Grief, Grit and Gratitude
By Amy Greene, Board Chair | December 2, 2019

A number of people over my tenure as Board Chair have asked me (some genuinely and some accusingly) if I have any sympathy for the grief many of our members feel regarding all the changes. I really do. I understand what it feels like to watch an institution you’ve poured much of your heart, soul and time into become something that seems to be quite different from what you were working toward – as if someone swapped out the blueprints -- or had a different set all along. It is hard to watch things change around us, especially if we perceive them mostly through the lens of what’s lost rather than what’s gained.

As chaplains, counselors, and educators, we know the toll grief can take if left unspoken and unprocessed. We also know the toll grief can take if it gets stuck and stagnant. I am reminded of Lot’s wife, from the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, the first book of the Hebrew and Christian bibles. She turned into a pillar of salt because she could not resist looking back at the destruction of the city. Though Lot’s wife had every reason to turn around and cry her eyes out (I can’t help thinking this accounts for all the salt), I wonder what other perspectives we might have gained had she been able to cry but keep going.

I do not think our situation is dire, but I also know that the landscape for our profession is shifting almost daily. If you are lucky enough to practice in a center that never has to account for its budget, its value, its productivity, its innovation, its goals, its very existence…I envy you, sort of. I have had periods over the past decades where I could momentarily not worry about those things, but they were few, fast and far between. Mostly I have had to pay attention to the market forces determining whether hospital and other institutional administrators would see the value in our work enough to pay for it. The bottom line is the bottom line. If we fail to answer these demands, we will have to close shop.

That’s where the grit comes in. I hope we will roll up our sleeves and work toward a stronger future – not for ACPE as an organization alone, but for our profession and what it has meant and could mean for our society. I honestly believe the rapidly decreasing numbers of people who are making lifetime commitments to religious congregations are no indication of the depth of spiritual pain and need in our culture. We are going to need more – not fewer – academically and clinically trained professionals whose spirituality and/or religion and humanistic philosophies provide our motivation, but never our agenda, to help ease that suffering wherever we find ourselves working.

It has taken grit to keep going over these past few years (since considering running for president nearly five years ago). Concurrent with my beginning officially as Chair-Elect was the fourth organizational-structure change for my department in my nine years at Cleveland Clinic. Now at the 12-year mark, another restructuring is on the horizon. It took grit to fulfill my commitment to ACPE to complete my term. I’m not asking for an award, but I do know that I will never again look at other volunteer leaders in the same way. They put themselves on the line financially and every other way to advance our profession. They do not make a dime – they actually contribute money as well as time. As our colleagues, they deserve our support and trust.

But finally, and most importantly, there is gratitude. Deep, rumbling, sweet, exhausted gratitude. To go from CPE dropout to Board Chair has been an interesting and complicated 33-year journey. CPE has defined my life and ministry in ways that can never be revoked. I’m so glad that enough people saw my potential to help lead us during a time of immense change that they literally called me out to do it. It has been the biggest honor of my professional life to have the trust and support of so many colleagues. The notes and messages of encouragement and support over the years have kept me going.

I’m grateful for the wonderful people I met along the way and for just how much I’ve learned about our beloved institution. I’m in awe of the long line of folks who served in leadership before me, especially those presidents who did so without the benefit of such a robust and capable staff. Honestly, I had the easy part. The folks who committed to serve on the Board, Committees, and Commissions have been amazing. All of us are busier than ever, and yet we all felt called to be at the U-shaped table again and again, to hammer out the details of a vision all of us as an association have formed together over the years.

It was great fun to preside at our annual conferences and it was really fun to bang the gavel. (John Roch had to take it away from me more than once to keep it intact.) It was inspiring to see how many of us it takes to get all our work done and how many do it without ever really getting the credit they deserve.

I finish my term with great hope and anticipation for our future together. We are, once again, on the cusp of what may prove to be a union of partners who have danced up close to the altar before and decided to run before the vows could be uttered. Some have said that was due to “egos and logos,” and while that’s catchy and partly true, I honestly believe there were reasons why we needed to wait. 

I’m especially grateful that you will be coming to my town of Cleveland, OH for the joint annual conference in May 2020. We will have incredibly stimulating conversations and presentations. I suspect it’s going to be the most exciting one any of us has been to…maybe ever. My Cleveland colleagues and I can’t wait to welcome you to our home and help make history together.

So, I’m not saying goodbye. Someone suggested I had become a lame duck, and I assured him that I am still quacking. And planning to fly in formation with the rest of you for a long time.

Thank you.

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