Recently Jen, one of our ministers at First Unitarian, sent me an email, inquiring if I’d like to get a cup of coffee or go for a walk. I was puzzled. As the mother of a year –old son and a fulltime minster, I know Jen spends her free time with her family. After I read it for the third time I realized she was offering me pastoral care. Me? I started to type my reply that I was doing fine, when I stopped. Wellspring has taught me to be a little less reactive. I stopped, took a couple of breaths, and deleted that first reply.
After all, here’s what is going on: In a ten-day period, we put my dad, with his long term dementia, on hospice care, our 15-year old Border Collie was found to have an inoperable tumor, and my older sister was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. I was shell-shocked. But as a child I was labeled the “self-reliant” one, so I just kept on functioning.
The evening after I received Jen’s email I went to a monthly dinner with my 20+ year long women’s group. In my mid-50’s, I am ten years younger than the next person. I told them about my yet-unanswered email from Reverend Jen. What then proceeded truly surprised me. My high functioning women’s group – among them a psychotherapist, a Presbyterian minister, a Human Resource Manager and two small business owners – began to tell stories. Stories I had heard before but with a new twist. Each person spoke of devastating times in her life when, to a person, each said she responded to offers of support with, “No, really, I’m fine.” Stories of their dear friends and clergy who, despite the brave words, showed up on doorsteps and in hospital wards with much needed hugs and listening ears. Anne, the Presbyterian minister, talked of the difficulties ministers have with their heroic parishioners. How do you help people who are stoic no matter what? She continued that it is a gift to be helpful to those in need. And an act of humble acceptance of one’s humanity to graciously and gratefully open up to the care.
I think of our Wellspring groups as being “Circles of Care.” Libby mentioned in an earlier blog that Parker Palmer, in A Hidden Wholeness, teaches about groups being “Circles of Trust.” But into our fourth year of Wellspring, we find it’s also a chance to more actively help and be helped. The former is usually easy for us UUs, the latter, not so much. We now have dozens of small groups at First Unitarian. Full of those willing to be helpful, and ever so slowly filling with those tentatively willing to be helped.
So it took me a week to reply to Reverend Jen’s email. It was surprisingly hard to type that I would like to have a visit. The admission alone has caused me to let down my guard and feel some of the fear and loss. She’s coming over Thursday afternoon. I hope I can allow myself to be the vulnerable, unsure person that we all carry during these times of deep distress. I’ll let you know how it goes.