I thanked the dr. and began to walk down to the end of the hall to greet the women. Do they know he is dead? Have they seen him since he arrived? What will I say? What do you say to a mom who is about to lose her 24 yo son? I reach them and introduce myself. "Hello, I'm chaplain Mercer, I'm here to check in on you." They express their desire to see him and I share that I'm not sure he has made it up to his room yet, but that I would go check for her. Before I can make it back to the circle of medical staff the dr, the fellow, meets me and goes with me back to the family members. The patient has been in the room the whole time I have been there. The doctor explains the injuries and that her son is only alive through machine support and has non-survivable injuries. I escort the mom and older sister to the room. A mom reaching out to her son that cannot talk, cannot move, and due to his injury cannot be seen. His face is covered with surgery drapes. The mother in that moment is not for me to write about. That is too private and too holy to bring to words and to others who weren't in the room.
Soon the step-dad reaches the room. More emotions and more comfort given from family member to family member. I am silent watching the room, the patient, the mother, the older sister, the step-father, the nurses, the doctor. At one point the mother asked me to say a prayer over her son. I have been in ministry for over 26 years. I have no idea what to pray. I breathe, I come to the quiet. I calm my soul and I focus on God. I don't pray for healing. Not for a lack of faith, but out of pastoral care and concern. Healing has been taken off the table and while God can bring miracles to pass, to pray for that one at this moment is to set God up to be a villain when healing doesn't come. That's not a lack of faith, that's science. And God created science, so I know he's okay with it. I pray for comfort and peace to be on the family and for memories of the life lived to be joyous.
At this point the On Call Chaplain came to the room. Evidently we were actually going after the same patient. The two calls came in such quick succession it caused a bit of confusion. When she realized, she came to the room and we both became a presence for care, support, and the divine. More family needed to come to the room and say goodbye. Since Covid-19 protocols were still in place only 4 people could come at a time. I escorted the older sister down to the lobby and brought up the dad and grandmother.
For the next 30 minutes to an hour I would escort two down and two back up. The mom and the dad staying most of the time. The grandma would go down, the grandpa up. When I took the grandmother down and the step father, I brought up the grandfather and the patient's fiancée. The fiancée had the most emotion as she watched her lover in the bed, still and unresponsive, breathing only due to a machine. She cried, she wailed, she grieved. The patient's two younger sisters would come up. In the end when his death was pronounced, he was surrounded by his mom, his dad, his fiancée, and one of his younger sisters. The medical staff turned off the machines and left the room. The mom had asked me to say another prayer after the pronouncement. I said another prayer, much the same as the first one. I left the room as well and waited outside so that they could have some privacy. It was the final moment. As I was out in the hallway just waiting, housekeeping was next door and finishing up. I was completely prepared to ask them to wait because of this sensitive moment., but I didn't have to say anything. A nurse noticed and ran down the hallway and tipped off housekeeping so they would be considerate and not enter. It was another pastoral moment from the medical staff. After what seemed less than a sufficient amount of time I came back into the room. My mere presence signaled to the family it was time to go. They gathered the last of his and their belongings, said some goodbyes and I escorted them to the main lobby. When we reached the main lobby, the other 20 family members and friends embraced the loved ones. The mom hadn't quite made it there because she received a call from the hospital on the way down. Once she finally reached the lobby I told her that I was sorry for her loss and that the chaplains are always available and she could call any time. She thanked me and went to her family and I left for the seminar room. It was time to for them to grieve and mourn and it was time for me to process.
Most of the time I was silent. My head was churning with "What should I dos?" When I couldn't think of what to say or how to proceed, I chose to just remain silent and present. Not everyone wants a chatty chaplain. Not everyone wants a silent chaplain. Not everyone wants a chaplain period. But everyone needs the peace of God. Did I provide that? I'm not sure. Could I have done something differently and better? I'm not sure. When you stand in the gap as a symbol of faith, you won't be perfect. Nonetheless, though, God does his work!