“Norris, I’m glad you’re here,” the nurse began. “Can you talk to the woman in the room 710? She has a new baby and I’m hoping you’ll know what to say to her. She’s not going to see her son’s first birthday.” The shock in my face solicited more explanation.
“She has terminal cancer.”
“No, for that I’m sure I would not know what to say,” I confessed, “but I’ll go in.”
Usually, presence is the most healing gift I can offer to a person in these situations. But even that seemed to fail me as I walked into the room and into a stone wall.
She didn’t want to talk to me. I was hoping for a conversation, but there was no bridge of understanding. It was as if she was marooned on her island and I could only stand on a long pier and look at her. During the few moments I sat with her and her husband, neither of them seemed to have the energy to talk — their silence voiced a rage that could not be spoken. I honored their desire for privacy, left the room and leaned against the wall outside her closed door. A fog settled into my thoughts as I tried to imagine what it was like on the day her doctor brought her this horrible news.
I wasn’t there on that day, but my imagination took me there as I envisioned the kind of reaction I might have – a reaction that may have been something like this: “Damn that doctor! Who does she think she is that she can burst into my world and tell me I’m going to die? Die! What is that? It can’t be an end. I’m just beginning. It can’t be final. I’m only in the starting block.
“She’s telling me that I only have enough time to deliver my baby! How is there room in a day to know such euphoria and experience such an unimaginable tragedy? I die, but never to know the life that formed inside me? What kind of joke is that? “The nurses say they don’t know what to say to me. Well, duh, Sherlock. No kidding. Someone please tell me what to say. Tell me what to feel. I’m so damn numb!
“I look at my stomach where she kicks. ‘That’s right, sweetheart, kick!” Pound! Thrust! Blow the door down and get out while you can. It’s a race and you’ve got to get started. You’ve got to get out in time – in time to know the brief wash of your mother’s tears – in time to know the breath of her kiss.
“I’ve sheltered you, protected you and nourished you with an umbilical cord from my soul. You have life in you that’s resurrected from this dying shell. Please remember me!”
“Chaplain. Norris!” the nurse called, bringing me out of my fog. Did you talk to her?”
“Not much really,” I said. “I told her that none of us really knew what to say and that we were all pretty shocked.”
This woman’s story could be straight out of the Biblical book of Lamentations — a book filled with the curses and cries of those who faced injustice. I can never know what this woman was thinking, but I suspect that her thoughts were somewhat aligned with the moaning words of this sacred writer who said, “My eyes fail with tears. My heart is troubled. I am poured out on the ground.”
While most of the time I feel blessed with the competence and words of my training, there are still days when I cannot find the words. And perhaps it is on those days that we are meant to echo some of the words found in Lamentations. Because at the end of the day, my faith remains in a God who not only hears our praises and prayer, but who is also big enough to hear our curses and our rages.