Take II (some overlap)
When I was in seminary, one of the things I had to do, was a summer as a chaplain intern. I was lucky to be able to do this internship in a Catholic hospital, which meant that the role of the chaplain was understood and appreciated by the staff of the hospital. It also meant that we were busy, because we were utilized.When I was in seminary, one of the things I had to do, was a summer as a chaplain intern. I was lucky to be able to do this internship in a Catholic hospital, which meant that the role of the chaplain was understood and appreciated by the staff of the hospital. It also meant that we were busy, because we were utilized.
One of the units I was attached to was the cancer and chemotherapy unit. There were some patients who came in every week at a specific time to get their chemo, and there were patients who were inpatients for a variety of reasons. As our supervisor was handing out the unit census sheets for that morning, he looked at mine and said, “Oh boy. You’re in for an interesting morning. Maria has been readmitted. She has thrown out every chaplain that has entered her room.” Great. This was going to be a great day.
So before I reported to my floor, I did what I always did; I went to the chapel and sat by my favorite window for a while. The window was Jesus as the Good Shepherd, with a lamb draped around his shoulders. I spent a lot of time sitting by that window that summer.
I reported to my floor and started making rounds. One of the nurses stopped me and warned me that Maria wasn’t a fan of chaplains. I told her I had been warned. I eventually could not avoid her room any longer, so I knocked on the door. When I went in, the room was dark. Maria was sitting on her bed and just looked at me. I told her who I was, fully expecting to be told to leave, but she didn’t do that. She began to tell me her story. She was angry; she wanted to get married and have children, and instead she had been battling cancer for years. Now she was dying, and she probably wouldn’t leave the hospital this time. It was a very hard and sad story and I felt awful for her. I mostly listened that afternoon; I asked if I could pray with her, and she allowed me to. We said our goodbyes and I told her I would see her tomorrow.
Over the next few days I learned more about her story, and I became the person she could be angry in front of. She also taught me a great deal about what it meant to be dying. One day, I walked onto the floor, and there were balloon animals everywhere. And I mean, everywhere. I asked one of the nurses what was going on, and she smiled, and said, “Maria”. Ok, this I had to see. When I went to visit her, Maria was sitting on her bed surrounded by balloon animal balloons, and a pump… she also had the music therapists keyboard. She greeted me with a smile, telling me she felt so good that day, that she had her sister bring her the balloons. She used to make animals for kids parties; something I didn’t know about her. I also didn’t know she played the piano. She was so happy that day. She told me she had called her priest whom she had had a falling out with, and he was coming that evening to give her communion. She was Catholic and hadn’t had communion in years. She had been so angry, that she had pushed away the people that could support her now in her last days. But the woman I saw that day, was so different. Her drapes were pulled back to let in light; she let in the light of other people, and as a result, began to shine that light back to others. She smiled. She laughed. She told me bawdy jokes. She played the piano. It was great. She didn’t look like she was dying that day; she looked like she was living, perhaps for the first time in a long time.
She had a wonderful visit with her priest, who heard her confession and gave her communion. She was reconciled to her priest, her church and more importantly to her God. My internship was over a short time later, and she and I parted as friends. Because the Good Shepherd had been my constant companion that summer, I had taken her to see the window in the chapel one day, and we talked about it. I told her that I found the image very comforting, because I knew that no matter where I might find myself, I knew that Jesus would continue to search for me and would call me by name. That’s something that I was certain was happening for Maria while she was still alive; as she began to let go of her anger, and in some respects her dying, she was able to hear the voice of the Shepherd, of Jesus calling her out of darkness and into light. In that last few weeks, he called her into living the best life that she was able to; it was a joy to watch her face light up when she made one of these animals… and she made several that were delivered to the children’s cancer unit as well. Jesus called her into living and into being the person she was truly meant to be. And it was beautiful to watch; I have no doubt that when she died, she also heard the voice of her beloved Shepherd call her into her eternal home.
There is so much in this life that distracts us and pulls us away from living the life we should; there is so much that we get buried under that it keeps us from being who we truly are. Jesus, the great Shepherd of the flock will always call to us no matter where we have wandered off to. He will always invite us back into the safety and love that he offers… and like my friend Maria, he will call each of us by name.