Life is Loss; Life is Gain

I wrote the following post in 2011 about the diagnosis of diabetes. But I feel it has a message for today, and not just because we are all struggling with maintaining healthy eating habits.

The era of Covid-19 has brought many losses: loss of a feeling of safety, loss of family and friend contact, loss of co-worker support, loss of income, loss of peace of mind – if we ever had it. There are restrictions too: we can’t eat out as easily – if at all, we won’t be able to attend sporting events – if they even happen, we can’t stay in a hotel or go to a bar or a beach without fear of infection.

But I am reminded by this post on Loss that losses can bring Gains. Today, the air is cleaner, for one thing.  And people are rediscovering the simple pleasures of things like gardening, bird watching, or a hobby or skill they had forgotten. So my invitation today as you read the post below is to make a list of some positives about Covid-19. Even if you have lost your job, or God forbid lost a loved one, what are some personal or community Gains that you are experiencing along with your losses?

Life is Loss. We begin life with the loss of the security of the womb, our first
loss, and then it’s downhill from there. Every day, every second we are losing time, losing a piece of our lifespan, losing opportunities. Every year we accumulate more and more losses: relationships, jobs, friends, spouses, children, parents.

But life is also Gain. All is grace; all is gift. Undeserved. Unearned. With each
breath life animates every cell of our bodies, providing one more opportunity to claim our joy, pursue our bliss, eat chocolate, make love, eat more chocolate.

When I was first diagnosed with diabetes I refused to accept it. I didn’t feel sick. I was overweight, but I had been overweight since my first pregnancy.

After I accepted the diagnosis I became angry – at God mostly. I used to joke that if God really wanted to mess with me God would give me diabetes. I have a suspicion that genetics and weight and a perennial sweet tooth have more to do with my diabetes than God, but I blamed God anyway. Blaming God is convenient, more convenient than exercise and diet for sure. God makes a great scapegoat.

Isn’t that ironic. We usually think God is using us as scapegoats – making New Orleans take the blame for the sins of the decadent South, for example. And all the time God is our scapegoat. We give God the blame for every bad thing, even things human beings are obviously responsible for: pollution, the spread of Aids, the abuse of children. If there is no God there is no excuse, and I am left with diet and exercise.

Back to chocolate or the loss of it. To a chocoholic like myself the loss of chocolate is no small thing. I can do without white bread, I only ever ate it at parties – you know those crustless triangles of mayonnaisey goodness. I can do without white rice, and I have learned to deal with whole wheat pasta. I have always loved veggies and whole grain bread. I can usually do without the cookies, and pass on the ice-cream and cake (unless it is Death by Chocolate cake or those brownies with thick fudge chocolate icing on top), but sugar-free chocolate is for the birds. Actually, no! It’s not for the birds, because if their digestive response is the same as mine I would need larger windshield wipers!

So…giving up chocolate, is it a loss or a gain? Surely a loss, right? Not necessarily. I thought it was a loss for a long time and was very bitter about it. But now, every morsel of real chocolate I treat myself to after a low carb meal is absolute and unmitigated joy, or it can be if I do it right. Like oxygen to an asthmatic, chocolate has the power to bring absolute bliss to every cell of my being. When I eat my chocolate miniatures, malt balls, or Hershey kisses one at a time, slowly allowing a piece to dissolve on my tongue and the sugary sweetness to suffuse my mouth, instead of shoveling down a handful at once, I can enjoy each moment of the experience. When I eat gobs at once I only taste the last one I swallow. So my gain is that I am learning to truly enjoy chocolate, to truly taste it. I am not saying that I am always able to control my shoveling compulsion, but I am getting better at it. And as a result chocolate has become more precious to me and now gives me more joy than it ever did in my pre-diabetic days.

What a paradigm for life this could be. Of course we hear it all the time: slow down and smell the roses. But if you have allergies and can’t smell, or have no garden, or have only smelled the indifferent vegetative aroma of store-bought roses, the metaphor is lost on you. Chocolate on the other hand is pretty universal. So how about a re-write: slow down and taste the chocolate.

There is another gain, too: Self control. Not something we are very good at in the over-indulgent, fast-food eating, immediate gratification seeking, poor impulse controlling Western hemisphere.

Maybe there’s a new book in here somewhere: God and Chocolate, or, How I got Diabetes and Discovered my Bliss.

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Love in the time of Covid

Love is a mask.

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Covid-19, Stress, and PTSD

Who could have known that the last posting in January would be so relevant. I have attached below an updated version with some more current resources.

I have taken a break from my work as a hospital Chaplain, with much regret. But my physical and emotional health and that of my 71 year old husband have to be my primary focus at this time. I still try to offer support as best I can, but it is little.

Why did I find work so emotionally challenging at this time? Sure, it’s chaos at work. Overflowing morgues, 7 floors of Covid patients, staff stressed out, frustrated, overwhelmed, exhausted. But my department members are mostly making it to work, so why can’t I? It’s not just my kidney stones – I had three last week but I’m pretty sure I passed one. When I went back in to work on Wednesday – having left Tuesday on account of the pain – I was pain-free. The kidney stone (#1) had passed. But I couldn’t stop crying, my chest felt tight, I was finding it difficult to breathe normally. But I had no fever; I wasn’t showing any signs of the virus. It took me a few days, and a FaceTime session with my psychiatrist to figure it out. My PTSD was being triggered. Big time.

How could that be? I wasn’t being abused, I wasn’t being threatened, my co-workers like me. Sure, the hospital, heck the whole country, the whole world, was in crisis mode, but most people were dealing with it. Being stoic and courageous. Couldn’t I deal with it?

Actually, no I couldn’t. And I’ve been guilting myself every day since. But the truth is I was diagnosed with PTSD for good reason some years ago. And, while most of the time I am completely symptom free, it does get triggered in moments of crisis.

So, right now I accept myself for who I am, and I am extraordinarily thankful for my colleagues who continue to serve.

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Resources to deal with Stress over the Holidays

As a chaplain I am constantly looking for, creating, and editing resources for staff, and patients and their families. I created a Holiday Blues resource for the Christmas/New Year Holiday season, and then I adapted it to be a more general resource for Stress. I have uploaded both below.  These are for personal use only as they are hospital work-product property. So they may be downloaded for personal use but they may not be distributed.





images (17)

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Attitude is key

“Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.”  Unknown


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Anger and Humor – can God take it?

“In the musical The Book of Mormon there is a song that is both beautifully poetic and rhythmic. It just grabs you. It is sung by the inhabitants of a small Ugandan village who then translate the words and, well, suffice it to say the natives are shooting God “the bird.”

Hasa Diga Eebowai

When the world is getting you down

There’s nobody else to blame

Raise your middle finger to the sky

And curse his rotten name.[1]”

[1]The Book of Mormon, book, lyrics, and music by Trey Parker, Robert Lopez, and Matt Stone.

From, Traces of Hope, Mona Villarrubia, p. 16

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When you come to the edge

of all the light you know

and are about to step off

into the darkness of the unknown,

FAITH is knowing one of two things will happen:

There will be something solid to stand on

or you will be taught how to fly.



(from, credited as © Patrick Overton, The Leaning Tree, 1975, Rebuilding the Front Porch of America, 1997)


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grace words

M. Villarrubia





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The nature of HOPE in an ICU

Hopeedit in the icu
I am a staff chaplain in a hospital with four critical care floors and a cancer unit, and naturally I spend a lot of my time on those critical care floors.  My time is spent with patients and families who are grieving. They are all grieving the loss of their “normal” – life will never be the same. Patients are grieving the loss of health and independence, at least temporarily.  They may also be facing the loss of their careers, which for many people is where they find meaning and purpose, especially if they have no children.

For elderly patients the situation is even more traumatic. For them loss of independence signals the beginning of the end. They know they will quickly lose muscle tone lying in a bed all day, and if they have suffered any kind of fall they are probably told they can no longer live alone, that they may need to move to a “facility” if their family cannot take them in. The staff avoid the words “Nursing Home” because for so many patients these words summon unbidden memories and smells, a foreboding and a sense of horror. Most everyone who is elderly has had a friend or family member in a nursing home, and has left it begging their own family, “please don’t ever put me in one of those places.” And now here they are discussing “Long Term Care Facilities.”  For families who know their loved one’s wishes there is tremendous guilt even having the conversation.

Where can hope be found in that room? As a chaplain I do not claim the right to offer hope. Pious platitudes are an offense to the emotional sensibilities of all concerned. So then what? At first all that can be done is to sit as people digest all they have heard and offer them a supportive presence. At some point a simple question can refocus the emotions in the room to good memories and life’s blessings. It is easier for the people in the room to access “hope” looking backwards. To an elderly spouse or life partner, “How long have you been together?” This often elicits stories of first meetings and life’s milestones, usually accompanied by smiles and tears, both. The next step is harder: Where is hope now, in this room in this moment? A comment or question about the care being offered on the unit often leads to expressions of gratitude. The focus of hope becomes timely assistance when the nurse’s button is pushed, pain medication when needed, the gift of clean bedding, getting the meal that was requested, the kindness and gentleness of staff. Hope can also be present in the person of a relative not seen for years and the opportunity for reconciliations and mended fences.

And then there is the question of future hope.  As a chaplain I make no assumptions about people’s future hopes. Even those who self-describe as “not religious” will ask for prayers of healing, and may want to believe in more than simple annihilation at the moment of death. Even atheists desire a way of making sense of the life and death of their loved one – did it matter that they lived? The scientific understanding of the cycle of birth and death, of the reabsorption and recycling of matter, can provide a sense of immortality – a future hope.  And for everyone in the room the sharing of memories reminds them that the loved one will live on in their stories. Their loved one was part of the great tapestry of human existence and changed the history of the world for all time – another source of future hope.

If they are of the Christian, Muslim, or Hindu faiths, devoted or even loosely affiliated, prayers of intercession are a tradition, especially in times of crisis. People’s beliefs in the efficacy of these prayers can often resemble a child-like, “Santa Claus” view of God. But there is another view that makes such prayers meaningful: prayer doesn’t change God it changes us. In prayer we place ourselves consciously and intentionally in the presence of the Divine – the source of life and healing, courage and hope. That awareness can bring a sense of peace into the ICU room. Physical healing may not be the outcome of these prayers, but there is the possibility of spiritual and emotional healing. The family is reminded that they are not alone. They have a source of strength and courage that comes from the Divine who is present within them, in the room, in the universe, and will support them in whatever comes. And furthermore, the patient is not alone now, and  never will be alone.  All that is remains in the “Hands” of God, and for theists that is the Future Hope.

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Subtropical Storm Alberto, May 26, 2018
An actual picture.

Storm Ending


          Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,
          Great, hollow, bell-like flowers,
          Rumbling in the wind,
          Stretching clappers to strike our ears . . .
          Full-lipped flowers
          Bitten by the sun
          Bleeding rain
          Dripping rain like golden honey—
          And the sweet earth flying from the thunder.


It’s thundering outside and we’re under a storm watch for the weekend. It’s not even hurricane season yet!  I looked for poems about storms and this one struck me, the first line in particular, “Thunder blossoms gorgeously…”  It seems counter-intuitive to speak of gorgeous thunder and to use the imagery of flowers, and it gave me pause.  I was reminded of one of my son Malcolm’s  favorite phrases: perspective is everything.

If we apply that principle to the storms of life I wonder what might result? You might be tempted to counter, Wait, are you telling me to look on the bright side, that every cloud …yada yada yada?  Well, if you put it that way it does sound trite and that’s not what I’m aiming at.  I don’t think one can find beauty in every storm or every tragedy; hurricanes are dangerous and deadly and the aftermath is ugly.  Loss of a loved one is profoundly, excruciatingly painful and life-changing. And yet …

After a newsworthy tragedy one often hears of heroic gestures, lives saved, donations made, foundations established. But after a loss …?

In the hospital room, when the family has let go of the hope for a cure or a miracle and I am asked to pray with them, I pray in thanksgiving. I give thanks for the life of the patient and for the many blessings – for the life they have given to their children, for the love they have both given and received, and even for the struggles that made them stronger and brought them closer to each other. These prayers don’t remove the pain of loss, or the pain of letting go, but they shine a light on the beauty in the storm, and it often changes the mood in the room as people shed tears and share smiles of remembering. After the group prayer I invite people give a personal blessing to the patient (I keep an anointing oil for that purpose) and say their final words close to his or her ears. I start the ritual and hold out the oil to each person. There are more tears and then there is silence.  Then I might make an observation or ask a question about the patient and that’s when the story-telling starts. I don’t remember the stories ever being about bad times. The patient’s character traits and foibles are remembered along with their acts of love and sacrifice. There is beauty in that – beauty in the thunder, as the tears mingle with the laughter.


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