An observation: While watching their loved ones die, many people express guilt, in varying degrees. “What if I had been there more for him?”
“If I had been with Larry just before the accident, this wouldn’t have happened.”
It’s a strange, but familiar, refrain. Strange in that we humans think we’re in control of so very much when in actuality we’re not. Familiar in that I wouldn’t necessarily express it differently if I were in their shoes.
As I see it, a role of the chaplain in these situations is to offer both validity to their struggles (because we all struggle), and hope. Hope seems different than optimism. Optimism says, “Just look on the bright side,” and can actually be a damaging thing to say.
Hope seems more reality-grounded: “Life without your spouse will hurt like hell but you can get through it, and in your own way and time.”
Sometimes practical solutions are offered; but I’ve found the times of silence with people to be just as sacred, if not more so, than words. Sometimes spoken words seem intrusive. One size doesn’t fit all.
Another observation, about myself: Knowing the limited time I have with most patients and families in the hospital, my tendency is to think I can swoop in and fix something. Think Florence Nightingale offering a God pill. But I am not the fixer. A conduit, probably, but more accurately one who comes alongside them and helps them reconcile all sorts of things. Though patients tend to feel powerless, they may also discover what kind of power they actually have.
What a sacred trust this is.