I had just left a patient’s room when I heard the code. At the hospital I work at, every chaplain who hears the code and is able to respond does so immediately. I made a snap decision to pause my plans and I moved quickly toward the emergency.
The patient was an elderly man and I noticed three women at the end of the hall. They were huddled together and they looked very distraught. I asked a doctor if they were the family and she said they were.
“Hello. My name is Michael and I am with Spiritual Care. I’m going to stay with you if that’s alright.”
“Yes, that would be wonderful. We are so scared right now…”
We waited together as the ICU doctor rushed out of the room to update the family and always rushed back into the room as soon as their questions were answered. Eventually, it became clear to the family that their beloved husband and father was not going to survive. Finally, the doctor explained that the situation had taken a turn for the worse and it was time to decide whether or not they should continue CPR. They unanimously agreed it was time to stop.
My mind began to play out what was to happen next. I knew the nurses would get all of the equipment out of the room so that the family would walk into a peaceful environment. I knew the family might need some guidance through the process of the next few minutes and some families need help getting started with what to say – all families are different when it comes to goodbyes.
A nurse came by and gave the family water while they prepared a bereavement tray. The attending doctor spoke with the family about the patient’s care up to that point and I watched all of them intently. I watched how quickly and quietly the nurses worked to prepare the patient and the room. I saw the way the doctor shifted his weight and hung his head to communicate his disappointment with how things went. I watched the family huddle together and lightly rub one another’s shoulders and hands. When the doctor stepped away and it was quiet, I began to discuss how the family would like the next few minutes to go.
“As a chaplain, what can I offer you in this moment?”
“I think a blessing and a prayer would be wonderful.” The wife replied.
“Was your husband religious?” I asked as my mind started sifting through available prayers that might be meaningful.
“He wasn’t. The three of us are, but he was very intellectual – very analytical…” The youngest daughter responded.
“He wasn’t a fan of organized religion.” The wife said frankly.
“It is one of the reasons I’m so scared right now.” The youngest daughter added as she clutched her chest and wept.
For a fraction of a second, the whole room froze. A nurse moved in slow motion with all manner of plastic wrapping for medical equipment that had been used to try to save their father; her husband. The family stood motionless with their eyes downcast as my mind lept into hyperspeed and I weighed the hypothetical consequences of the single question that raptured my mind: Do I speak on this theology? Do I dare?
“Are you afraid of the state of your father’s soul? Are you worried about his eternal situation?” I asked directly.
“Yes.” She spoke as she nodded affirmitavely.
“Ma’am, are you Christian?”
“Yes. We three are Christian. But Dad wasn’t. Are you a Christian Chaplain?”
“Yes. I am ordained in the Christian Church.”
“Oh, okay, that’s wonderful then. I just want to see him again someday.” She pleaded.
“Certainly, only God knows all things,” I began, “but my entire belief in God hinges on God being more loving than I.”
“Yes, I believe that too. God loves us more than we could ever love.” She affirmed.
“And Love is kind. Love is merciful. Love is gracious.” I continued, “Now I’ve never met your father, but I love him already just by meeting the three of you. If it is up to me, your father will be in Heaven the moment he dies. But it is not up to me, it is up to God who loves your father more than I could ever love anyone. God is more merciful than you would be for your father. God is Love. So please, don’t be afraid. You don’t need to be afraid.”
“Thank you.” She whispered.
We walked into the room and they all ran to him. They stroked his face and hair and all took turns holding his hands. His youngest daughter held his right hand with both of hers and leaned in close because he couldn’t hear very well.
“Dad, I will see you again someday. I’ll find you.”