This past Friday night, I celebrated the completion of my master’s degree and almost end of my residency with some dear friends. We lifted up the work I’ve done over the past 15 months. It has been a difficult and challenging journey where I accomplished many moments of growth. These friends, who’ve been with me on the journey, came together to celebrate.
I saw a lot during this residency. What I saw most of was death. I saw too much death, but in the midst of death, I found life. The day after the celebration I was honored to baptize a precious little boy for one of the respiratory therapists and celebrated with her family. After the baptism, I attended a funeral to support a colleague and I saw a mother and the unconditional love she has for her three girls and for a sister gone too soo; and another mother who supported her dear friend and colleague in grief.
Life and death, they are a part of the circle. During my 4th CPE unit, I took a “Care for the Dying” class. In the class, one of the assignments included writing our own obituary, plan our funeral, and consider what we want done with our remains. When I completed the assignment I felt this wonderful sense of peace. Those who know me best are aware of what I want done and agreed to do the service whenever it happens. They know what my wishes are. That is a gift to me. The irony behind this is the fact that with all the deaths I’ve witnessed this year, not many families and loved ones knew the wishes of the patients, in regards to their death and what to do with their remains. My heart was opened to the struggle I saw among the families and my voice became an advocate for the patient and to be sure their wishes were heard.
Depending on the situation, dying with peace and deciding what to do with their remains may be the only things a person will have control of. We need to honor their wishes and we need to let our wishes be known. As a patient shared with me in the midst of her fighting family, “If it’s my time for me to go, then it’s my time for me to go. Please don’t let them do anything else to me,” I had to be there for her.
I saw a lot of death and yet in the midst of the pain, I felt peace from those who found comfort and grace in that death. Death is a part of life. Of course we don’t want to see our loved ones die, or lose them too soon, but we will all die. I have seen some of the most beautiful and grace filled moments when a loved one passes away. Once death is accepted and faced without fear, it becomes a breathtaking stage in life and I was honored and humbled to be a part of many of these moments:
- an infant, whose family knew he would die at birth, was baptized, loved and cherished in the moment he had life and loved unconditionally into his last breath
- the matriarch surrounded by her family; I am convinced that she heard their laughter and felt their love, when she crossed over into Heaven
- the husband who died when his wife stepped away for a few minutes, after she had spent all day and night at his bedside.
- the husband who whispered in his cancer stricken wife’s ear, “Honey, it’s ok. You can go now. I’ll be ok,” and she did.
- A precious infant who was born much too soon; I held him tightly in my arms. I blessed him as his family said goodbye. I whispered to this sweet angel that he is precious in God’s eyes and will be loved and remembered for the hope he brought to the family and the spirit that will live on with his brother
Death can be beautiful, peaceful and compassionate, but it can also be an extremely painful and gut-wrenching shock to one’s soul; experiencing the death of children gone too soon, violent deaths that came at the hands of others, death that came at the hands of one’s own darken soul that saw no other way out, death that came from mistakes made and wrong turns taken, and death when there was nobody around to hold their hand.
Yes, death is a part of life, but it comes at a cost. I know that. It doesn’t take away the pain and grief. I grieve. I grieve more than I ought to probably and I have to find hope in the midst or I will easily become lost in the wilderness.
I continue to grieve the loss of my dad, but I find hope in the way I help others in his honor.
I grieve the loss of a hope I held onto for so long, a hope in changed relationships; but I find comfort in the people who surrounded me Friday night and again for afternoon coffees.
I grieve the person I lost in Boston, but look forward to meeting the person that God wants me to be.
I grieve that I may never be accepted into the Society of Motherhood but find hope in those who love their children unconditionally and accept me as one who can understand that love as well.
I grieve the loss of this residency and saying goodbye to the most wonderful nurses and medical staff of VCU’s MRICU and Corrections Units. But I find hope in the love and compassion they taught me, and how I became a better chaplain because of them.
I grieve that I may have to move again for work, but I find hope in those that love me unconditionally will be with me wherever I go.
I grieve with every family I met at VCU Medical Center who suffered loss, but I find hope that God is holding them in His loving arms until they make their way back into the world of life.
Death is real. It is a part of life. We grieve. We celebrate. A part of us dies but the rest of us can live. Look at Roger and Rachel Reynolds, Shirley Ramsey; Columbine High School and Va Tech.; and every other person who strives to make life a little better in the memory of their loss. In the face of death, including my own, I hope to live in the way God needs me to live, in honor of the ones who died before me.