We are fortunate where I work to have confidential access to a counsellor. As I mentioned in last Friday’s post, I’d begun to feel traumatized by the seemingly unending procession of people who kept dying and relatives who kept vanishing with them. In psychiatric parlance, “trauma” refers to an experience that is emotionally painful, distressful, or shocking, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects.
I perceive my body as a filtering system that takes in whatever comes, holds it long enough to embrace its meaning and witness its significance, and then lets go to free me up for the next encounter. Inevitably, my filters get plugged up with residue. In the case of this work, such residue might echo my own wounds, my memories of loss and grief re-awakened, or simply be the result of what com-passion means: to suffer with. Inevitably, such co-suffering leaves traces … traces that beg to be attended to so that we may teach us and we may be refreshed for the next round.
One of the surprising insights of this counselling session is that trauma comes in many forms. Caregivers are in its presence many times during a day at work. Till now I’ve thought of trauma as things that are “bad,” i.e. saddening, frightening, shocking, painful. Now I realize that deeply intimate encounters–when grace briefly connects two souls as it does in end-of-life situations–can be equally traumatic. Such moments are extra-ordinary; very much outside everyday experience. They stretch and strain us, lift us into a spiritual stratosphere, only to release us seconds later into the petty details of ordinary living.