Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How do you do it?

It is a question I am asked often, in various forms. How do you walk back into the hospital? How will you remain emotionally stable among intense medical situations? "Some people return to the hospital setting as therapy...," the question both veiled and valid.

Today marks eight years since Isaiah died. Last year, I didn't mark the anniversary with a blog post because I was in a children's hospital, engaged in the work of a child life practicum. This year finds me with space, in between a child life conference and an internship interview, and writing feels right as I trace the imprint Isaiah has left in our lives.

When I walk into the hospital, I am not walking toward Isaiah, though I carry him with me always. I am walking forward with clinical skills and academic knowledge in a field where I am uniquely suited to supporting the journey of other children, teens and families in medical settings.

I do not sit and chat with mothers about the difficulties of life in the hospital, because professional boundaries are very important to me, and because those boundaries allow me to support families to the best of my ability. However, I am able to listen with empathy - to understand the frustration of a family waiting to be discharged, the fear of parents when doctors don't have all the answers, the difficulty of balancing the needs of well children and a sick sibling. I know the multitude of stressors, and I carry the memory with me so that I can meet a family with respect for their situation, patience in the face of their frustration, understanding when they don't want one more person invading their space, even if I am the "fun" person. And when it is time, I am able to walk away, because I have learned the importance of self-care - that I am better able to meet the needs of families if I care for my own.

Just before we signed on to Hospice of Michigan's pediatric program with Isaiah, we spent one week with him at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, in the PICU. It was the only opportunity we had to interact with a child life specialist at that hospital, and she made it special, bringing the boys backpacks filled with fun. I ran into her at the conference this past weekend, and was grateful to have the opportunity to thank her, both as a mother and a professional. She recalled that the mancub was called "Joey" then, and that Isaiah was called "Zaya." Today, I remember all the people who walked with us through life and death with Isaiah, and I give thanks as I walk forward. Most of all, I give thanks for the two beings who made me a mother, both of whom continue to influence me as I move through the world. It's a gift to walk with them, in spirit and in presence.

Tonight, we order Z's favorite, Papa John's cheese pizza with "special sauce", our annual ritual. This morning, Joe attended another meeting as a board member of Hospice of Michigan. A week from today, Joseph interviews for a teen volunteer position at Gilda's Club Camp Sparkle, supporting kids who have experienced cancer or loss. The coming week finds me in Ann Arbor and San Francisco and Tampa, interviewing for child life internships. We each of us walk forward, touched by Isaiah, together. It is, as always, a beautiful, complex journey.


Hyde Family Life in Pictures said...

Jen, Your quiet unassuming, yet powerful presence, is a gift to all who know you, have known you and who will come to know you. Shine ON beautiful, Jen.
Love to you and 'the boys' <3

Unknown said...

I love your post. All of your writing makes me think and imprints itself in my heart. I will also never forget the child life specialist (who's name was Jennifer) who was there for us when my youngest was hospitalized so many years ago. I am happy for those children/families who get to have some of your beautiful energy/being to help them.

Jen Armstrong said...
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Jen Armstrong said...

Renee and Mara, thank you both for your beautiful comments, comments from two who add their own healing to the world.