It was a Sunday morning and I was on call in the hospital. Week-end daytime on calls were the easiest -- no overnight, just 8:00- 4:30, with a chapel service to lead on Sunday. I arrived full of energy and eager to preach my little sermon to whomever might show up for the service.
When I arrived, I was asked to meet with a family whose husband and father had himself arrived only hours later and would be dying sometime that day, after life support was removed. It took awhile to marshall the family members, and so I spent much of the day with them. The gentleman was about my age, a seemingly healthy and energetic man who had suffered a stroke while performing some household chores. His son, the age of my own boys, was in agony, and I spent most of my time with him. He had suffered several setbacks in his life in the previous weeks, and he clearly adored his father.
We made an unlikely pair, from an appearance standpoint. I looked pretty chaplain-y ~ which is to say: conservative pants, shoes, jacket ~ and he looked pretty ~ oh, I don't know ~ Goth, maybe? But we quickly developed a deep bond as we talked over a period of several hours, and when his father finally left us, he threw his arms around me and sobbed.
What I most remember, though, is the urgent question he asked me at some point:
How do you DO this?
I thought, and still think, that he meant to ask how I, as a chaplain, was able to stand situations such as his family's, day after day.
But now I also hear another question that he may have intended to ask as well: How do I do this? How do I live through these hours? How do I survive and go on after my father dies?
I wonder what I would say today.
I wonder what his own answer has turned out to be.