Fresh out of Seminary, I had an internship as a chaplain in a hospital in a New York City. I worked in the CCU (Critical Care Unit). I had visited with a woman and her family. She was dying. I still remember her name. The time came for her to die. The family gathered and all the machines were turned off. The resident chaplain showed up and took over. He stood at the foot of her bed and asked God in a loud voice to raise the woman up and restore her health. I was horrified. I’m still horrified. The prayers went on and on. I thought this man was mad. When I mentioned how I did not think that kind of prayer at the deathbed was appropriate, I was told I was the one with the problem, and maybe I should look at that.
On the other hand, a few years later when my grandma Lynch was dying, my family gathered around her. We spoke with her and spent time just being with her. One day we brought a hymnal with us and sang her favourite hymns. The Chaplain poked his head in and said he wanted to check in on us, but we looked like we knew what we were doing. The day of hymn sing she opened her eyes one last time and looked at each of us and mouthed the words I love you. We weren’t with her when she died. We were on our way to see her, but that moment with her singing around her I will always keep close to me. I was so grateful for that chaplain for wanting to connect with us, but being able to see that we were going to be just fine without him.
I always say – have a plan. Even in dealing with chaplains, you need a plan. Most are quite wonderful people. Most respect boundaries. Most want to just know what they can do for you. Let them know. Most chaplains enjoy chatting, so the conversations need not be restricted to formal religious or spiritual matters. Some of my favourite conversations as a chaplain were small conversations about everyday things. If you would rather not have any pastoral care, let them know. At any rate, think about your needs and the needs of your family. Have phone numbers of your pastor, rabbi or other spiritual leader. Maybe you can make a playlist of your favourite music. Maybe someone will make one for you. When my father was dying, I made a picture board for him to help him focus and remember. What brings peace of mind to us and those who love us? What kinds of things bring us joy? These things may look simple and they are, but they have the ability for us to connect with each other on an other level other than just conversation. What do we want to surround ourselves with at the end of life? What kinds of things bring us comfort to us when we are facing the death of a loved one? Know what kinds of things you need to help you deal when someone you love is dying. Sometimes, these things come to us in a small voice in our heads. Take note of these things. Act upon them when you can.