I was placing an office supplies order at work and searching through available items to help some of the family members of our hospital patients pass the time while in crisis. I came across a ready-made box titled “Thoughts and Prayers.” What an incredibly handy item to be able to order!
I checked the contents: chocolate, tea, biscotti, and a booklet on grief. On the surface, at least, this appeared to be a very useful expression of one’s care and concern. Mostly because of the chocolate and tea, of course. Booklets and well-intended tomes that effuse schmaltziness are the last things chaplains hand out (at least, chaplains who know what they’re doing). We see and hear about plenty of “Christian” publications intended to help those who are grieving and traumatized, only to cringe ourselves at the burden these resources place on people in distress. Some of those materials seem like giving sugar-filled candy to a diabetic.
Later that day, my officemate told me she’d responded to a case where a young couple had lost their baby due to the mother’s high blood pressure and other conditions, and the husband/father was waiting to tell her of the loss. The young man wanted a chaplain with him when he told her.
These are the situations we experience as chaplains, time and again. What gave me particular pause was that my colleague, her siblings, her friends, and so many others, also have miscarried. My colleague told me of her interaction with the resident who alerted her to the immediacy of the need for a chaplain, and of the husband’s attempts to talk with his wife. And her response. His wife didn’t really want to know the details. Not now.
Ironically, I had bought a bag of very dark chocolate earlier this week. My officemate is a chocolate snob who eats only dark chocolate. I pulled out the bag of chocolates shortly after she told me of her interaction with the young couple. She was ecstatic. My very own bag of “thoughts and prayers” come to life! YES! Only, I didn’t pray.
I didn’t think about it all that much, until now.
I cherish this colleague. She calls me her “office spouse.” (I’m not really sure how I feel about that, but, oh well, she puts up with me. A LOT.) She represents so much to so many people—not only because she’s mom, daughter, wife, sister, chaplain, minister, child of God, but also because she embodies a graciousness and realness that people know immediately is not packaged in artificial or canned form. She embodies thoughtfulness and whimsy and laughter and deep care. Her grounded-ness also is part of who she is as a person of faith, one who lives that trust and care and hope in situations where we chaplains step in ever so carefully—sometimes skillfully, and usually prayerfully.