Tough day today. I did a funeral for a patient who hooked me. That means that I got involved emotionally because of the way that I identified with him. I know where the hook is and got supervision, processed it all with my peers and got through it OK but it's still a struggle.
It’s not unusual for Hospice Chaplains to be asked to do memorial services and this one certainly came as no surprise. Charlie (I can’t use a patient’s real name) was fiftyish and very much an outsider. He was an escaped felon who was convicted in a southern state for some sort of drug offense about thirty years ago. About twenty-five years ago, he met his wife who informed him that it was either she or the drugs. He chose her, cleaned up his life and set up a construction business in her name. He became successful and landed here in the piedmont of North Carolina. They bought their first home and several acres with river frontage and made a good life. He didn’t tell her a thing about the conviction until he got sick. She didn’t even know all of those years that he was living with an assumed name.
The tragedy came when Charlie was no longer able to work. The business collapsed and there was no safety net because he hadn’t paid social security or income taxes for many years. She did, and of course they filed with the business but Charlie’s name was never used. When I met them they were backed against a wall and this snarling beast of a disease was keeping them pinned. They had no income and no possibility of one. Even Beverly, Charlie’s wife, was unable to work because of her own medical problems. Hospice had no hope of reimbursement from Medicaid either but we did what we usually do and cared for them anyway.
I was referred to the patient by the social worker who saw existential problems and asked me to see him. I did, but Charlie was quite cynical about religion and had been hurt by the church many times. Fortunately, Charlie identified with me early in my first visit because my hair was as long as his. I determined in my spiritual assessment that Charlie had no developed spirituality and his soul seemed traumatized and shattered. I knew that if Charlie was to be comforted existentially, he and I would need to pull at least a couple of the shards of his soul into proximity to one another. I decided to see him once a week.