One minute can change everything.
There has been a change in plans. When I moved to Greenville, I thought I would be coming on as an oncology chaplain. After I arrived, we talked, debriefed, and brainstormed. I observed, researched and consulted. We realized that the best place for me to do my best work, with the greatest impact for the hospital patients, families, and staff was in the area of trauma. I may eventually go into the oncology area but for now, I am working with the Surgical Trauma and Critical Care Teams, the Trauma ICU, and Carolina Donor Services. This is where I felt led to go. I am the one that follows patients and families from when they enter the emergency department by a trauma related incident, through the time they leave…..however that may be.
One minute can change everything.
That is the lesson I am learning as a hospital chaplain.
In the past couple of weeks, I have walked beside the lives of those that were forced to leave too soon. I prayed with families who had to face the terrifying ghost of death as they said goodbye to a loved one. They had to let go of their precious child, a loving parent, a first boyfriend, a best friend or a complete stranger. If death was not the end result, some still had to say goodbye to the person they once knew.
It wasn’t one thing that changed it either. There were many – cars, trucks, guns, bats, fists, motorcycles, alcohol, skateboards, and even their own minds. Name it and that was the weapon used. Use it and that was the tool in their hands. Think it and that was the hit that took a life away.
The one thing they all had in common was this; one moment changed their entire lives. One moment in time (and sometimes not even 60 seconds) changed a family forever. A split second made the difference between life and death. A person’s anger, fear, or ignorance caused it to happen. A simple mistake, lack of judgment, or misdirected move changed it all. How can it be so quick? How can life change just like that? How can it become like this, in a matter of seconds?
What if they had that moment back? That’s all they want. We don’t have control over our lives. We think we do but we don’t. One minute can change everything. I’ve seen it first hand. I’ve been a part of it, many times. As the chaplain, I am the one present with families when they ask the very question I wish they wouldn’t, “Why?” I am not talking about the “why” parents complain about when their child repeats this question over and over again. I am talking about the question “why” that a mother repeats in blood curdling screams because she has to say goodbye and wants to know why. She would give anything to hear her child ask “why” one more time.
I don’t have an answer for them. I can’t fix it. I can’t pray and bring their child back to life. I can’t take them back to that minute before their lives changed. I’d give anything to be able to take the pain away. I’d give anything to be able to see their child stand up, the daughter come back, the anger stopped, the mistake undone, the wrong turn made, the glass not filled, the gun not work, or the helmet put back on. I’d give anything to go back in time.
All I can do is bring some sort of God’s presence to the moment at hand. I bring a prayer, a comforting touch or simply a silent second that will let them know they are not alone. It’s not so easy on some days and that’s when I rely on God the most. I have to rely on God for all of it. I am human and I can’t bring the words or the moments to make it better. I have to let God have control in order to keep myself out of the way. I pray for God to give me the words and the direction to be the presence a family needs in this moment in time. I pray for God to give me the courage to step back and let God take care of them in whatever way they need. If I happen to be the vessel in which God provides, I am humbled to do so, yet scared at the same time. I pray for God to bring comfort to those families, to the patient, and to the moment in time, when life changed and will never be the same.
One moment can change everything. Some days, I just wish there weren’t so many.
Psalm 103:6-18 (NRSV)
6 The Lord works vindication
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
14 For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for mortals, their days are like grass;
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.