; the same aunt who, when she found her son sexually abusing 7-year old S, forced the terrified little girl to sit in a washtub while she poured scalding hot water on S, calling her “a filthy whore.”

washtub

S, the “bad girl,” felt guilty that she was tired of giving up her life to ungrateful relatives; that she was mad at God for his continued punishment of her; and that she was now seeking counseling help when all of her “Christian friends” [note: her emphasis] told her that it was a sin against God to do so.

S’s spiritual assessment revealed that her paternal grandfather was Native American. When S spoke of him, her voice lowered, her face softened, and her body visibly relaxed. Having died years earlier, S described her grandfather as the only person who had ever shown her love, and the only person whom she could ever trust. He had lived on a farm, and when she visited him as a child, they would walk the fields together, hand in hand. He taught S to respect nature; that she was one with mother earth and all her creatures. The gentleness of her beloved grandfather’s Native American spirit world was distinctly at odds with the punitive God of her mother’s teachings.

A myriad of experiences with my Lakota friend Sonny seeped into my consciousness as I listened to S’s memories (see Mitakuye Oyasin). After several weeks with S, I carefully broached the topic of the dichotomy between what S had learned from her mother and aunt about the “burning pit of fire” that was hell, and S’s quiet certainty that her grandfather lived on peacefully in the spirit world. At times, she even felt his presence around her. S’s eyes widened as she struggled to reconcile the vast differences between those two beliefs. That being enough, we left the discussion for a later time.

The next week, S returned, but without the Bible that her friends had given her. However, she began the session with more accounts of the pressure she continued to receive from her friends about the counseling they viewed to be the “devil’s work.” At her pronouncement, a tiny part of me shuddered, certain that S was going to discontinue therapy. Instead, S went on to say that she put the question of counseling before her grandfather. At home, she had performed her usual ritual of sitting on the floor with his picture, and lighting a candle. She gave him my name and asked what he saw in my heart.

candle

He showed S a majestic, snow-covered mountain with a crystal clear stream running zigzagged down its side. Her grandfather told S that my heart was as pure and deep as the mountain stream, and to trust that I would help her. He promised her that through me, S would come to know God.

The eyes of the heart, used yet another time, in yet another way. In that moment, I heard the echo of Sonny’s voice, raised in a sacred Lakota healing chant. Once again, God enacted His circles of grace.

S stayed with her brother through his death, all the while working on promises kept vs. those that were unreasonable; on justified guilt vs. unjustified; on the completely foreign thought of taking care of herself for once, rather than taking care of everyone else. And of returning to nature, where lightning was simply a weather phenomenon and nothing more. Where once nature had terrified her, now it gave her peace.

After her last session, I noticed that S had left a small grocery bag beneath her chair. I grabbed it and ran after her, only to find that she had disappeared. I asked my secretary to call S and tell her about the package she accidentally left. When I came back from lunch, the package was on my desk, with a note written in my secretary’s handwriting saying that this was for me. I opened it to find a color picture of a river strewn with rocks, the trees up to its edge splashed in fall colors of reds and oranges and golds. S described such a place as a favorite of her and her grandfather’s when they used to take walks together when she was a little girl.

river

There was a note typed in the corner:

I KNOW

When I see the wind blow gently through the trees,
I know you’re there.
When I stop to see life’s reflections in the rivers and streams,
I know you’re there.
When the scent of the flowers fill the air with their aroma,
I know you’re there.
How do I know you care?
I know you’re there.

Godspeed, S. Be well as you finally begin your own journey. Wherever it takes you, know that He loves you and that He will always be there.

Thank you for the privilege of sitting with you in the darkness. Walk on now, bathed in light, and in peace.

__________________________________________

Of Storms Within

S shuffled into my office at the Cancer Center carrying a worn Bible in her left hand. A middle-aged large-boned woman who had never married, she had short gray hair, mens’ jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. With her tired eyes and slumped shoulders, she looked like she hadn’t smiled in years, at least.

S referred herself for issues regarding her role as primary caregiver to a brother who was dying from cancer. For the past 30 years, she had taken care of five different relatives through their cancer illness and death: her mother, brother, sister, aunt, and grandmother.

Thirty years ago, on her deathbed, S’s mother grabbed the collar of S’s blouse and made her daughter swear to “take care of” her brothers and sisters. S still felt her mother’s grip on her throat and on her life.

S fulfilled her promise to the point that she even nursed her aunt through her cancer: the same aunt who, whenever there was a thunderstorm when S was a little girl, made her niece get under the covers of her bed so that she could pray over the “bad girl” that God was punishing with his rage; the same aunt whose son raped and abused S for several years as a pre-teen; the same aunt who, when she found her son sexually abusing 7-year old S, forced the terrified little girl to sit in a washtub while she poured scalding hot water on S, calling her “a filthy whore.”

washtub

S, the “bad girl,” felt guilty that she was tired of giving up her life to ungrateful relatives; that she was mad at God for his continued punishment of her; and that she was now seeking counseling help when all of her “Christian friends” [note: her emphasis] told her that it was a sin against God to do so.

S’s spiritual assessment revealed that her paternal grandfather was Native American. When S spoke of him, her voice lowered, her face softened, and her body visibly relaxed. Having died years earlier, S described her grandfather as the only person who had ever shown her love, and the only person whom she could ever trust. He had lived on a farm, and when she visited him as a child, they would walk the fields together, hand in hand. He taught S to respect nature; that she was one with mother earth and all her creatures. The gentleness of her beloved grandfather’s Native American spirit world was distinctly at odds with the punitive God of her mother’s teachings.

A myriad of experiences with my Lakota friend Sonny seeped into my consciousness as I listened to S’s memories (see Mitakuye Oyasin). After several weeks with S, I carefully broached the topic of the dichotomy between what S had learned from her mother and aunt about the “burning pit of fire” that was hell, and S’s quiet certainty that her grandfather lived on peacefully in the spirit world. At times, she even felt his presence around her. S’s eyes widened as she struggled to reconcile the vast differences between those two beliefs. That being enough, we left the discussion for a later time.

The next week, S returned, but without the Bible that her friends had given her. However, she began the session with more accounts of the pressure she continued to receive from her friends about the counseling they viewed to be the “devil’s work.” At her pronouncement, a tiny part of me shuddered, certain that S was going to discontinue therapy. Instead, S went on to say that she put the question of counseling before her grandfather. At home, she had performed her usual ritual of sitting on the floor with his picture, and lighting a candle. She gave him my name and asked what he saw in my heart.

candle

He showed S a majestic, snow-covered mountain with a crystal clear stream running zigzagged down its side. Her grandfather told S that my heart was as pure and deep as the mountain stream, and to trust that I would help her. He promised her that through me, S would come to know God.

The eyes of the heart, used yet another time, in yet another way. In that moment, I heard the echo of Sonny’s voice, raised in a sacred Lakota healing chant. Once again, God enacted His circles of grace.

S stayed with her brother through his death, all the while working on promises kept vs. those that were unreasonable; on justified guilt vs. unjustified; on the completely foreign thought of taking care of herself for once, rather than taking care of everyone else. And of returning to nature, where lightning was simply a weather phenomenon and nothing more. Where once nature had terrified her, now it gave her peace.

After her last session, I noticed that S had left a small grocery bag beneath her chair. I grabbed it and ran after her, only to find that she had disappeared. I asked my secretary to call S and tell her about the package she accidentally left. When I came back from lunch, the package was on my desk, with a note written in my secretary’s handwriting saying that this was for me. I opened it to find a color picture of a river strewn with rocks, the trees up to its edge splashed in fall colors of reds and oranges and golds. S described such a place as a favorite of her and her grandfather’s when they used to take walks together when she was a little girl.

river

There was a note typed in the corner:

I KNOW

When I see the wind blow gently through the trees,
I know you’re there.
When I stop to see life’s reflections in the rivers and streams,
I know you’re there.
When the scent of the flowers fill the air with their aroma,
I know you’re there.
How do I know you care?
I know you’re there.

Godspeed, S. Be well as you finally begin your own journey. Wherever it takes you, know that He loves you and that He will always be there.

Thank you for the privilege of sitting with you in the darkness. Walk on now, bathed in light, and in peace.

__________________________________________