I still remember the week. I was relatively new to the world of Chaplaincy, but confident in my practice. I remember the week because it helped confirm my calling. It was also one of the hardest weeks I’ve had in my professional career; laden with death, ethical dilemmas, and realities that changed the core of my theology. When colleagues asked how I was doing, I said “I’m feeling alright, actually; it is well with my soul.” And I meant it. In fact, I was doing better than alright. I was in the zone. It felt supernatural.
The next week everything was business as usual. Until I was driving home and I just started sobbing. Like, had to pull off the road, white-knuckled, clinched fist, bang the steering wheel sobbing. Not about anything in particular. I was just completely overcome and undone.
It felt so strange that this all came after the fact. The chaos was over, I had practiced my self-care, and I was in a good headspace.
I’m going to call this phenomenon the emotional rip current. The waves come in, toss us about, bang us into the rocks a few times and then there is this strange stillness. We have time to check our wounds, survey the damage, and catch our breath. It seems like it’s over. Suddenly the sand gives way and we find a disorienting pull toward the sea. There is no footing and it feels even scarier than the waves.
This is a fitting metaphor for pandemics. As surges come in, your healthcare teams brace themselves. They have learned how to hold the line. Their best practices have improved. They know more about what they are facing. So, when the wave hits they are prepared. They get to work and they fight like hell.
Then the wave declines.
There is a brief stillness.
Now for the rip current.
Pay attention to your friends. They want to celebrate with you, but they might hesitate. They might seem on edge. You might not understand it because everything seems better now. But, they don’t know if there is another wave coming. They aren’t really sure why the sand feels loose beneath their feet.
Hear me: This is a dangerous time for people who have experienced trauma. Risky behaviors. Heavy substance use. Suicides. Check in with your friends. They probably mean it when they say they are fine, but in an hour they might not be. Stay available. Love them well.