Getting used to my new job didn’t take long. To my delight, before my three month review, evaluation where my supervisor can recommend to terminate me or to keep me, I was offered more hours so that instead of part time, I am full time equivalent. Do we live in order to work? It would seem that working enables us to live! Far from making me less energized, work gives my life more meaning and gets me up and out of bed out of the house and into the world. Into the world where my mere presence and gifts and talents God has given me comfort and encourage others. Even where prayer is concerned, of course I pray far more for others and with others than I do on my own, my humble prayers, words of my heart bring peace and strength to those who need it. I wasn’t sure chaplaincy was my gig. Well, I still don’t know whether it is my only gig in life to be pursued. I do know that it is what gets me going from one day to the next knowing that somehow God is working through me to bring comfort to God’s people.
what does it mean to be chaplain to patients who are well? at the last place i worked, everyone had a serious illness. the place i’m working now, patients are pretty well. what does it mean to provide chaplain care in such a place? it is true that many patients say they are well, they don’t need a chaplain. some patients, however, are dealing with life issues that call out for additional support whether in hospital or any where else! how can i best identify patients who need chaplain support so that those who want and need emotional and spiritual support can get help they need? that’s what’s on my mind this morning.
What does it mean that we all will die at some point? I am a chaplain in training. Yesterday two of my patients died in ICU. And before that three patients died during the week. Patient that died in ICU, Edna (pseudonym) was a lovely person. So was her husband, Ed. I visited them twice before she got transferred to the ICU. She and Ed talked about Alaska as if it were the place to be! Imagine, Alaska, the state that elected Sarah Palin as governor! Mr and Mrs E encouraged me to apply for a job there. Oh they need people for everything! You need to be roughed though. Are you outdoorsy? Oh every guide we had carried a rifle. !!! it was on their trip to Alaska that Mrs E fell asleep on tours and Mr E knew something was wrong he said. It wasn’t like Edna to be sleeping on tours! Trip to Alaska had saved her life they said. Mrs E, how do you stay so positive? Oh, I give myself pep talks. You’ll have to teach me how you do that! Oh, I just talk to God. oh, that’s right up my ally! maybe next time we could pray together. …
but there was no next time. on my way up to the ICU to answer a page, I ran into Mr E. I was caught off guard. mr E answered the question I was thinking in my head. She’s not doing so well. she’s on life support. you want to meet my daughters? they are both here. sorry I was paged for another patient. I’ll drop by afterwards. my heart sank. on my way to ICU I was already sad, heart broken. when I dropped by mr E said to come back later. they are waiting for a priest. could I check on that? absolutely! I thought I’d get another chance to visit with the patient and family.
later in the afternoon, the room was closed. I could tell room was empty. still I had to find out. a clerk told me the patient expired. noooo. I thought I could come pray together with mr and mrs E. after I left the hospital, I felt like a lost spirit. I walked but I was looking past the objects. I wasn’t really seeing or thinking anything except when a cab angrily honked at me. I thought, sure, run me over, everyone dies. I Texted my boyfriend. I am walking aimlessly. his response was a question mark. guess my text needed clarification. I’m trying to walk off grief I said.
it felt weird to be alive encountering death so closely. I didn’t feel dead. I didn’t quite feel alive either. I had asked a colleague during the day, the staff in ICU, what are that made of? how do they do it?
similarly, what kind of people are chaplains exactly? how do chaplains do it? Are they pain and suffering junkies? no. pain sucks. suffering sucks. but we endure pain and suffering sometimes even choosing it as a profession because we care. it is a hard life. I’m not sure I can take it. all I can say is I sure am happy I got a chance to meet mr and mrs E. she was a lovely soul. so is Mr E.
I didn’t know if when it would happen or if it ever would. It has been really hard to make patient visits. Then slowly starting this week, I feel more at ease like I did before. Last Sunday I answered an on call referral to ICU. I provided pastoral care to a family of actively dying patient. I presented the visit to my group. I didn’t do nearly as well as I thought I did after I considered some of the feedback from the group. Yet it was immensely difficult visit. I felt disconnected from life after the visit. Earlier in the week, I had few meaningful visits where patients wanted to talk about theological stuff. And then yesterday, prayed with two patients in particular that stand out in my mind. I prayed with one person who was really sick yet still had faith in God. And I provided end of life care to family of actively dying patient. The mother said why didn’t God take me? Why is God taking my son? I felt heart broken to hear that. I realize I don’t have any answers. All I can offer is support. I prayed with the mother and her family. And somehow I feel once again reminded of the fact that I do what I do not because it’s easy, not because I do it better than others, but because I am able and because I have been given the opportunity to provide care to patient and families in hospital setting. Another patient was anxious she may be judged after her death, which she believes is imminent, and she didn’t know what that would be like. More than anything, I hold on to the love of God. I told the patient that God loves her. And the judgment she would have faced, Jesus took in her place as he did for me as well. Really last Sunday I felt like I couldn’t keep making pastoral visits…too difficult, too sad, just too much to bear. But I see now that what I do can mean the difference between laying awake at night fearing the judgment day or wondering what God’s love would look and feel like when you finally go home, or whether God understands the pain of having your son in your sixties is being taken before you and being able to cry out to God who knows the pain you are going through because he too had lost his only begotten son. What can I say? It’s a privilege, it really is. The work I do, it matters.