The last three days have been very difficult at the hospital. So much so that I need to be very careful about what I say and how I say it this week. (Isn’t it convenient then that I am preaching this week on James 3, which is about taming the tongue?!?)
On Monday I visited with just three families, and one of those I met just for 10 minutes. The other 7 hours were devoted mostly to two families of children being declared braindead and/or moving towards that conclusion. One mother couldn’t handle it well. She shook, she yelled, she screamed, she pleaded while calling out to the bed ” (name), get up, you will be okay, (name)!, (name)!” all while falling off her chair and practically becoming overwhelmed with emotion. She had to be essentially held while flailing and screaming in her grief.
Day 2 wasn’t much better. One PICU visit to one of the families from the previous day. 6 traumas and pages elsewhere in the hospital. Some minor, some not so. A baby in the NICU struggling after a recent birth to beautifully loving parents. Kids getting hit by cars. Kids getting gashed open by BBQ grills. Kids in car accidents. Constant go and constant call from the pager.
Day 3, perhaps the more difficult. A mother afraid to cry in front of others who I could only hug and cry with. A mother desperate for prayers for a daughter who may not make it in much longer in the world but yet is prepared for long life through a trach. A fther trying desperately to not cry and be positive in front of his pained daughter. The family in the ICU I have been working with- who essentially have brought back my confidence after what was seemingly the most confidence busting, low self esteem inducing, self doubting temptation that was the family that didn’t like me from two weeks ago- this family was going through an excruciatingly difficult and emotional third day of waiting for braindeath. It was brutal, if only because by this time I had baptized the child, provided prayer for parents who felt like they didn’t know how to pray, affirmed the unity of family brought together in tragedy, and assisted in reframing tragedy through meaning making and storytelling. Well, to this family I added more. A grandmother lost in her own past of drinking and drugs and now facing the grim future of life without her kids and granddaughter because she chose to bring pain to them years ago. And she wasn’t quite with it. And I sat with her and talked with her for many hours, going from tiredness to exhaustion to joy to sadness and back to exhaustion. She wanted to smoke. She wanted to borrow money. She wanted to smoke some more. She wanted someone to buy her food. But she also wanted to share how worthless life is to her as a burden to others who can’t share her grief and who should just keep drinking her life away. It was brutal as the day went on and the mixed emotions of praying for a deceased child and connecting with a family who told me that I had done an incredible job for them over the many days and they truly were grateful for my support which brought tears to my eyes, all on one side, and the exhaustion and sadness and frustration on the other.
These are the days that may require the most empathy, and they surely do because they reflect an important truth- that we are all like this in many ways. Death is truly at work in us, but life also. Our families are messes in themselves, filled with gossip, slander, backbiting, grief, anger, sadness, disenfranchised grief, despair, and yet also often filled with joy, happiness, empathy, loyalty, tears, unity, laughs, and stories. We are people filled with many good things and many bad things, many hopes and many fears. So it is in me. And you. The reason these days are so hard is not that they are simply sad situations. Rather, it is because they are all too familiar.