Chaplaincy story #1
When I was a Chaplaincy Student, I struggled to find my niche because I was not ordained clergy like many of my classmates and neither was I a nun like so many of my fellow Catholics asked for. What I brought to situations would eventually reveal itself.
I was doing an 18 hour overnight shift as part of my “on call” time required by the program. I loved and hated these days, the work could be so profoundly meaningful and exhausting so sometimes I hoped for nothing but sleep.
On this night I was paged by the ICU. “We just told a lady that her teen son was brain dead. We had hoped to be able to save him but he has passed that point and there is nothing more to do, so we called you”. I reflected how scary, odd and honoring it it is to be the one called when all other options are gone. I promised myself that I would not say anything trite to this woman…unlike my normal talky self, I internally swore I would stand silent before I gave her platitudes. God promises us words, doesn’t he? I was sure there was a Bible passage that promised me words when I needed them although I had no idea what it was.
I arrived in a room to find a few adults at the bedside of a young adult who simultaneously had the appearance of a very injured person with many signs that he had been healthy and robust a very short time before. The dressing over his injured head covered him to the edge of his hairline and the stuff keeping his breathing tube in covered his lower face leaving only his cheeks visible.
I spoke just enough words to figure out who was who in the room and introduce myself. As soon as I identified his mother, I quit speaking. My insides, however started SCREAMING “God!! Tell me WHAT TO DO!! Tell me what to say !!!! and NOW would be good!!! ” yet I carefully kept my outside demeanor calm. (More silent internal screams GOD TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!!!) No words came, but my maternal self looked at him and I noticed the soft apples of his cheeks and I like to kiss those soft spots on my own children. Her chances to mother this young man were very short. I walked over to the bed, put the side rail down, pointed to his cheek and said “Tell him you love him and kiss him right there”. As it turned out, the Nurses who had previously told them to not stimulate him (lest they increase the pressure in his brain) while a recovery was hoped-for forgot to retract that directive once it was clear that no recovery was possible (easy mistake to make, I could have made it myself).
The Aunt in the room said something that stunned me “Well, you knew JUST WHAT TO DO” echoing exactly the thoughts I had been sharing with God.
What I brought to that room was not an Ordination or title, it was my obedience of service & vocation as parent. As my interaction with them evolved that night (which included talk and prayer) I believe I helped her be the mom she needed to be at that moment. I was forever amazed at the Grace that God showed in getting the Chaplain with the right gifts to the right place at the right time.
To be clear – had they been Catholic (they were not) they would have also needed the Sacraments that only a Priest could bring & benefitted from the kindness of the Religious Sisters and as a lay person I would never presume to step into those spots. In that moment though, God sent a mother who loved Him to serve a mother who needed Him and His work was done and His love was conveyed.
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