Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

"Old age", anger and sadness.

I am convenor for a community group tasked with using the historic Iona Church in Port Chalmers for the community. This photo shows the first concert we hosted.
A duck I have been getting friendly with and feeding. She came in the house and into the lounge! I informed her she was an outside pet.
Another concert in Iona of NZ folk songs. I wish I was musical! 
Our new children- young point of lay hens settling in to our place.
Anger and sadness.
I have not posted for a while - what can I say, I have been busy. I am prompted to post today because of a very sad event in one of my chaplaincies. I am a workplace support chaplain for about 9 hours a week. I am a chaplain for St John Ambulance in a voluntary capacity. I am chaplain for the local fire fighters, and I am chaplain for a brewery. The task of a chaplain is to visit the sites and touch base with people. If there are those who have an issue they wish to sound off about or to have some help with, you listen in a caring way and sometimes help, or sometimes refer for further counseling. Most often I spend time with people and they talk about their life, and ask about mine. It really is sharing the journey of life with people. It is a real privilege to be involved with folks. 
A couple of months ago I had a phone call from a man who was going through marriage problems, that were the result of mistakes he had made. I met him and spent over an hour listening to him, and I tried to give some advice about directions ahead and assured him of my support. He was seeing a counsellor who suggested that he should not be seeing me as well. That was OK and is a usual stance for counsellors, but I said that along the way I could still be a supportive presence no matter what happened in the marriage. I texted him a few times and chatted briefly whenever I saw him. Things were not going well. I had phone calls and conversations from his work mates who were concerned about him and one afternoon I spent quite some time trying to find out where he was. There were a number of people offering support and his boss was also being helpful. I saw him two weeks ago and had quite a long conversation. He was not happy, the marriage it seemed was all over and he was aggrieved.  He said words to the effect of "I've stuffed it up!" He had said he had at times had "silly thoughts" which I took to mean suicide.  I told him that if he wanted or needed to chat or if he had the "silly thoughts" to phone me and I would come to wherever he was immediately. I was aware that people were in touch with him every day so felt he would be safe. I assured him that even though life is bad now, he will get through it and put together a new life in the future. I gave him a examples of people who had been there and done that. 
Last Wednesday around lunch time I had a phone call from his "team leader" to tell me he had taken his own life and had done so in such a way that his estranged wife would be the person to discover him.
Since then I have been visiting the workplace, listening to confused, grieving, angry coworkers, and of course attended his funeral with them. I myself have been angry. Of course you go through "Was there something else I could have done?" I wondered if I had pushed myself forward and had stuck with him as his counsellor, would I have been more able to help than the counsellor he had? I have felt really sad for his wife and three children and been angry at him for opting out. I have been supported, of course by my wife, but also two of the man's co workers have phoned me to see if I was OK. Also a man from my St John chaplaincy contacted me to ask the same question.  
At the crowded funeral I stood at the back among his fellow workers and went through a raft of emotions. Mostly my anger increased.  I noticed how in such circumstances we minimise death. We say things like "he is on a journey", "he chose a path" "He will be up there still with us in life" and "till we meet again" etc.  "No!" I wanted to scream, "The gutless silly bastard is DEAD! Gone! Of no use to anybody! He threw away his life! He opted out of his responsibilities!" I know that sounds bad, un PC and lacks compassion, but that was the way I, and others felt, and the funeral was such that there was no "pastoral care" in the leading of it. 
The sad thing is that in New Zealand too many young people and men are taking their life. I think there is what Viktor Frankl called, an "existential vacuum" for so many people in today's fast changing society. People suffer a lack of meaning, so they struggle when the going gets tough. 
Today I spent virtually all day working hard physically in the vegetable garden, and that has been a healing release for me.  
"Old Age"
I am pleased that I have worked hard today, stressing my back with digging, and it has functioned painlessly. Two weeks ago I could not have done the work I did today. My back had gone "out" and I was in pain carrying even small loads. At one stage during this period, when it seemed slightly better, I dug the garden. I knew I needed to get it done. It was a tough painful job, trying to dig in such a way as not to strain my back. I was digging away hurting with every shovel full, and I suddenly remembered that I had a smaller shovel. "Maybe that would be easier?" I said to myself. I grabbed my smaller bladed shovel and sure enough the less weight on each shovel full made the task easier. I paused and chuckled to myself.  Years ago I recall visiting a retired man who had moved to a smaller house. Being a keen gardener, he was showing me his new vege garden, which was a small patch of ground. He showed me his new small bladed shovel and told me how pleased he was with it. It made his digging so much easier he had said. I smiled and said that was good, but under my breath arrogantly I was thinking, "What a wimp! He has such a small garden and he needs that!?" He is long dead now and I am older, not quite as old as he was then, but here I am gladly using a small bladed shovel. "Jack, I take those arrogant thoughts back. You were right, I now understand." With age sometimes wisdom comes. I did go back to my bigger shovel today, once I was confident my back could handle it.  

No comments: