Monday, March 22, 2010

speaking "mom"

Of course my "I am an invincible warrior chaplain" phase could only last a day or two.  Today the universe conspired to level me back to humility.

I was on call.  So between classes and visits, I was summoned to four deaths.  A beloved elderly man,  a long awaited death of a father, and an out-of-the-blue massive heart attack on a 50 year old woman.  Three families in pain, lots of tears.  I was pretty spent when I got the fourth call.  A Hispanic couple had just had an emergency c-section and the tiny baby had lived one hour.  I spent the across-hospital walk trying to gear up. 

When I entered the room, it was buzzing with nurses, a doctor and a translator.  I was hovering against the wall, straining to catch a familiar word amidst the Spanish phrases and medical dialogue.  I didn't understand what had happened.  I was overwhelmed by the parents' evident grief.  What could I offer this couple?  I didn't speak their language. I had no answers.  I felt inadequate and helpless.

In a wave, the room cleared out.  Dad pulled a chair over to the window, wept and made calls to family on his cell phone.  A nurse readied an area to bathe the baby.  She came  to the mother, speaking soothingly, took the baby from the mom and walked back to the sink.  I watched mom's face begin to quiver.

Suddenly it became clear.  My lack of language abilities, spiritual wisdom and emotional composure no longer mattered.  I am a mom who is crazy in love with my kids.  So is she.  We spoke a universal language. Mom. I was next to her bed in a second, holding her hands, heads pressed together, tears running down our faces, as we watched her beautiful tiny daughter getting bathed, footprinted and dressed.  The nurse brought the baby back, and we unwrapped her and memorized her loveliness.  Through halting words in both languages and gestures, we noted that the baby had her daddy's nose and her mom's eyebrows.  We counted her fingers and traced her ears.  We sniffed and coo'd.

"Dios sabe mejor. Dios sabe mejor."  I smiled at her questioningly. "God...knows... best." Her husband attempted to translate from his window seat.  "She sick", mom said. "Los médicos no podían arreglar le. Ella habría sufrido. And you here. They come.  Hi.  You fine?  Buena.  They go.  You stay.  You here."  She squeezed my hand.  I squeezed back.

I think about all the great things I have learned this year.  In theology, pastoral care, intrapersonal reflection, communication, etc.  The things that make me feel like a confident chaplain.  In this room I could not summon any of it.  But in a  mom's broken heart and broken English I did remember my very favorite name for God.  Immanuel. 

...and they will call him Immanuel" —which means, "God with us."   Matthew 1:23


  1. OK! This story is awesome, beyond wonderful in the message it gives and the way it is told. And you are awesome and wonderful and I am not prejudiced in the least! Open your book with this story:-) M6

  2. Tears to start my day. Poor mama and daddy--I can't imagine. I'm thankful you were there.

  3. very moving post. your presence said it all. you just raised the bar on the conpetency requirements....

  4. I went through a similar experience with a friend. Possibly one of the worst moments in my life...I can only imagine how it felt for her. The way you tell this story changes that moment to a beautiful memory...the fragile whispers in time between life and death and just how important it is to share these spaces with others.