I started my new role as Director of Behavioral Health Services two months before our country was thrown into a global pandemic. While my role was needed pre-COVID, the position has seemed even more important the days, weeks, months after. I don’t know if I would advise anyone to start a completely new position right before a pandemic. There has been no defining my role, it has been more crisis response after crisis response and trying to see where the biggest need is. Mental health and the mental health of students has always been a need, but since COVID it has taken the front seat in everyone’s mind. If people expect it or not, I have felt the need to “fix it” every step of this journey… even when I don’t even know what it means to fix it.
In a previous life (or more like over a decade ago), I spent a year as a chaplain resident at a level one trauma hospital. It will go down as one of the hardest years of my life, but an experience that taught me so much. My lessons were not from books or professors, my lessons occured from walking with people as they faced some of the darkest days of their lives. One night I was on call (That means you stay at the hospital all night and carry the on-call pager. If anyone needs a chaplain, you are the one to respond… and I promise you no one pages the chaplain unless death is involved). The pager went off for a code blue during the night (a code blue is one some one’s heart stops or they stop breathing). When I got there, the nurses told me the wife was outside the room. They also informed me the wife spoke Spanish.
It was not long after that it was determined they could not bring the husband back, he had died. With interpreters, I learned the wife was at the hospital alone and it would be hours before her family could come. The next four hours I spent sitting with her. I brought her water, a blanket, took her to make phone calls. I was without words so I had to rely on my mere presence. I decided I need to stay with her so she would not be alone at such a horrendous moment. I can still see her covered in a blanket crying through the night. I still remember that night so well… not because I did anything magical. I could not fix her husband dying. I could not fix anything for her. What I could do was be present.
As much as I feel pressure to “fix” things for our students and staff right now, in reality, I know I can’t. What is happening in our school district, state, nation, and world is not something we know what to do. We are all in new territory and it seems like we have more needs than resources. The list of things to-do grows faster than work can be completed… and it is easy to get overwhelmed… it is easy to feel like I am not doing enough… it is easy to feel like I will never be able to “fix it”… even though I am not sure what I am needing to fix.
Then my mind goes back to the woman at the hospital that one night. I think about there was nothing I could do to take away the fact her husband had just died. I could not fix anything. What I could do was be present, give her water, provide a blanket, and make sure she knew she wasn’t alone. When I remember her, I remember that my job isn’t really to fix anything… it is show up and be willing to sit with others in the tough times of life… and my presence is enough… it is enough for others…. and I am learning, it is enough for me.