By Daniel Brockhan, CBF-endorsed hospital chaplain
It begins with a flicker… of images: Doctors and nurses running, scurrying back and forth quickly, trying desperately to save a life, to bring them back from the threshold of death, to some hopefully stable and sustainable form of life. Family in the room, as the doctors compress their loved ones chest, pumping, trying to bring back life, trying to bring back breath and a heartbeat.
Family waiting in the hallway, crying, other times stoic like stone. They are in shock, not knowing how to feel in a crisis, perhaps emotions standing on the brink—the brink between happiness their loved one is stable and the sadness they have now passed.
Up late at night. Two calls at the same time. Two crises, deaths or codes, both on opposite ends of the hospital, sometimes on opposite campuses. Trying to be flexible, trying to be wise. Trying to divide my time evenly. Trying to take care of others, while also taking care of myself. I am no good to others if I am a mess. I am not much good to myself either…
Suffering makes me believe in God. Suffering makes me not believe in God. Why chaplain? Why? How do I go on? How do I talk to my family about my condition?
How do I tell my older parents they are dying? Can you come with me as a doctor, while I go to tell them their loved one is passed? Can you say a prayer for my family member? Can you say a prayer for me? Can you leave and come back later; I am just in so much pain right now?
The worst thing, harder than most, is seeing children suffer. Staff running, trying to help their little body survive OR seeing them abused by someone older, who they trusted or who was trusted to watch them. Praying with the parents, that healing might happen, that God be with them no matter what, and that our hope remains steadfast in Christ.
And in this time… in those words. Faith. Hope. Love.
Then the images of those calls at night when there is no crisis. The ones who are anxious and cannot sleep. They have insomnia, are up from worry. I talk with them, sometimes they cry and calm, sometimes they are just needing an ear.
We talk. We pray. And they begin to drift off to sleep. In a hospital, never underestimate the goodness and need of sleep and rest in the healing process. A lot goes on in the hospital. Always.
Images of sharing in people’s stories, some bad and some good. I am invited to share with them these parts of who they are, every now and then sharing parts of myself as well. From these stories, suffering comes to people from all walks of life, young and old, rich and poor. The truth is, we are all frail. And we can all be rather stubborn about certain things, from relationships to being healthy.
Voices together sharing, sometimes with joyful smiles, sometimes laughter, and sometimes tears. Here, crisis ministry is not the exception but the norm. I get to meet people where they are at, not trying to change them, but to be there for them. In those moments, I have a great opportunity to share my thoughts, my hopes, my faith.
Daniel Brockhan is a CBF-endorsed chaplain at the St. Joseph Campus of Catholic Health’s Sisters of Charity Hospital in Cheektowaga, New York.