"Men always talk about the most important things to perfect strangers. In the perfect stranger we perceive man himself; the image of a God is not disguised by resemblances to an uncle or doubts of wisdom of a mustache." GK Chesterton
I invite you to share your stories here, to tell about moments of compassion that made a difference to you or others, whether from a fellow human being, an animal, or even an insight received from a moment in nature.

Monday, May 25, 2009

My moment with a chaplain

I was a hospice volunteer in a hospital. I was sitting with a patient, who as the nurses had observed, was clinging to life long past the point anyone would have predicted. But he was dying, and his death was a struggle. His relatives lived in a distant state and were not able to be with him. As I sat with him, he opened his eyes to look at me more than once. He tried to speak, but he could not. I explained to him that I was a volunteer and would sit with him, if it was okay. He tried to speak again, but I could not understand what he was saying. Usually I can tell if my presence is a comfort to a patient. This time I wasn’t sure. It occurred to me that perhaps a stranger sitting with him in these final hours of his life agitated this patient more than comforted him. I left the room for a while, to ask the charge nurse if the chaplain was available. Soon he came to find me, and we agreed to meet in the chapel at a designated time. I told him my concerns. How, I asked him, can I know if I am a comfort to this patient, or if I am upsetting him by my presence? After all, I am a private person myself. Would I want a stranger with me at such a time? The chaplain was a gentle, thoughtful person. He told me that in most cases he felt sure that the presence of a caring person, even that of a stranger, was preferable to a patient to being left alone in those hours. He thought for a moment and said that if the patient was unable to speak, maybe I could ask the patient to squeeze my hand if it was okay for me to continue sitting with him or her. He then went on to say that from his experience with patients he was sure that my presence was most likely a comfort, that I was doing a good thing. He then asked if he could pray for me, and he did so. Later, it struck me that this chaplain was a complete stranger to me, and he had comforted me in a moment of uncertainty in a position where I strongly desired to be a help to others, and not present an additional burden to them. I had been able to talk about my deepest concerns, because of his caring presence. I was glad I was not alone with the weight of my concerns, and I appreciated that this kind stranger was there to offer support. I have never been sure about what that particular patient wanted, but the chaplain’s advice, on both the practical and spiritual levels, helped me to continue my work in a spirit of service and care to other patients.


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