Thursday, September 10, 2009

Post-traumatic growth syndrome....

If you want to watch an inspiring film about 9/11, I highly recommend "Beyond Belief," a documentary by Beth Murphy. The film follows Susan Retik and Patti Quigley, two women who lost their husbands on September 11, 2001. Susan and Patti were "ordinary" housewives from Boston, who were pregnant and had kids when their husbands were killed. Grief-stricken and devastated by what happened, they became friends and found comfort in each other's company. Later they decided to reach out to war widows in Afghanistan, and even went to Kabul to meet the women they were helping (and being helped by). It's a powerful and moving story of how these women overcame the horrors of 9/11 through love and commitment to something bigger than themselves.

During this film, Patti talked about "post traumatic growth syndrome." By this term she meant that sometimes trauma can help us to grow emotionally and spiritually, if we channel our grief and pain into the path of love and compassion.

I guess I have been experiencing "post traumatic growth syndrome" since the death of my wife.

This is what I talked about in a podcast interview about our cancer journey for a podcast weblog called "Methodistdisciple". You can find it at ://

Don Leiffer asked me to do this interview after I gave a presentation about my cancer journey with Kathleen in San Bernardino at Del Rosa United Methodist Church, which we served for six years in the early 1990s. Betty Finn, a member of this church, invited me to speak at the United Methodist Women's monthly circle. A few good men showed up, including Don from St Pauls' UMC.

Don was the program director for KVCR-TV, Ch. 24 (PBS) for forty years and is a deeply committed Christian. Now that he is retired, he works with Tom Pilkington on a weekly podcast featuring Methodists who exemplify "discipleship," i.e. faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus. Don felt that I would make a good interviewee, even though I am a Quaker, not a Methodist. I was honored to be chosen for this interview.

I appreciated having the opportunity to share my story of "post traumatic growth" with a sympathetic group of Methodist women.

I must say they were extremely tolerant of my Quaker eccentricities The potluck began at 6:30 and I was supposed to speak at 7:15. However, I am observing the fast for Ramadan and the sunset didn't set till 7:17. So after I was introduced at 7:15, I told the group that in two minutes, the electronic muezzin on my computer would chant the call to prayer in Arabic and that would be the opening devotion. At precisely 7:17, the call to prayer resounded, I'm sure, for the first time in this Methodist social hall. After it subsided, I told them the story about how Shakeel Syed, the executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of So Cal, came with his wife to the bedside of Kathleen to pray on Mother's Day, and how moved I was by this act of kindness on the part of my Muslim friend.

The Methodist women were moved, too.

"We truly are one family, God's family," I said. "Can I get an amen?"

And I did!

I am very grateful that I married a Methodist and am now part of this loving and inclusive Methodist family as well as my Quaker family. But most of all, I'm glad to be part of God's family.

One final story. As you may know, Kathleen was very close to a homeless couple named Melissa and Shawn who live on the streets of Torrance. Melissa is a thirty-two year old mother who is legally blind and crippled with a degenerative joint disease and must use a wheelchair. She lives on the street because the $900 she receives in SSI isn't enough to pay for rent and food. She and her boyfriend live for a week each month in motels and the rest of the month on the street. Recently her wheelchair began to break down and she needed a new one. Because of budget cutbacks, she couldn't see a medical doctor for six months.

I told my Quaker meeting about her plight and Friends donated $350. Melissa was thrilled. This was enough for a wheelchair, plus $60 left over for food and a gift for her 10-year-old daughter Crystal, who lives in a foster home and whom Melissa adores.

Kathleen's last words were about Melissa. When Kathleen regained consciousness in ICU, and the doctors were still hopeful they might be able to take her off the respirator, I told her various stories about how her friends and family members had come to see her over Mother's Day weekend. The last story I told her was about Melissa.

Kathleen was still on the respirator and couldn't speak but she could respond by nodding her head and squeezing my finger.

I told her that Melissa had called dozen of times to find out how Kathleen was doing, and sent her love. I also told Kathleen that Melissa was very sad because she had wanted to see her daughter on Mother's Day, but her aunt wouldn't let her come and visit. (The daughter was staying with the aunt at the time.) Melissa was heart-broken, so I told Kathleen I sent her a card and some money.

"That's what you would have done, isn't it, darling?" I said.

She nodded and squeezed my fingers, real hard.

That was the last story I shared with her because she was tired. She went to sleep and never woke up.

I know that buying Melissa a wheelcar is something that Kathleen would definitely have done.

On Wednesday, I went with Melissa and Shawn to buy the wheelchair. Afterwards, we had lunch at Buffy's with Sara Dickens, one of the pillars of Walteria UMC. (Sara sprang for lunch, bless her heart! I knew she would.)

Melissa is such a sweet, Christian soul. During our lunch she told one of her typical stories. "There's this guy named Mickey at Starbucks. He is autistic or something, and he was cleaning the bathroom. And this guy came up, all impatient like, and said, real angry, Hurry up or I'll pee on you. And I go, you better be nice to Mickey or you'll have to step outside and answer to me."

Ordinarily as a Quaker I don't approve of such threats, but the idea of Melissa, half blind and crippled, standing up for the rights of an autistic man made me smile. She then went on:

"Mickey does a real good job of cleaning up things. He's real slow and careful like. And we always can tell when he's cleaned the windows cause they shine. And we tell him he's doing a great job. You know, he needs a lot of encouragement."

I think you know why Kathleen and I love Melissa. She has such a good heart.

Please hold Melissa in the Light. This week she goes to find out if she will qualify for Section 8 housing. She has been waiting for five years. Without Section 8, it is almost impossible for her to get housing because her former husband was evicted from an apartment and that's on Melissa's record. I offered to cover Melissa's deposit but landlords won't let her sign a lease with her "record." And being homeless and poor, she can't get legal recourse. So pray for Melissa. Pray hard, please!

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