Sunday, November 14, 2010

Life and Death, Healing and Hope.

Friday I was exhausted . . . it finally dawned on me yesterday that part of that exhaustion is related to death . . . as a person I have lost people in my life . . . as a local pastor I was confronted with death on occasion but not often . . . as a chaplain in residence I am facing death almost on a daily basis . . . sometimes more than one a day, especially if I am "on call" . . . if I remember correctly one night "on call" I attended three deaths . . . one of the chaplains-in-residence has joked that she wants to trade "on call" with me as I seem to get the interesting cases . . . I am not sure that that is always true, but I do sense that I have had more deaths while serving "on-call" than many of the residents . . . all these deaths and how families respond to them, and even the patient, have lead me to a deeper appreciation of the gift of faith . . . of believing in the promise and assurance of the work Christ Jesus accomplished on the cross for us.

But there is something that is giving me pause . . . we have a Catholic priest from India who is also a chaplain-in-resident . . . a young man was admitted to the inpatient Oncology Unit . . . I entered his room as I was making rounds . . . the man was obviously in pain . . . his mother-in-law, father and a family friend where in the room . . . I introduced myself . . . the mother-in-law whispered to me . . . he was just admitted to Palliative Care -- they expect that he will pass away this afternoon or tonight . . . the patent's wife had gone to make funeral arrangements and would be back later her mother told me . . . later when I visited with the wife, knowing that they were Catholic, I asked if they wanted the priest to come and give the Anointing of the Sick (this use to be known as Last Rites) . . . she related that Father R -- the chaplain-in-residency, had already done this . . . it is my understanding that he is not to be doing this rite . . . anyway that afternoon I go to him as he is the chaplain-on-call to let him know that this man's death is imminent and he should be prepared . . . he tells me that he is OK, that he is being healed . . . I explain that the cancer has spread throughout the man's body, including his brain, and the doctor has explained to the family that death is imminent . . . the man dies that night.

Friday I am in the Palliative Care Team meeting where I learn that Father R has anointed another terminal patient who is not his patient . . . worse he has told the family that she is being healed . . . the Palliative Care Nurse has discussed this with the CPE supervisor who suggests that the family may be lying . . . I don't believe this is the case . . . Father R does believe in physical healing and I believe that he does tell some folks this . . . I heard something similar when I went on rounds with him once in pre-surgery -- this was early in our residency and I didn't see as insidiously as I do now . . . I do believe our God is a God of possibilities . . . and that God in infinite wisdom, mercy and grace can and does heal people physically . . . when my brother was dxed with terminal cancer -- the cancer was spread throughout his body, including the liver, I met a man -- a pharmacist, who had lived with liver cancer for 4 years . . . and just last Sunday I gave the invocation to a group of cancer survivors and heard remarkable stories of survival AND healing.

Shall we hold out false hope for healing when all signs point to the ultimate healing?

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