The following post comes from Mickie Norman, a CBF endorsed chaplain for the Lower Cape Fear Hospice and Life Care Center in Wilmington, N.C. She and her husband, Rob, co-pastor the North Brunswick Fellowship Church in Leland, N.C., and are parents to CBF Field Personnel Matt and Michelle Norman in Barcelona, Spain. This post is part of a series celebrating Pastoral Care Week. Find other posts here.
I am often the last of the team to arrive in the home of my hospice patients. First, it is the admission nurse and ongoing case manager nurse who enter the home to set up medications and establish the ongoing medical needs of the patient. This is generally followed by medical equipment being delivered, and a medical aide coming to help with the personal care of the patient. A medical social worker comes next to address the emotional and psychosocial needs of the patient and family. The medical social worker also inquires concerning the needs for spiritual support. That is usually my cue to call and set up a visit time.
On one particular occasion, however, I was just around the corner from the new patient’s home when I got the message of her admission. I was so close that I decided to at least call to introduce myself and offer a brief introduction visit and spiritual support. I cover such a large county area that I knew it could be days before I would be in the area again. A weak and tearful voice answered the phone and instantly requested that I stop by as soon as possible.
The door was opened by a man who looked to be in shock and suffering in his grief. He mumbled his name and began to lead me down a hallway toward a bedroom. “She is in there, I still can’t believe that this is happening. I am sure that she will get better; she has always gotten better.” Then he was gone.
I tapped on the door as I entered. The woman lying in the bed raised her arm to beckon me in and tapped the bed for me to sit beside her. As I sat and reached for her hand, she shared in her very weak voice that she felt so alone. In our conversation, I learned of her faith background and her sureness of eternal promises. She stated, “I know in my heart that God is with me, but I really do not want to die alone. I need someone with me to acknowledge my going to be with my Father.” She smiled and added, “I need a send off.”
I assured her that I would share this information with her family and that I would do all I could to honor that request. Before leaving her bedside, we shared in prayer together and she used that time to offer thanksgiving to God for the daily grace, love and mercy that He has shown her throughout her life. Before leaving the home, I tried to speak to her brokenhearted husband concerning the request that I had just learned. He stopped me, stating that he could not hear this now, after all, his wife was going to get better.
Two days later I entered our Hospice Care Center facility ready to make rounds and check on any patients that had been admitted for end of life, system management or respite. When I saw her name listed, I immediately remembered her and our brief visit together. Going by the nurses’ station, I asked about her status. The nurse shook her head and stated that the patient had been admitted the evening before and was very near end of life. She added that she had not expected to see her this morning, she had been sure that she would have died during the night. I asked her if family was present. She stated that all had left last night to get some rest and would be coming back today.
“I know why she is still here,” I said. “She does not want to die alone. I am heading to her room now.” The nurse acknowledged by statement and told me that she would be coming in a moment or two to give the patient her morning medications.
I entered the room and pulled a chair up to the bedside. The room was filled with flowers, cards and family photos. All of those things attempted to make the room cozier, but it did not take the place of having another person in the room with her. She lay very still, barely breathing and appeared very peaceful.
I lifted her hand and placed it into mine, leaning down, I kissed her forehead and spoke softly into her ear.
“Hello, my friend, it is Mickie, the chaplain. I am here with you. I remember what you said you wanted. I will not leave you. I am going to stay right with you. I am going to pray with you right now.”
I offered up a prayer for this lovely lady who loved her Lord and trusted her Lord with her eternity. I thanked God for the opportunity to know her and to learn more of Him through her gentle spirit. As I ended my prayer with “Amen,” there was a weak squeeze of her hand in mine. A slight smile formed on her lips.
As the nurse entered with the medications, her breathing began to slow down drastically. I motioned for her to stop for a moment.
“She is going home now,” I stated. “God is welcoming her to His Home and I am here to acknowledge her journey. I am sending her off.” Her breathing stopped and she was indeed – Home.