Driving to the hospital, I reached over and clicked off the Christmas music that proclaimed a commercialized version of the holiday was fast approaching. I just wasn’t in the mood for “jolly” when all around me, I witnessed sadness, loss and broken hearts. Besides the heaviness for my patients, I also felt burdened by the expectations of others’: gifts, meals, cards, cookies all seemed to sweep through my busy mind, riding on the wings of a tornado-like wind that whipped the whole mess into a funnel cloud and plopped it all in my lap, there to sit with the other normal chores which required attention—just the usual laundry, grocery shopping, car maintenance (yes, mine was in the shop again…) routine.
The "Right Way"
I know. I know. It’s supposed to be fun and meaningful. The expectation is that this time of the year, focus solely on the reason for the season (for Christians, that is the birth of Jesus and for others maybe it is family gatherings and gift-giving with love). Whether you have a spiritual bent or not, we all know what it is to feel the pressure to do things the “right” way and the subtle competition to manage it all with great aplomb.
As a Faith Community Nurse, one of the things I do is visit people when they are in the hospital with a focus on helping them transition to an appropriate post-hospital stay location. For some, that is as simple as suggesting rehab facilities to the family, and for others, it is helping them prepare to take a loved one home to a greater level of care than previously. At Christmas, illness, falls, disease, cancer do not go away. In fact, their prevalence and effect seem more pronounced as others hang garland and put on old Christmas sweaters and indulge in homemade Christmas candy.
I pulled into a parking space and headed up to visit Charlie, a parishioner who had been in the hospital for an extended stay with complications from a routine surgical procedure. Already elderly, Charlie’s small family was mostly gone, and he had very few resources. I sat down and caught up on the last two days’ news when the Case Manager stopped in to discuss possible placement in a local nursing home. Charlie was sad but resigned, realizing that he couldn’t go home and that he needed the rehabilitation this facility offered. But it was almost Christmas. And it was sad. I saw his eyes sparkle with unshed tears and squeezed his hand, offering the gift of presence and silence. He returned my gaze with a small smile and said, “I’m not worried. I will be ok. I have faith.”
Charlie’s words both encouraged me and challenged me. His ability to maintain perspective in the midst of great obstacles inspired me to shed some of my feelings of resentment and heaviness and to replace those negative feelings with something that comes from light and life and love. In those few moments, I tried to reframe my own thoughts and ask myself a few questions about how I can face excessive expectations and maintain my morale?
How to Encourage Others
As nurses, how can we keep working to encourage others even when we feel discouraged ourselves?
Keep first things first- Even in the middle of a busy season, let us not forget to maintain our centeredness—whether it is reading a spiritually encouraging book, doing Yoga, going for a brisk walk outside, corporate worship—whatever feeds our spirits needs to take precedence over the other chores that might try to crowd it out. Busyness has a way of wanting to be more important than it really is, doesn’t it?
Get rest and eat right. We can provide well for our patients, our co-workers or our families if we are running on empty. It may mean turning off that TV or letting our Facebook feed rest for a few days, but it is critical care for our bodies to get balanced rest and food, especially during the busy and challenging holidays.
Maybe find someone to talk to. Holidays can bring out our own pasts and our sadness over previous losses. Unfortunately, this has a way of spilling out all over our lives in strange ways. We find ourselves angry and frustrated “for no reason” and over-reacting when someone asks us to bring a side dish to a gathering or participate in a secret Santa exchange…Over the top responses can signal that there is more going on than we are consciously aware of. When we feel like a pressure cooker waiting to explode, it may be time to pro-actively seek out some help in the form of a spiritual adviser or a trained counselor. Working hard in a therapeutic counseling relationship can be some of the best investments we make in time and energy. Working through past trauma and grief pays off big dividends in the present as we try to be the best nurses possible for our patients and the best family members we can be to our families.
Cut yourself some slack. When the external pressures are high, sometimes it helps to acknowledge it and to also accept our own limitations. Perfection can be the enemy of well-being.
As I wrapped up my visit with Charlie, he said, “Thanks for coming. It will be a good Christmas no matter where I am.” After a quick prayer, I left and walked back toward my car, feeling lighter than when I came, daring the “Bah-humbug” spirit to try to bother me again!