Five years ago this weekend…
I know that Memorial Day is a tribute to our brave armed services members past, especially those who gave their lives in service to our country, and I am grateful to live in a place that observes such a holiday. America is not perfect and the great experiment of democracy is still very much that, an experiment. This post is not about politics or patriotism, however. I have other people and events I’m remembering this weekend.
Memorial Day weekend Sunday, 2012, I took the pager for my last overnight on call during my extended unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE. We had already celebrated our graduation and I’d presented my final self-evaluation to my peer group and received their evaluations of me during the unit. This last on-call night was all that stood between me and my final evaluation from my supervisor, an insightful pastor and educator who managed both to bust my chops and to affirm my gifts for ministry during our time together at the hospital. I needed someone to provide both these things for me and I received them in spades from Randy, for whose insights I am forever grateful.
I’m sure I hoped for a calm night as I dropped off my belongings in the small on-call room with its bed, toilet and sink, desk and lamp (the shower was down the hall and everyone on call took turns taking hurried showers and praying not to get paged while we were in there!). This was my home away from home 2 nights a month from January through the end of May that year. I didn’t get to spend a lot of leisurely quality time there, as Sunday nights were notoriously busy! Looking through my notes from the unit I remembered each patient who came through, each page to a room I received, hugs and prayers and tears shared. And laughs, too, with my peer group and mentors, other staff members, patients and families.
My last night on call was typical of every other Sunday night I spent there, crazed, rushed and filled with the sounds of the pager beeping with one trauma after another…with one notable exception. Every time I was on call and a code was called because a patient had gone into cardiac arrest, I watched as the transport team, doctors and nurses resuscitated, defibrillated and revived the patient, achieving at least a brief reprieve between life and death. This last code did not end that way. The patient did not come back. It was the only time I saw that happen, and it has stuck with me. As the chaplain on call, I sat with and attended to the family as the doctor explained what had taken place, offered presence and care while they attempted to absorb the news, and when they asked me to pray, I did so with solemn gratitude for the privilege.
It is a sacred space we occupy when someone dies. Sharing that space with my own loved ones, and with acquaintances and strangers during my time as a hospice volunteer and working through the extended unit of CPE, honored, humbled, taught and blessed me in ways I am still processing even now. Presence in that space has informed the ways I interact with everyone in my life, and it will continue to do so until it is time for me to be the one who dies. I pray that the people who share that space with me and my loved ones when the moment arrives will draw comfort, strength, insight and peace from being there.