If you have been a hospice Chaplain very long, there is little doubt one of your patients shared with you something like this: “Chaplain, I had a visitor earlier today. I would like to tell you about it.” That has happened in my chaplaincy practice on numerous occasions. Let me share a couple of those experience.
On one occasion I was making rounds at the hospice house. Some patients were alone and sleeping. Their family members used this time as a break from the vigil they were providing. In one room the daughter of the patient was seated on the couch. While her mother appeared resting, she and I talked about the healthy relationship she had with her Mother. We then went to the bedside and spoke briefly to the patient and I was asked to provide a prayer. After the prayer I spoke a blessing of peace and left the room. Perhaps 15 minutes had passed. There was a page for me to report to the front desk. The patient’s daughter was there. She seemed rather shaken by what she had experienced after I left her Mother’s room. We sat down in the lobby and I listened as she told me what her Mother said. “Mom asked me who the little girl was who was holding your hand as you left the room. I told her that there wasn’t a little girl who held your hand. She said that ‘Yes, there was. She was 5 years old with dark hair. She looked at me as she was leaving the room and smiled.’ Chaplain, help me understand what happened.” Now that was a tall order to try to explain what seemed to be the unexplainable. I asked about the daughter’s siblings. Do you have sisters? She said she had a sister who lives in another state. She also stated that she had one other sister who died at a young age…when she was 5 years old. As she recalled that experience of her little sister’s death, the words “when she was 5 years old” came out as it she realized for herself what had just happened in her Mother’s hospice house room. “Chaplain, you don’t think that that was her, do you?” “It just may have been,” I said. Holding the hand of a servant of God as they called me, then turning and smiling at the patient were powerful symbols of life eternal which brought comfort and peace to both the patient and her sister. I spoke to the patient about this and she stated that there was no doubt in her mind that this was her little daughter. Holding my hand then smiling at the patient were so symbolic to the patient. She was more peaceful than ever.
At this point, I need to make a clear statement to newer Chaplains. You will discover that this world is far more spiritual than it is physical. Death is much more a spiritual experience than it is a physical experience. Your chaplaincy will be wonderfully informed as you hear these type of stories from your patients. In the next article I will share about a patient that contacted me about what she saw.