I think all chaplains, and for that matter, all health care workers, are asked this question routinely. I usually share that for me, I find it natural to be with people in vulnerable periods of time. An interesting response is the one from this new blog on chaplaincy. Her explanations are spot on.
I should note one of the comments to the author’s blog post, which states that she always has trouble figuring out what to say. I do find that it is difficult to know what the right thing to share at the moment is. Sometimes I share the above, that I find myself being able to be with others during vulnerable times and am able to be with loss. Other times, I do share that it is sad and difficult and thus can only imagine how much more difficult it is for the family in the room.
I think we all recognize that there is pain, but the pain is not as sharp because the loss is not our own. In my own chaplaincy work, I find the therapeutic aspect in patient death often occurs when I am conducting the funeral. My heart is with the family and my words are meant as a way to not only be supportive and present, but also as way to find my own closure on a case, even though there is continued follow-up.
I find the question itself intriguing for I think families are actually looking for something that can give them hope in the moment that they might be able to live with loss as well. If they know professionals who face loss constantly can continue to function after the losses, there is possibly a sense that they too will have better days ahead.
Family members usually ask me this when I’m with them after their loved one has passed. They are having the worst day of their lives and can’t understand why I would willingly put myself into this situation day after day.
Here’s the truth:
- Their pain is not the same as my pain. I couldn’t go through losing a loved one everyday either.
- I view death as a part of the life cycle, not the end to everything.
- It is a great privilege to be with people when they are at their most vulnerable.
- Some deaths hit me a lot harder than others, usually based on how well I know the patient and/or the family.
- I never feel closer to God than when I am comforting a family.
- I am invited into a sacred space of hearing stories about their loved one and seeing the love and beauty in goodbye rituals.
- Just because I may seem to be calm and composed when I am with a family, that’s not what’s always going on for me below the surface. Very often there have been times where I have cried in the bathroom at the end of a shift or had some choice words with God on my way home.
- I really, truly cannot imagine doing anything else.