I had a chance this week to speak with a colleague who is a hospital chaplain. She was naturally very concerned with all of the wild growth in numbers of Covid infections, and we spoke about what that means for the many patients she and her colleagues see in hospitals. She also spoke about the amount of time chaplains are spending with nurses, doctors, and other employees of the hospital system where the chaplains work. The bewilderment many are feeling and the reactivation of traumatic experiences working in their minds and hearts is more than a lot of them can handle with ease.
When I worked as a hospital chaplain, as many ministers do for a short period, for clinical training, one of the floors where I was assigned was the intensive care unit. It was always very active there.
I will never forget one call I received to a room where I was told a hospital employee’s mother was very ill. The employee worked in the catheterization lab, where they literally put hearts back together again. When I arrived at the room, the employee’s mother was breathing her last breaths after her illness brought on her death. Her daughter, the cath lab tech, held her mother’s hand until the breathing stopped. Then from a deep and previously silent place rose a cry that at once was like the wail of a lost child and like an animal wounded in the wild.
Then without any reservation, in a move so deft it seemed like the most natural thing in the world, the daughter climbed into bed next to her mother and lay her head one last time on her shoulder. She cried there for a while, and everyone in the room knew it was exactly what needed to happen in that moment. Then after a few minutes, the daughter simply got out of bed, straightened her coat, wiped the tears from her cheeks, and left the room without a word. I stayed with some of the other family members who said their goodbyes for a few minutes, but then it was over.
I gave some thought to taking a few overnight shifts at our local hospitals here, just to give our chaplains some relief. But my friend advised against it in light of all I have to do at church. And I see her point. There are times when there is nothing left to do but wail, nothing left to do but let the animal of loss roam free again. There are times when even those who heal hearts feel their own hearts crack. And then come the times when we straighten up, gather whatever strength we have, and walk on to meet what the next day holds.
May the days ahead hold the freedom we each need to know when we need to wail and know when we need to move on, as if they were the most natural things in the world…because they are.
And may it ever be so
Rev. T. J.