Worse Than Death?

Recently, a friend of a friend asked me a question about death.  She is a new employee at a hospital in another state.  Though we haven’t seen each other in years, she remembered that I was a chaplain, got my number from our mutual friend, and wanted to talk.  “I’m not a religious person,” she began.  “I’m not even sure I believe in God.  But if there is a God, I need to know if he’ll judge me for this.  I’ve killed three people already.”  Confused, I asked her to explain about these killings.  She told me how she had been the one to remove the breathing tubes and turn off the ventilators for three terminal patients.  “I know it’s my job,” she said.  “And it’s what the families decided to do, and the patients probably would have died anyway.  But they died sooner because of me, you know?  I’m the one who took them off the vent.  They stopped breathing at that moment because of me.  Will God punish me for that?”  I could hear the tremor in her voice.  “I wanted to do this job to help people.  And I do.  I help a lot of people.  But I didn’t count on being the actual instrument of death for some patients, you know?  I don’t know how to deal with that.” Continue reading “Worse Than Death?”

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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”

What’s Saving My Life This Week

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As you might have guessed if you’ve read any of my other blog posts, my job can be pretty stressful at times.  Those of us in caregiving professions can easily become exhausted — physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually — by the constant demands of helping others.  Sooner or later, inevitably, we will experience what is known as compassion fatigue It happened to me during my first year as a staff chaplain.  (Actually, I’m sure it was happening to me during CPE as well, but it just felt like part of the gauntlet of that year of chaplain residency that we all had to endure!)  I had not yet learned to recognize the signs.  I was not getting enough sleep.  I was eating unhealthy foods at strange times of day.  For a while, I would burst into tears whenever anyone outside the hospital asked me how I was doing, because I was working so hard to keep my emotions in check at work. Continue reading “What’s Saving My Life This Week”