Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?

Like millions of other people, I’ve spent the past few months obsessed with the soundtrack to the Broadway musical Hamilton. If you’re not familiar with the play, it dramatizes the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton, telling the story through modern American musical styles. It is brilliant and funny and moving. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve listened to it, and I still cry every time. Before he puts young Hamilton in charge of a battalion of soldiers to fight a crucial Revolutionary War battle, General George Washington sings words of paternal wisdom and caution: Continue reading “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?”

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D is for Death

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(This is the fourth in my series, ABCs of Hospital Chaplaincy. Read other posts in the series here.)

“He then greeted Death as an old friend and went with him gladly, departing this life as equals.”

Sometimes I forget how different my perspective is from that of most “normal” people. Then my roommate asks me, “How was work last night?” I reply, “Not too bad. Just two deaths and a trauma.” She laughs and I look at her quizzically. “Sorry,” she says, “but you’re the only person I know who would call two deaths in one shift ‘not too bad.’ Your job is so weird.” I guess she has a point. Working in a hospital, encountering death on such a routine basis, is more than a little weird. Continue reading “D is for Death”

Endings and Beginnings

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He was much too old for lullabies, already a teenager. If he had been able to speak, he may have protested, but I doubt it. His mother lay in the hospital bed next to him, wrapped her arms around him. A few hours earlier, she had been full of anxiety and anger, lashing out at anyone who so much as hinted that her son was dying. But I did more than hint. I confronted her with the reality that he was coming to the end, and that he needed her now as much as ever. The anger exploded — then disappeared. And in her son’s last hours, she did as good a job of anyone I’ve ever seen at saying goodbye. She told him she loved him, that every day with him was a gift, and then for a painfully long time, she sang him to sleep. She made sure that the last sound he would hear was not beeping monitors or her anguished sobs or his own raspy final breaths, but that first sound — his mother’s voice, singing to him the same songs she had sung when he was a baby. Continue reading “Endings and Beginnings”

A Most Reluctant Prophet

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This week is a time set aside by organizations and individuals around the world as Pastoral Care Week, to recognize the contributions of professional chaplains and pastoral counselors.  Each year, a different aspect of pastoral care is brought to light with the annual theme.  This year’s theme is “Prophetic Voice.”  I have to say, this is not my favorite.  Being a prophetic voice — a truthteller — is one of the most anxiety-producing parts of being a chaplain for me.  I can listen all day long.  I can be a supportive, non-judgmental presence.  I can celebrate diversity of beliefs.  I can sit in silence with the dying.  No problem!  But speaking truth, even getting confrontational?  That’s something else entirely.  I have had to learn to do it, and it is still not easy. Continue reading “A Most Reluctant Prophet”