BEUSCHEL: Learning to deal with compassion fatigue

Nov 15, 2012


Last week, I noticed that I was reacting negatively to a fundraiser being held at my school and wondering why I felt that way. I’m normally a caring, giving person — but I believe I’ve developed compassion fatigue.

It may have started when my church’s sister parish in Port Au Prince, Haiti, was pummeled with hurricanes over and over again, leaving this already impoverished area in disaster. We sent tents, collected money during Vacation Bible School and continued to send volunteers from our church for on-site assistance. The pictures they brought back of the living conditions there were saddening. 

Then, when my school year started in August, United Way of Muskegon sent a representative to our staff meeting, encouraging us to participate through payroll deduction. I filled out the form, marked my choice of which nonprofit to send my donation to, and then I told myself I’m good to go. 

Years ago, one of my colleagues told me that this was the route she took so she didn’t have to feel like she needed to respond to every donation request that came her way. She had her giving covered. I thought I did, too.

Next, I began attending committee meetings for a group called Friends and Community Engaged (F.A.C.E.). The goal of the group was to focus on the needs of Fruitport families by providing Thanksgiving baskets and Christmas gifts for children. Like a finely tuned machine, this group became more streamlined, organized and able to bring in other resources like Toys for Tots and the local Lions Club. After our last meeting, I felt positive about what we were accomplishing and that we were going to be able to meet the needs of our community. 

But, one by one, other requests for donations continued to come in. There’s a coin war going on to raise money for one of our families experiencing major medical expenses. There’s a coat and warm clothes drive going on as part of a high school service-learning project. There’s the spaghetti dinners, raffles, popcorn buckets, chocolate candy bars, Girl Scout cookies — and on and on, it seems to go.

Interspersed with all these face-to-face requests for donations are the almost-daily requests that come in the mail to help feed the homeless, to buy animals for needy Third World families, to sponsor children so they can have one meal a day, or to help buy furnaces for Native Americans living on reservations.

Oh, my! Would this ever end?

Enter Hurricane Sandy. The media brought this catastrophe right up close and personal, with live action coverage of tumbled houses and boats. Then there are the heartbreaking cries for relief from the people living through this disaster. Even as there are pictures of the Red Cross trucks bringing assistance, the disaster that surrounds them overtakes their presence. 

Certainly, I am not the only one suffering from compassion fatigue. We each walk a path on this earth that intersects with the neediness of those around us. There is no turn-off button to push back this awareness.

So, I’ve been trying to figure out how to deal with this sort of awareness. And maybe you have, too.

I’ve found a way. 

I have recognized that there may be a challenge that comes with having blessings. I am blessed with many things. I will be a good steward of the blessings I have and share to the best of my ability those blessings with those around me. I can rest with the knowledge that everyone else in the world has something they can give also, even in the smallest way. 

As we share our blessings, we are also blessed. 

A happy Thanksgiving to you all!

— By Janice Beuschel, Tribune community columnist


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