Joy Comes in the Morning
As I continue my life’s journey, I bump into all kinds of situations as a hospital chaplain. Some of these events are rather joyful. Some of them are down right painful. Not too long ago I was called to come in to the hospital’s emergency room in the middle of the night to offer what comfort I could to a family whose child had a severe head injury. While the medical team worked to stabilize the infant, I stood outside the trauma room offering prayers for the child and his family. As the child began to stabilize I received another page indicating an additional situation in the pediatric intensive care unit upstairs on the second floor. I arrived in the PICU and located the patient in question. The situation I discovered continues to surface in my memory weeks after its conclusion.
As I entered the pediatric intensive care unit it was obvious, due to the number of medical personnel present near the patient’s room and the expressions on their faces that whatever was going on was serious and sad. Once I was briefed about the situation, I understood fully its seriousness. Seems this particular patient had been sick for quite sometime. She was only two years old. She had been placed on life support weeks earlier in hopes that something medical could be done to reverse her painful dilemma.
One of the outstanding truths I have discovered about serving as a hospital chaplain remains for me somewhat bitter sweet. I recall early in my career getting off of the elevator on my way to see a patient one Saturday morning only to be met by the patient’s young adult sister seated on the floor in the hall way. She was waiting for her parents to arrive at the hospital to visit their very sick teenage son. I had spent some time with the family days before but this Saturday morning the patient had taken a turn for the worse. When the patient’s sister saw me coming down the hall toward her she exclaimed emphatically, “Don’t let my parents see you!” Often due to the fact that chaplains are called to end of life situations our presence seems to communicate a reality that some are not quite ready to grasp. This was the case then and I wondered what I was walking into that evening in the PICU.
Different people see chaplains in different ways. Some see us as those offering comfort at the bedside. Others perhaps see us a representatives of God. Often when the patient is a helpless child and the prayers for that child seems to have fallen on deaf ears ,the chaplain can feel the frustration and anger being expressed heavenward. As I stood silently just outside the patient’s room I simply observed the comings and goings of the various medical personnel and those who were there to support the patient’s siblings. Soon I was invited to enter the room by the patient’s mother. She asked me to please say a prayer for her daughter.
The decision had been made to disconnect the patient from life support because there wasn’t anything else medically they could do to save her life. I shall never forget the encounter I had with the patient’s father. As I stood outside the room he walked up to me and expressed his anger with God for not sparing his daughter’s life. He indicated that this whole situation was not sitting with him very well. As I listened to his terrible pain I simply said, “I would be upset and angry too!” This was not the time to try to defend God as if I thought I could. God doesn’t need our defense. God, I believe encourages us to be in the moment and listen for the pain and offer the ministry of presence.
What happen next I was not anticipating. The father of the patient asked me if I would be present at the bedside when they removed the life support. This request may not seem like much but believe me it was monumental. In spite of his anger with God he still wanted God’s representative present as he held his daughter in his arms and said his goodbyes. The scripture says to be angry and sin not. If you don’t think God can handle our anger then perhaps your God isn’t very big. His love and compassion overwhelms our grief and our worst situations. My hope is there is a re-union coming where God will wipe away every tear. So hold on my child. Joy comes in the morning!