In school, every time we had an in class day for Clinical Pastoral Training (CPE), one of the chaplains in training would be responsible for handling crises throughout the hospital so everyone else could remain in class. The first such days were fraught with worry as we had little experience and were fearful the right words would be lost in the recesses of our brains. Frightening prospects. We handled these responsibilities in a rotating order.
My turn. Antsy, nervous, sweaty palms. Ever been concerned that you couldn’t get a word out? I was there. The phone in the classroom jangled us out of a very thoughtful lesson. My heart leapt and in my mind I could hear “Oh, no! Not me! Not now?! Oh yes. Me and now! I went to the Surgical ICU floor as directed, feet slowing as I neared the door. Praying in great haste, I knocked on one of those doors that had “Consultation Room” engraved on a metal plaque at eye level. At least four people said, “Come in”, at the same time. Heaving a big sigh, I turned the knob and entered.
With what I hoped was a reassuring smile on my face, I stepped into the room. Five very serious faces met mine as each person lifted their right index finger, placing it under their noses to make me instantly aware that I was not to speak. How does a chaplain carry out their duties when they aren’t permitted to speak? The person in charge smiled and pointed to a chair and bade me sit. When I had, I was instructed to pray quietly and without ceasing as they decided what to do with the matriarch of the clan. They would do the rest. Nodding, I made myself comfortable, steadied my breathing, and began to pray.
As I prayed, I also listened while they talked about Mother and what she meant to them. She was loved, honored, even revered. Her life had been difficult at times. They laughed and they cried, celebrating memories good, bad and in between. As they shared, I listened and prayed. They continued to share the ups and downs of their lives with her.
When I could hear desperation in their voices, I prayed for peace. When they disagreed with each other and argued, I prayed for love. When the tears came, I prayed for comfort. As they weighed the options, I prayed for Gods will. They COULD give her more time, they shared. But was it fair to keep her in a condition that caused continued pain and suffering? They could ask she be kept comfortable. The doctors, understandably, wanted to give them more time. They could do another intervention, perhaps. Who benefitted from doing more? The patient? The doctors? The family? I prayed for wisdom.
Then it became quiet. I heard sniffing and patting.
They then asked me to pray, but this time, out loud. After asking each one what they would wish to pray for, and after each had made his/her wishes for Mother known, I prayed. “Lord, you have heard the prayers of each person in this room. You have heard the memories they have shared. You have heard the love they have for Mother, and you have heard each say they honor her will to leave here and to go with you when you are ready to take her home. As you bless Mother and her children, we ask you to ease her pain and make her transition from this life to the next peaceful and easy. We thank you for the life that could have been anywhere, but was lived within this family, with these people and for that we all thank you and give you praise. Amen.”
Hugs were exchanged all around. They thanked me and I stepped out of the door. I looked at my watch. Two and a half hours had passed. I’d not said a word out loud until just before I left. I had prayed for them in silence; did not have an opinion, just listened and prayed. I didn’t pray my words out loud, I let their own words be the prayer. Tired, exhilarated and sad, I returned to class. Finally, I thought, I have learned to shut my own mouth and listen and honor the thoughts and feelings of others. Well, I am still learning those lessons.
Read Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 11.