What saved my life during a hospital stay

First published in the BC Catholic on October 6, 2022. https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/what-saved-my-life-during-a-hospital-stay

“I’m so grateful to not be in a hospital as I was last autumn. The connections with family and friends are what saved my life during that time.”

Leaves crackled underfoot. Dappled trees surrounded the park where we sat. Jane and I ate ice cream before dinner on the first Sunday in fall. A dog came by to sniff our dessert. We pulled it away and petted him as he meandered by.

I ate whisky hazelnut and peanut butter ripple sitting in the golden sun beside Jane. We laughed and chatted, both of us procrastinating on going home to do the things we needed to do.

I soaked up the time with Jane knowing she’s leaving in a couple weeks for East Africa. A dad and his daughter threw a baseball back and forth. And I sat on the grass, relaxed with my back towards a community garden. Eating ice cream always makes me happy. Though this type of happiness doesn’t last. But sometimes I need quick wins when my mood is low. Happiness is something you can choose.

When I’m depressed, my memory helps me know that this state won’t last forever. I recall how much God loves me and rejoices in me. This makes me feel better deep inside. It doesn’t always bring a smile to my face in that moment. But it is a comfort felt in my heart.

I’m so grateful to not be in a hospital as I was last autumn. The connections with family and friends are what saved my life during that time.

In the height of mania, I wrote my monthly column while watching a football game with other patients. I was grateful for a sense of normalcy and the knowledge that I still had the skills to write when sick. It was a time of lockdown because of COVID restrictions, which made it harder on me.

I longed for hugs from family members. When I moved to a residential care facility, I was able to have visitors. I also danced in the parking lot for exercise and self expression.

Danced in the parking lot for exercise and self-expression.

My friend, Father Guy Zidago, asked me if there was anything I would like. He brought me Powerade and chocolate like I hoped he would. A couple of other priests I know prayed for me over the phone and it made such a difference to my recovery.

I have so much gratitude for the phone calls with my friends Anna and Jazz during my stay, as well as for the visits with my older brothers and my Aunt Guin, and the countless messages from colleagues and close friends.

Beautiful cards and messages brought me joy.

There are not enough words to express my thanks to all the people who cheered me on in my recovery.

It was a tumultuous time in the hospital trying new medications and hoping to get it right.

This Thanksgiving, I was blessed to be home with my family instead of eating alone in a hospital room. God redeems all time that passes. “I will restore the years that the locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25)

The experience in the hospital taught me many lessons and was a sanctuary for healing my mind and body, even if it was an uncomfortable and unwanted passage.

A lesson I learned is that I am braver than I thought I was. I went through many difficult circumstances and came out stronger. I learned to have patience with myself. Because I have no control over my neurotransmitters or the chemical reactions in my brain. I had to see the illness take its course. The mania I was experiencing calmed enough that I could go home and continue to heal there.

The doctors and mental health professionals were supportive in the two different facilities I stayed in.

I remember one night when, alone in the basement of the residential hospital, I couldn’t sleep, and the staff decided to move me to a different room upstairs to be near the nurse’s station.

I was the only one in the residential hospital for a while because everyone else left. They couldn’t take anyone new until a few days had passed because there was a patient who had COVID. Everyone else was well enough to leave except for me.

It was a dark and cold night. The nurses gave me a bathrobe and gathered my bags and belongings to swap rooms. A mental health worker sat with me as I was shivering in fear and fatigue. His presence was soothing.

I remember that he worked the night shifts. I saw him when I woke up in the middle of the night. He looked out for me, sharing music or offering a prayer.

These beautiful gestures of care and protection are gifts from God. Praises bubble up because of the goodness God bestowed on me. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Forever will I praise your name.

Lisa Rumpel’s podcast, The Will to Thrive: Stories of Resilience, is available on popular streaming services.


When life goes up in smoke, keep a sense of humour, kindness and grit

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on Oct. 26th, 2020 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/when-life-goes-up-in-smoke-keep-a-sense-of-humour-kindness-and-grit

Reflecting on the loss from the recent fire sparked a resolve to live without regret. (photo News 1130)

I awoke to the sound of whirring helicopters circling in my neighbourhood. My first thought was, “Oh no, not another SWAT team stakeout.”

My sister was already eating breakfast in the dim morning light. “Can you check the news and see what’s happening?” I asked her while rushing to the coffee maker to put on a fresh pot.

As I dressed and got ready for work, my sister read out the news to me as it was coming in. “There has been a fire at King Edward and Cambie. Five businesses on the east side of Cambie are on fire. The fire started at 3 a.m. in the morning behind the café. The main intersection is closed going all ways. They safely removed the cats boarding above the sushi restaurant.”

Each time she read something about the fire, I kept saying, “Oh no. Oh no.” It is so sad.

The QE Park walk-in clinic and pharmacy that burned to the ground are two businesses I will miss the most. The owner of the pharmacy and her assistant knew me by name and took care of me. When I had trouble describing what I needed to buy, they guessed right. Two weeks before the fire, they asked if I needed a flu shot and fit me in between appointments so I could get it right away. They were so caring and kind. I will miss them.

The next day, I looked at the ruins with my sister. The smell of smoke from the charred remains of the buildings reminded me of how temporary things are. And that life can change in an instant. Even my hope in God could be extinguished if I do not live a life of ordered love.

The ruins of the pharmacy the next day.

Says Father Francis Fernandez in the fifth volume of In Conversations with God, “If we live with Christ close by our side we will need few possessions in order to be happy as children of God.” 

Reflecting on the loss from the recent fire sparked a resolve to live without regret. It shook me awake again to realize that life moves by, whether you are ready or not.

I was born with a sense of humour, kindness, and grit. These qualities help me in the unexpected anxieties that come my way. In the battle to find balance with a mood disorder. In the grieving of deceased friends, family members, and dear ones. In the interior struggle towards holiness.

I have a King who dotes upon me. He has healed me again and again. I trust he has a heaven of wellness planned for me. I often imagine walking with Jesus in a garden. There he shows me new delights, tall sunflowers, or a vineyard in bloom. What is your place of refuge to get away from it all?

This fall, I am adding more coziness and fun in my life as self-care. I relish small things that make me happy. Bird calls, perfume, new books, hugs, praying the Rosary with friends, and reading are a few of these things.

There will be things that upset us and make us worry. The Lord didn’t promise us an easy life but one full of joy. With our eyes resting on him, we can trust he will take care of us. I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly, says the Lord (Jn 10).

Will you see only the ashes from a fire? Or a sweet offering to begin again and offer everything to the Lord? My sadness at the loss of the relationships I had has brought me to a place of wonder.

What can God do with what seems impossible? What can I do to live more alive? What am I meant to do in this life? If I don’t have long to live, I don’t want to wait to do what I can do now. As Jesus said, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit” (Lk 12:35).

Only God can fill my heart with the fullness of love. In this disorienting time of the pandemic, I need to orient back to true north. I return my gaze to my Lord who is my comfort. May he continue to pour his love into your hearts.

Lisa Rumpel’s podcast, The Resilient Catholic: Shining light on your journey to flourish with Mental Health, is available on popular streaming services. It is updated once a month on Wednesday.


Sanctifying menial tasks

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on July 21, 2020 https://bccatholic.ca/voices/lisa-rumpel/the-prayer-in-doing-chores

The ordinary task of doing dishes helps me to silence the noise I am usually surrounded by and to talk to God. Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Washing dishes with pink gloves in hot suds, I had pause to think of all the good gifts in my life. The people, the growing of a dream, the crafting of a memoir. It all means so much to me. Soap suds squeaked and popped. Plates clattered together. I got lost in a hope-filled reverie.

The sun was behind rain clouds, and outside the window a bright green canopy of trees lined the street. A newness even in the overshadowing of a worldwide pandemic. There was a change. The smell of lilacs and honeysuckle in the alley wafted behind my little grey house.

Leaving the sink, I carried the trash outside. I tossed the compost in with a whump. Stretching my arms to the sky, I watched for aviator-like bumblebees passing by. The evening songbird sang high on the telephone wire. The ivy covering the gate shook in the slight wind. A smile pulled at the corners of my mouth. “I am going to be okay.”

My days are full, and my nights are calm. I have peace and joy. The Lord is my all in all. I try to give myself to him completely. Even the lost and broken pieces of my heart I give to him to find and repair. His love heals me through each relationship and time of prayer.

Often, I say, “Jesus, I trust in you. You take care of everything.” There have been many times when I have felt invisible, rejected, and lonely. And he has been with me through it all. I may not be perfect, but I am enough. I am learning to “trust in the slow work of God” and to “give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading.” 

Sometimes it is hard to follow the advice from Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, in his short piece “Trust in the Slow Work of God” to “accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”

The ordinary task of doing dishes helps me to silence the noise I am usually surrounded by and to talk to God. I long to speed ahead through the chores and in my personal projects. I can be quite impatient. “And yet,” says Father de Chardin, “it is the law of progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.”

The slow growth in relationships and work is almost unnoticeable. But it is new. Gradually, with grace and action they take shape and mature. When I take a deep breath in nature, I am serene with life flourishing all around me. It takes a long time for a tree to stand tall in a forest. Reminding myself of the steady movement of God in my life, I can be present to all the blessings I have.

Who am I to be loved by a God so great? And yet, I have become more aware of his goodness when I reflect on my day with gratitude. I am grateful for rain-picked raspberries from my elderly neighbour. Time spent with loved ones at coffee shops I hadn’t seen in months brings such joy. The beauty of yellow roses and fragrance of jasmine flowers in nearby gardens are lovely.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever” (Ps 136:1). Instead of dreading chores, I will relish the time to clean. Finding restoration in the Lord who is with me through it all.


Resilience and resurrection in a pandemic

First published in the BC Catholic Newspaper on March 31, 2020

Carving out more time for online Mass, rosary podcasts and spiritual reading, I embrace the peace it brings.

I have never felt such a strong hunger for the sacraments in the days leading up to Easter. It is a strange time that we are living in right now. A global pandemic is striking fear and panic in me and maybe you too. Worries can be overwhelming. What will happen to my family, job, finances, and way of life? It is uncertain what our lives will look like in the coming months. With all this change unfolding rapidly, we can count on the resurrection of the Lord. He gives us everything we need.

In this “darkness of uncertainty, loneliness and isolation,” we need a “change of mindset and renewal of heart,” as Archbishop Miller said in his homily livestreamed from Holy Rosary Cathedral on March 22.

Even more now, I am turning to the Lord in prayer throughout the day. I share with him all of my fears and questions about what is going on. I wonder when he will come in and calm this storm. He gives me the strength to face the difficult days.

I am discovering that the meaning of life is more than having enough toilet paper in my cabinet. Yes, I stocked up on food and planned healthy meals in the event I were to get sick. And yes, I am grateful to my landlords for leaving a few rolls of bathroom tissue at my door. Each day of self-isolation, my emotions are rising and falling, and I let myself feel the feelings. I don’t shut off all the anxiety because a little anxiety is good to protect myself from danger.

As I live through this unexpected spread of coronavirus, I am exercising the virtues of faith and resilience. Carving out more time for prayer with online Mass, Rosary podcasts, and spiritual reading, I embrace the peace it brings. I also listen to the needs of my mind and body. When I am hungry and need a snack, I find a few baby carrots or a bowl of mango yogurt to eat. When I need to move, I go for a walk or dance to my favourite upbeat songs. I am trying to accept that there is an outbreak and find peace in the moment by taking action.

On my first day working from home, I woke up to my sister making oatmeal. Adding fresh bananas, I ate it with my coffee as the morning light filtered into the living room. After breakfast, we lit candles scented with frankincense and myrrh for daily Mass. We participated in the Mass in Bishop Barron’s chapel on YouTube. We blessed each other with holy water and prayed in silence. What a wonderful rest for my soul.

Sitting at my desk to work remotely on the projects from my office, I felt grateful. It’s so good to have meaningful work, to have purpose. “Without purpose,” says Eric Greitens in his book Resilience, “we can survive – but we cannot flourish.” 

What is taking the edge off my anxiety is talking to family and friends on the phone and connecting virtually with friends and communities. Gifts are hidden in this darkness. I have joined a live stream Rosary, sung along with Josh Groban in his live performance on Facebook, watched operas streaming free on MetOpera.org, and laughed as I watched a video of penguins roam the aquarium after hours on YouTube. We live in an amazing age for technology. As my friend said, “It’s the world wide web of God’s beauty.”

The joy of Jesus’ resurrection is contagious. Because of his generous love, I am looking for ways to show up and give to others. Eric Greitens explains, “We become what we do if we do it often enough. We act with courage, and we become courageous. We act with compassion, and we become compassionate. If we make resilient choices, we become resilient.” When we believe in God, we receive a new hope-filled perspective.

While reading Scripture by my soft bedroom light before bed, I find Jesus’ words comforting, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt 6:25, 33).

This day is a gift. Looking back at it, I breathe deeply and ask, “Who will make these days brighter?” Closing my eyes, I feel deep gratefulness for Jesus’ love for me. The light of the world brightens my heart in this uncertainty.