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Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Things I have Learned as a Hospice Chaplain - #2
Presence is the Key

I think anyone would be nervous stepping into a crisis situation when someone's loved one is dying. I remember the first time I sat with an actively dying patient. I was a young pastor in my first church and one of the church patriarchs was coming to the end of his life, dying from liver failure. He was surrounded by a loving family, a group of friends, and a nervous chaplain.

I remember that I didn't know what to say to the family. I sat in the room with him as he was obviously close to death, and as the family that loved him dearly cried and comforted each other. From time to time a family member would speak to me, but I didn't know what to say. I felt very inadequate and out of place. I am honest enough to say that I wanted to leave as soon as possible. But I stayed.

I remember the brother of the dying man gathered the family around the PT and had them say a prayer. I was sure that I had missed the opportunity to do what "I was supposed to do" as the pastor. The brother prayed a wonderful prayer that gave comfort to his loved ones. I just stood there. Why didn't I have anything meaningful and comforting to say? Why did I miss the opportunity to offer prayer? What was I giving to this family that wasn't already being given?

The PT eventually breathed his last breath and I stayed for a while to be with the family. When When I finally left I remember thinking on the way home that I had really messed that one up. But a surprising thing happened. As I continued to minister to the family through visits, the funeral, and other encounters, they could not say enough good things about how I was "there for them" in their time of need. They covered me with compliments and gratitude while I just thought to myself, "I didn't do anything."

I have since come to realize that the call to be with someone in the midst of crises, is not a call to provide special wisdom, comforting words, or the perfect scripture verse, but a call to provide presence, to be there with them. We shouldn't be so arrogant to think we can think of something to say to a person who is losing a loved one that will calm their pain. We aren't called to do that. We are called to stand beside them, even live with them in the pain. We are called to be present and open ourselves up to feel the pain of those that are suffering.

It seems to me this is the call to follow Jesus. Jesus took on the suffering of the world. In being present with those that are suffering, we are providing the presence of Jesus to them. Presence is the key.

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posted by Ben Thomas @ 10:35 AM  
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