Grief and Trauma Pastoral Care
By Rev. Crystal Schmalz
Responses to Trauma
Often time’s trauma is accompanied by shock, grief, denial, anger, loud crying, body convulsions, silence, and several other responses. Humans are all different, and how one reacts to trauma will depend on their culture, personality, and awareness of the event. One of the most important things you can do in cases like these are provide a nonjudgmental pastoral presence, which exudes love, care, empathetic listening, and often silence. As Oneness Pentecostals our first response is often prayer, and this is good when we assess the situation and find this to be necessary. However, prayer is often used as an escape mechanism designed to get the pastoral minister and care provider out of the room. Prayer should be used to bring comfort to the patient, family, and parishioner. Prayer should never be used as a means of escape. Dealing with our own internal anxiety will help us stay grounded in the room, and will help us provide care in some of the most difficult situations.
Stages of Care
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler name 5 stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance.Most often in the traumatic situations I have been involved in, the first hours and days of the trauma are accompanied by denial, bargaining, and anger. There is often a shock factor which sets in within the first couple hours. As a pastoral care provider, it is important to be a pastoral presence, but not a leading manager for a person’s grief process. Sometimes anxiety within the minister can lead to interventions which are not appropriate for the one who is in crisis. It is important to listen to the person in trauma, access where they are at, and act in accordance with your assessment. At BJH we use a spiritual assessment tool called “The Discipline.” It is a model, which can help a pastoral care provider offer interventions and outcomes to the person which are consisted with their needs, hopes, and resources in conjunction with their profile (a person’s concept of the Holy, what brings a person Meaning, what the Hopes of the person are, and where the person finds Community).
Focus of Care
It is important to know who will be making decisions for the family in trauma. This is not always the first born child, the spouse, or the parent. Oftentimes it might be a close friend or partner, a child of a different birth order, or someone else. It is helpful to know who is the leader, and helpful to be able to provide care for this person, but also to be able to use this person in their role in the family in the traumatic situation. I also learned it is never easy to make the decision to turn off a machine, which will end the life of a person. Although, the person is technically not living on their own, it is never an easy cut and dry decision. People grieve at different paces and in different ways. As a pastoral care provider it will be helpful to be able to know who needs care, who is in charge, realize this may change depending on the situation, and also realize you exist as a presence to help the process, but not to lead the process. Those who assume too much responsibility, and become consumed within the situation often exert more energy than those being served, and find out doing the work for another only creates burnout, unhealthy dependence, and issues of power and authority abuse. As pastoral care providers it is our responsibility to do the work with people, but not for people. We cannot fix people or situations. It is freeing and empowering to come to the realization only God can truly fix, heal, bring complete reconciliation, and complete wholeness to a person in a traumatic situation.
Trauma is unplanned and often very shocking. The events which lead to the traumatic experience are never predictable. Trauma is never planned, whether it is a gunshot wound, a motor vehicle accident, a sexual assault, a code, a perinatal death, or some other type of trauma. As a pastoral care provider, in some ways you cannot even plan for these types of trauma. The only plan you can have is to acknowledge what is going on in your body, thoughts, and feelings during the moment. This awareness will help you quiet your anxiety, so you can better be a non-anxious presence. As a Oneness Pentecostal, it is also important to realize God was already in the room or the place before you arrived, and God will continue to be with those in trauma when you leave. Your incarnational ministry is apart of the work God is doing, but it is not the whole. You cannot be in control in trauma, and maybe this is one reason why so few of us are willing to be in trauma ministry.
The Brokenness of Trauma
Trauma often highlights and enhances the brokenness which already exists within families. As pastoral care providers it is our responsibility to display the message of reconciliation between God and humanity, and between humans. Being present with those who are in trauma allows a visible presence of Jesus Christ, and a visible representation of the message of reconciliation. Ethically, one cannot and should not evangelize during situations of trauma, but one can live their message through their actions and behavior. Recognizing God as creator, sustainer, healer, and savior helps us to know our boundaries and limitations.
The Bible, from its very beginning to end is filled with traumatic experiences. From the first murder between Cain and Abel, to the uncountable numbers of people killed in the flood, to the terrible battles of the Israelite nation, to the rape of Dinah and Bathsheba, to the terror David experienced in the death of his son with Bathsheba, to all of the loss of Job, to the death of Lazarus, to the persecution of the disciples, and then eventually to the death of Jesus Christ we find humanity in traumatic experiences. In all of these instances humanity cries out to God in realization of their frailty and need for the mighty God in Jesus Christ manifested in us today by the Holy Spirit working within us.
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