Of Kubler-Ross and Other Sheep….

As I continue with the internship in pastoral ministry I find that something interesting is occurring, connections between my personal life, my pastoral work, and my professional life as an aging teacher are forming almost faster than I can track or take time to consider.

I write more specific reports for my supervisors on another page, but then I come here to record more general thought in an attempt to see a bigger picture. The work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (On Death and Dying) was the common thread this week.

One of the reading assignments for my 9th grade students this week was an interview with Dr. Kubler-Ross on coping with terminal diseases in children, and how ‘unfinished business’ must be taken care of to forestall more serious problems when it is too late to communicate because a death has intervened. I explained to my students that the classic stages of death and dying as described by Kubler-Ross in her landmark book could be expanded to any loss situation. I had almost forgotten a counselor once told me that it did not take a death to grieve; one could grieve a future that suddenly was lost for some unexpected reason.

I know I grieved when I was honest enough to admit that I was not meant to be a career officer in the Marine Corps and I think I went through every stage. Twenty-seven years removed, some things still hurt about leaving the Corps but losing one life allowed me to live others I never envisioned. I grieved other sudden changes in family life that meant a future was forever changed, and a particular vision of that future was lost. Each school I worked at, and then moved away from, was a time for celebration, but grieving too. In every instance I think I would have to admit that I went through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance to some degree or another. The essence of Kubler-Ross’ work is that we all go through these stages to a greater or lesser extent, and if we know this, the stages are a little easier to handle.

After a person I visited in ministry a short time ago died (we think) of a drug overdose, and after visiting people who are in wheelchairs living a future I am sure they never envisioned earlier in their lives, I suddenly saw some connections.

I think I am working through these stages of loss in my teaching career. This career will end in two years. I would like to go longer but I will not extend my career if I do not have enough left to give. I have been in denial, and anger, that I am at the stage of a career where I have less value than a newer, cheaper, and probably easier to work with, teacher. I want to get to the acceptance stage as soon as possible because then, no matter how long I continue to teach, it will be easier to let go when the time comes.

In looking at the past in terms of being a teacher, I have also had to look at the future. I devoted many years to getting a degree, and trying to answer a perceived call, to shape myself into a person better able to help my local church community. Lately I have been trying to come to terms with the fact such a future is unlikely. I had hoped to build a bridge from the end of a teaching career into another kind of service in my community, and for reasons I do not really understand, I do not think that is going to happen. And so I have to mourn a future I wanted, one that is not going to happen. I am actually farther ahead in this process than I am in the teaching although I am not sure why, probably because of all the years invested in teaching.

Twenty-eight years ago I came to the decision that I was not meant to serve a lifetime in the Marine Corps and I tried to let go. I embraced another career of serving, one I was much more suited for although I could not see it then.

Here is to hoping that history repeats itself. It will be easier to let go of teaching, when that time comes, if I can believe there are still other ways to serve. If such service is not local, I think I can do that. Perhaps I am promised other sheep, in other pastures, to use a very old, and yet serviceable, metaphor.

And so here is to service, and teaching, and ministry, and sheep, and my freshmen….


About Edward

Dishwasher, bartender, cook, house painter, movie usher, Marine helicopter pilot, teacher, administrator, teacher again, retired teacher, Secular Franciscan, Lay Ecclesial Minister- it's been an interesting ride.
This entry was posted in Personal Reflection, Religion/Spirituality, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

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