October 16, 2017

Wednesday Morning

'A mother's grief raw and recent' photo (c) 2008, Southbanksteve - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/By Chaplain Mike

Monday, he spent five or six hours with a friend whose spouse, also a friend, had died. He sat while the grieving husband puttered and dealt with details. He made small talk, answered a few questions, and waited for an OK to call the funeral home.

Tuesday, he attended another death, this time of one of his favorite patients. The man’s wife had never seen anyone die before. She described his passing with wonder. The children left the room and the chaplain prayed with her alone at the bedside. He called the mortuary and sat with them until they arrived.

Wednesday, he visited the hospital. After a few moments of chit-chat at the nurse’s station, he went to see his patient. She was still. He watched for a few moments, put his hand on hers. Cold and still. He walked out and notified the nurse. Her husband lived alone, and the adult children were out of town. So he made the calls. The old man said no, he wouldn’t be coming to the hospital; he’d been there this morning and had said his goodbyes. He insisted he would be all right. The whole unit was extraordinarily quiet that day.

'104/365 Looking out to sea' photo (c) 2008, Rachel Carter - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/Thursday, he made a visit to a dirty and disheveled little house. He hesitated to sit down, touched nothing. A daughter explained that her dad was sleeping, finally. He was lying in a hospital bed in the dark room next to them as they talked. They were all tired. It had been a long night. He did not stay long.

A half hour later he was in another part of town, preparing for his next visit. A text came across his phone. The man in the dark room had died. He turned around and went back to the dirty little house. Sad people filled and passed through its tiny, cluttered rooms, crying, shaking their heads, silently making their way outside to the dirty, cluttered little porch; spilling out onto the sidewalk to smoke and watch for others to arrive. He and the nurse washed the body with water warmed on the stove, for they had no hot water. Somehow the family brought them a clean pile of wash cloths and towels. When all was ready, they gathered and he prayed.

Friday, he was supposed to be off work. Instead, he went to funeral visitations.

Saturday and Sunday, he drove and drove and drove. It had been intended as a weekend respite, a chance to get away and breathe. But he could not drive far enough.

Monday, while preparing his work for the week, a call came — a neighbor in the prime of life had died. He arrived before the nurse. He comforted the patient’s mother, who could only say why didn’t he take me instead? Family, friends, funeral home personnel filtered in over the course of the next couple hours. Another circle of prayer, another search for tissues, another round of hugs, another service to plan.

Pulling away from the home, he received a text. Be there soon, he shot back.

He missed her dying by fifteen minutes. He and the nurse agreed to stay to support the ever-growing crowd of family members until all arrived and they were ready to call the funeral home. It took a few hours, and every time he looked up, he saw faces he did not recognize. He couldn’t keep them straight, did not know who was who and who belonged to whom. But he answered the questions he could, and encouraged those on the edge of losing it to take one step at a time and we’ll be there to help. More people than seemed possible scrunched into the bedroom for the prayer of commitment.

God in heaven, we thank you for your promise, that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. We ask that you take this loved one into your care and grant her eternal comfort for all the trials she suffered in this world. Grant her joy and peace in your presence forever. And be with those of us left here, who are missing her and mourning her loss. Be the God of all comfort to us, help us to know and feel your presence at this time. Help us to believe your promise that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ. In your name we pray. Amen.

Tuesday was quiet. He made a couple of visits. Stared at his computer screen. Caught up on his paperwork. Made several phone calls to schedule appointments for later in the week. Looked up times for funeral arrangements and put them on his calendar.

He called one of his supervisors. The quarterly team memorial service was scheduled for Wednesday morning. He asked to be excused. Permission was granted.

He fell asleep reading, before his wife got home from her office.

He awoke on Wednesday morning, clocked in, and went to work.

Comments

  1. God bless all those who comfort and care for the dying.

    God bless all those who make Christ available to the dying and to the families of the dead and dying, and who are there for them in their time of trial.

    Thanks, Chaplain Mike.

  2. CM, I could never do your job. But I’m so thankful that God has made you (and others like you) able.

  3. Thank you, Chaplain Mike, for the work that you do. You may never know fully until the end of time as we know it how much your presence and prayers truly meant to both the dying people and those who remain still on earth.

  4. No wonder that inane worship music doesn’t speak to your soul. Those who have looked at death without turning can’t be comforted with naivety.

    • Lisa Brahm says:

      Was diagnosed with cancer a couple of months ago and found out this week that it’s an aggressive form. I pray my loved ones have someone like you around if or when I die. God bless you Chaplain Mike.

      • I remember when my Mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I was in the middle of moving to Washington, D.C. I was boxing up my apartment and my Mom wanted to fly out to Milwaukee to help and drive with me to DC. Instead she started falling ill and went to the doctor who had a hunch and rushed her to a general internist. The internist had suspicions and ordered a bippsy. It came back pancreatic cancer. My Dad called me to tell me the news. I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me.

        So there I was, alone in my apartment that is in disaray when I got the news. Half of my belongings are boxed up and I sat on the floor leaning against the wall and just wept at what my Dad told me. I was frightened, unsure of what was going to happen, etc… I was also afraid of my Mom suffering.

        Fortunately my Mom pulled through and they caught the cancer early. Today she’s celebrated 6 years of being cancer free.

        • Eagle, pancreatic cancer is usually a quick killer; it’s a true miracle she survive and I’m so thankful she did. I’ve cried those terrifying tears as well.

          • Lisa…I am grateful. Every day I’m grateful for my Mom. I try and tell here that whenever I speak to her. But I remain grateful for beating the odds. Becuase of our family’s brush with pancretaic cancer I am more sensitive to it when I hear about it on the news.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          My favorite SF author from my college days died of pancreatic cancer.

          They call pancreatic and liver cancer “Stealth Cancers” or “Ninja Cancers” because usually the first symptom is when you die from it. That literally happened with a coworker’s first wife some years ago — she showed her first major symptoms literally a few hours before she died..

      • BTW Lisa hugs from Washington, D.C. 🙂

    • EZK ~ Amen. My whole attitude toward “church and worship” changed after watching my husband die.

      Chaplain Mike ~ please be careful and mindful of your own limits. You are a caring and compassionate man but you don’t want to jeopardize your mental and emotional health. We love and need you here but you can only stretch so far.

      • Thank you. You’ll note that I begged out of the staff memorial service at the end of that extraordinary week and that Tuesday provided a breather. You are right– we have to know our limits and find ways to get refreshed.

        • I concur with Adrienne. Mike I know all the excuses a pastor uses to justify overworking himself. Don’t fool yourself, make sure you find time to “go off alone to pray”.

  5. Tears. Praying. Thank you!

  6. textjunkie says:

    good grief, is that your JOB?? Wow. May God make his face to shine upon you and give you peace…

  7. wow. yeah…

    blessings Chap Mike: for strength, for sensitivity, for compassion, for the gift of comforting those that mourn…

    blessings…

  8. David Cornwell says:

    Showing the heart of the true pastor.

  9. Pam Burns says:

    Thank you for your faithfulness.

  10. God bless you and those that can do this job. Grieving, sadness, sad occasions, sad movies, sad songs… all hard for me since I avoid this area like the plague (and when I finally do acknowledge it I have a feeling the levees won’t hold the water generated from the tears or they’ll have to put me on drugs)….

    That said I enjoy viewing the window into the life of one who chose this for a vocation….

  11. Dana Ames says:

    Gratitude to God for you, CM. Prayers for you, for all you need for this work of love in Jesus’ name.

    Dana

  12. I’m a cardiologist. First of all, I’ve had that week before. Secondly, I am very grateful for our exemplary chaplains at our hospital. God bless your work; I know it is appreciated.

  13. God bless and keep you in all that you do. I hope there is someone like you there when my time comes, be it tomorrow or many years from now. Never doubt that you are used by God and have an impact you probably won’t fully know or see this side of eternity. Peace.

  14. Chaplin Mike…moving story. It stands in juxtpost to society today with the “I’m going to live forever” mentality. I don’t know how you could do it. I have a lot of love and respect for attending to those in the process of dieing or those dealing with the grief.

    Take care of your health and stay away from contemporary praise and worship!! 😛

  15. Chaplain's Wife says:

    My husband has been a hospice chaplain for the past 8 months after 30 years of church pastoring. I have such deep admiration for the value of what you do–and a much greater understanding now than I ever have before. He feels he’s had more “real” conversations about Jesus these past months than he ever did while working in a church. Bless you, and thank you for sharing your experiences with us.

  16. Going off this afternoon to spend time with a newly widowed woman. I’d been visiting her and her husband for the last couple months. Now begins another part of the journey as we move on with the visitation and funeral later this week, and then into the days after.
    Our church is currently without a pastor. I’ve been parish nurse and doing visiting for years, but I can tell you how we miss having a pastor, and how many people it takes to do the work in the place of him/her. Luckily there is grace, and this dear woman is gracious.
    I so appreciate the prayer you included and will share it with her.

  17. CM, what an example you set for the rest of us…you most definitely raise the bar to a high standard, in terms of pastoral care. From experience, I can tell you that weeks like this are draining and fulfilling all at once, as it is in these times that we are living out our mission in Christ to minister to the hurting.

    Take care of yourself. Nouwen once wrote that it’s important to have someone completely disconnected from your ministry to have as a friend and confidant…not as an “accountability partner”, but as a friend, someone to have coffee with who refreshes and restores you. I’ve learned that this is very important.

    Nouwen also wrote that the mark of true spiritual maturity is being willing to be led places one would rather not go (John 21:15-19). Thanks, CM, for modeling this for us.

    Peace…

    • Lee,

      I sense in your responses that you may have traveled the christian mystic path….

      Just an observation…

      regards

  18. And you still find time to feed all us inmates here at the monastery, too. Thanks for all you do to keep it real, CM.

  19. What a calling. O my, how do you manage the impact on you of the family’s grief & sorrow? Having walked with several friends in their loss of loved ones, my heart just aches, but I have struggled with depression for years so perhaps it is my stuff… God Bless You.

  20. You share in the sufferings of Christ. Praying for you. May God refresh you as you have refreshed others.

  21. I’ve just started a hospital chaplain residency program last week. Have tasted the pain and wonder, the anguish and awe, of the work enough to choose to immerse myself in it for the next 12 months. I have a question for Chaplain Mike and others who walk such a road. This is around the issue of self-care and renewal. Have you noticed a correlation between immersion in nature and the capacity to hold others’ pain? I live in a beautiful natural retreat, and somehow feel it significantly supports my work. I’m also developing a literal “wailing wall” to encourage the honor of our grief and pain. I’d love to hear others’ experiences with this.

  22. Tomorrow it will be one month since my mother’s death. Monday will be the first anniversary of my brother’s death. His was expected, hers was not. Thanks for posting this. It’s a good reminder that others feel the same pain.