One of our writing prompts for this month asks, “What act of love and kindness has been very meaningful to you, either as a giver or a receiver—or both?” The following is my answer in the form of reflections of my time as a chaplain. Reflections of life and love with my Teachers.
While participating in a unit of clinical chaplaincy training at a hospital a few years ago my supervisor asked me to meet with a family. The family consisted of a mom, dad, a grandmother and two little girls. The dad experienced a traumatic injury at a party with friends. When I entered the hospital room, I noticed the tubes and wires attached to the dad. His wife sat close to him on a chair. All the time I accompanied them she held his hand. Tears wet her face and she seemed to shiver; grief will do this to us. The wife’s mother came into the room and took the little girls down the hall to give the parents time to themselves. The gentleman’s wife told me she was tired and wanted to sit by herself with him. Forty-five minutes after I left the room the dad died.
My life's calling has never been an easy one, but it is a journey I loved. I had the privilege to sit by the bedside of many sick or dying people and listen to their stories. I heard their cries and their laughter. I saw the tears stream down their faces when they told me they will miss their families. I marveled at the radiance of their countenances as their hope said they would soon be with God. What a humble honour.
The countless books and articles I read from so-called death and dying experts were helpful. None of these, however, can take the place of sitting with a dying person, the genuine expert of his or her own dying. Remarkable, moving, humbling, real, powerful, sad, joyful, enlightening, final, sobering. These and other terms have become settled in my mind heart and soul as I reflect on the narratives of my Teachers of life.
Here is a personal philosophy I follow. I'm not saying or even encouraging others to follow this philosophy. I allow my heart to be broken, but not in front of my Teachers. I try to feel their spiritual or emotional pain as I reflect on my time with them. This does not interfere with my ability to listen to their words. If I do not listen, I will not know what, if anything I am to say. To listen must come first.
My chaplain visits focused on "being with" people rather than a mutual discussion with them. To "be" with a teacher is much more fruitful than talking a lot. To be, is being present. In being present I am opening my heart and mind to learn from my Teachers. A broken heart does not leave me a soppy mess or overwhelmed. A broken heart nurtures a relationship of two people that may bring healing to both.
My faith in God has kept me focused. Focused on a calling rich in the memories of people. People not afraid to allow one to listen to their private thoughts on the end of their lives. My calling devoted energy and love for them. They gave my work and ministry purpose. I worked for them. I now write for them, my Teachers.
Beloved reader, who are the Teachers in your life? —Love them!
Alan lives in Deroche, B.C. with his wife, Terry. He contributed stories to Good Grief People by Angel Hope Publishing, 2017; Story by Story: The Power of a Writer, Unstoppable Writers Publishing, 2018. Alan periodically writes articles for FellowScript Magazine. Blog: https://scarredjoy.ca. He has written posts for our InScribe blog since 2015.