The following post is from CBF-endorsed chaplain Marcia J. McQueen, director of Chaplaincy Services, Morehead Memorial Hospital, Eden, N.C. This post is part of a series celebrating Pastoral Care Week. Find other posts here.
On Saturday afternoon, the first full day of my long-awaited full week vacation, I received a phone call from one of my volunteer chaplains. She informed me that she was available to take the call she had just received from the hospital, but felt I would want to be with the staff at this time of crisis. A 57-year young department manager who had worked at our institution for 37 years had suddenly died of a heart attack that morning (on her daughter’s birthday), and the staff on duty that day were just learning of her death. I certainly did want to be there—for and with them—to be the presence of Christ.
I spent a couple of hours there in the department break room and offices with staff and visitors while the nursing supervisor and administrator on call made rounds to all the units in the hospital to inform them of this employee death. I did bereavement care for the staff. The employee’s family was being ministered to by their pastor with whom I talked during the day. My pastoral care included providing comfort, sharing tears and tissue, offering a verbal group prayer, empathizing, acknowledging feelings, helping make calls to former employees who would want to know and going to get some snacks for the staff who still had about seven more hours to work that day (as no one wanted to eat a meal).
After returning with snacks and checking in with the individuals there, I made my way home, myself somewhat stunned and definitely saddened. In the course of the afternoon, I had been asked to assist with the funeral which would follow in two days. Of course, I would be glad to speak of this co-worker whom I always loved to see singing in the choir on Christmas Eve when I attended her church’s Moravian Love Feast and whose energy and ever-present smile were embedded visions of her.
The funeral home visitation took two hours from getting in line outside the funeral home to reaching the family members. It was obvious that she was well-loved and respected. The funeral and burial were meaningful experiences and it was my privilege to speak gratefully of her service to our hospital and her unfaltering spirit. So, after the funeral on Monday afternoon, I began my vacation. (We sometimes postpone or delay our plans to minister to others but it is important to guard times for refreshment and renewal for ourselves.)
Some six weeks later, on her birthday, I spoke at the Memorial Balloon Release on our hospital campus—well-planned by the deceased’s department staff members and other hospital employees. The family was present and spoke words of gratitude for the event as well as the support they felt from hospital folks.
Not many days later, I received a phone call from the skilled nursing facility staff informing me that the mother-in-law of this employee who died wanted to know the name of the children’s book I had read at the balloon release and where she could get a copy. She is thinking about giving a copy of The Invisible String to all her grandchildren. You see, this mother-in-law had lost a son-in-law in a tragic motor vehicle accident just a couple of months earlier. (He was married to her daughter–another hospital employee). So, this grief compounded her previous grief. Ministry to her–one of our nursing center residents–continues.
Ministry in a small town is both bane and blessing. Knowing “everyone” means that grief comes frequently and is often interconnected. Knowing “everyone” means that the support for one another is usually good. Having been chaplain in this county for over 16 years (four years with Hospice and 12 with the Hospital) means that I have come in contact with many, many folks and lots of people do know me as pastoral caregiver to the community at large. I am grateful for the opportunities to fulfill my call to “show and tell” Jesus’ love and grace in this place.