Ministering in the Muck of Life
Many, many years ago while I was in my residency chaplaincy I was working a weekend shift. At Grady Memorial Hospital weekend shifts were rough. In those days you worked basically 48 straight hours as the only chaplain for a 1,000 bed hospital (with attached children’s hospital and clinics) and the only level one trauma center for 5 million people. You had a small room with a bed, and laying down in it pretty much guaranteed that your beeper went off. I can recall one such weekend when I worked 9 straight deaths, mostly through the Emergency Room. That was a lot of grief, a lot of hard conversations… a very strong sense of ministry and I liked it – but you didn’t “like” it.
One of those cases was a mother who was going to bury her second son and only remaining child. She was deeply upset that he had died and pretty much had to believe it was someone’s fault and without any good target she blamed the hospital. They called a meeting and asked everyone she charged as having done something wrong to be there with their supervisor. I was one of those people along with the doctor, nurse, and social worker – the meeting was run by the Patient Advocacy folk and she was present. I was the only person who showed up. The other departments only sent a supervisory rep. My department’s supervisor wasn’t there and so I went along with one of the staff chaplains as actiing-rep.
When that lady looked around the table at a bunch of people who weren’t there… the blame pretty naturally fell on my shoulders. I sat there and listened as she outlined how I “left Jesus behind that day” and all the grievances she could think of that made it my “fault” her son had died. I got more and more emotional (as I think anyone would in such a situation… or maybe that’s just my pride thinking) and I remember the head of the Social work saying, “Ma’am it looks like the chaplain (no-one called me by name) is fairly distraught and would like to get to speak, can we let him say something to this?” She said no. And so I sat there. And said nothing. And heard her grief turned into blame of why I was horrible chaplain. Intellectually I have always known why that happened. But it still didn’t make it emotionally easy.
There are some stories that are deeply painful from which we learn important life skills. More than once in that year of residency I remember saying, “I don’t want to learn this way…. I don’t want to learn from this anymore.” You do not wish to go through horrible experiences. And I do not believe we are directed to such in order to teach us. But it would be a sadder story yet if we didn’t learn what could along the way. And today I randomly triggered on this memory because I think I learned far more that day than I ever imagined. Some days you just hold your tongue, you stand in the crap and let people dump on you. And when they are done. You let them go in peace. Its the only gift you can give in that moment, and it isn’t a teachable moment. And I guess in such light I’m glad I went, ill-advised as it was, to that meeting.
oh… and after you do that – you go download with your therapist! 😉