My last ministerial meeting was today. They recognized me and moved on with business, bunch of new guys. I am one of the old guys in terms of time spent in this city, and I sat there thinking of all those who had come and gone over the years, there were only a couple of us old timers left.
I had coffee today with my friend Dennis, who is the Chaplain up at the hospital. It was he who created the on call chaplain work that a few of us were invited to be a part of, and that was about nine years ago.
I sat with him and we talked and remembered and did old guy talking stuff. I started to express my gratitude for being a part of that group, and how it helped me be a better pastor in trauma situations, which it has. I began reflecting on the hundreds of different faces of the people with the stories I had met over nine years of being called to the hospital in emergency situations.
And I remembered so many of them, and their faces, I remember their faces.
The 14 year old girl who found her dad killing himself. The six year old boy whose father had died previously, and who was in a roll over accident with his mom and landed beside her dead body where he hid till help arrived. The wife who found her lifeless husband in the driveway with the shovel in his hand. The guy who loved to play basketball for his high school team, and that night making a drive for the basket fell to the ground unconscious who was dead before he got to the hospital. The couple who were dancing the night away and he fell to the ground grasping his chest, dying in her arms. The lost little kids whose mom was brought in not feeling well and who died before the day was over. The guy who hit a moose on the road and was able to talk to me but couldn't feel his legs who died a week later as a result of his injuries. The two families who gathered at the hospital with both loosing kids. One the family of the drunk kid who drove head first into another vehicle with teens in it and three were dead. A doctors teenaged son is found in a car wreck on a lonely dirt road early in the morning and the doctor can't do anything to make his boy live. A young couple months into their pregnancy gave birth to a very premature baby who died and they were grieving and asked me to come and I held the little girl in the palm of my hand. One young lady who was so distraught at the death of her mother that she tried to kill herself and the RCMP called me in and I was able to comfort her and talk her off the ledge and they took us to the hospital. The young guy the ambulance brought in from an accident who I was able to talk with clearly who died while I was there.
They all were people with lives and activities, and their lives came to an abrupt halt. I seem to remember their expressions and lost looks.
Over the years I learned that people are who they are in life and death. Impending death does not change a hard heart. It doesn't make them willing to do anything. I've also learned that just because they are conscious now and awake and clear and feeling not too bad right now, does not mean they won't be dead within the hour. And I've learned that for some people it is a comfort and blessing to have someone, even a stranger, pray for you or the one you love, as they leave this world for the next.
I was surprised, as I drank coffee with my friend, that those stories and images were still there. They were quickly accessible, like they reside close to the surface of my memory.
And that's ok. It reminds me to pray, and it instructs me in how to live and how to die.
So here's to all the nurses, doctors and hospice workers, police, fire and emergency workers out there who regularly see this stuff. I hope you have places and friends who help you process this stuff.
And for the rest of us, may there always be someone to mourn when the number of days allotted to us completed.