Friday, March 30, 2012

Grief by Surprise: Tears of a Chaplain

This morning I went to a seminar presented by members of a support group from our metro community. I was looking forward to a morning of learning and meeting other professionals. Once there I relaxed in a nice chair with my mug of coffee. I ate my breakfast brought from home as others ate the free breakfast. It was nice, relaxed, and planned. Although we all had name-tags there were very few people I knew personally in the room.

As the presenter began speaking I hadn’t had any way to know my mood would dramatically change. She lit a candle and told it's meaning in the room. Then she said she also needed to mention that the candle was to remember two friends who had died this last week. One died suddenly and the other from an illness. Their photos popped up on the screen as she named them.

There she was.. my patient.. the presenters friend.. This was a photo of her with her smiling face and head full of hair. There it was, her photo, as this presenter told about how her friend had championed for this cause before her illness.

Her friend. My patient

She was my patient who trusted me to tell me so much. It was her family who trusted me with their fears and wonderful stories. She was my patient, whom I married to the love of her life in her hospital room only a month ago. She was my patient who died last weekend; the patient I last saw with a smile on her face. There her photo was before me.

As the presenter mentioned her name I flashed all that I said above in milliseconds. I audibly inhaled a gasp and whispered aloud, “She was my patient!” as I welled up with tears. I fought the urge to leave. The presenter was tearful as well saying she “hoped to not do that” but did. We made eye contact and decided without saying to talk after the seminar.

In my profession many people move though my professional life. Every single person matters to me when I am in his or her presence. No, I am not thinking about another patient, a meeting, lunch or anything else BUT YOU. When I leave the room I may say a silent prayer and then move on to the next person and their family. It is a way of life for those of us in helping professions.

Almost a year ago there was a patient at the end of her life who asked for me. I sat beside her and we spoke. I choose not to share those precious moments specifically here. After leaving her room I made it as far as the nearest nurses station before becoming tearful. This is extremely unusual for the nurses to see so the ones close surrounded me with hugs and tissues. One of the MD’s came over and asked me why I was so sad. When I told him he too welled up with tears. One of the nurses broke the sadness by remarking, “OH NO! Both the Chaplain and the Doctor are crying!!!” Indeed it must have been quite a site for us two to be sitting with red noses.

I confess. I care about every patient I see. I give each of you my best. In addition there are emotional connections made that are left unsaid. I remember an elderly woman who reminded me of my grandmother. I am sure I made an extra visit or two to her room before leaving at night on my own time. How about the couple that had met as teenagers and never been apart? Now he lay dying as a 50 year old. Why did I lay awake at night thinking of them? I do know why. There is an obvious connection in our human experiences or the story is compelling. Of course I kept this all to myself. However, Those two stories were from almost 10 years ago, meaning I remember them as impacting me.

The presenter and I embraced after the meeting and cried. She had lost a dear friend and I cried for the loss in this world of a magnificent woman.

I would not be able to give each of you my best if I was this affected by every loss. That said I am grateful to shed tears. My tears always remind me how important our connections are and how much you deserve from me. My tears keep me humbled.

Dedicated this day for a woman who will be missed by many and remembered by this Chaplain.

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