Here today, gone tomorrow

redPhoneIt was late Sunday night, about 03:30.  I was in bed, warm, comfortable. It was December 5; the weather was cold, snow blanketing the ground, just like my covers blanketing me.

“Bing.”  “Bing.” “Bing.”  “Bing.”

“What the hell? This better be good,” I thought.


“Josh, it’s your mom. She’s down here in ICU at North Kansas City Hospital,” my uncle said.

“Okay, I’m on my way.”

As I got ready, it kept pawing at me.  “The ICU, I just spoke to her.  I’m sure she’s okay. This stuff happens, no big deal.  I’m sure it’s nothing,” I naively told myself.

I ran to my car, trying not to slip, dodging frozen puddles, much like a frog jumping from one lily pad to another trying to avoid the water below.

It was exceptionally cold. I could see my breath, tiny ice crystals formed on the hair in my nose.

As I looked over the frozen landscape, the eerie colors of Christmas lights bounced off the snow, the comforting smell of burning wood bellowing from chimneys diffused through the cold winter air.

I wasn’t in control.

Once I arrived at the hospital, I didn’t know what to expect.  I assumed my mom would be awake, and we’d talk.

Yet that didn’t happen. Destiny’s path chose my path. I wasn’t in control.

I walked towards her room, the nurses directing me.  Upon entering her room, my grandmother met me at the door.

“She’s going to die.”

“Don’t be ridiculous; she’ll be fine.”

It certainly didn’t look good.  She was on a vent, the telemetry monitor above her moving slowly, showing the same squiggly line over and over again.

The environment was cold, sterile.

I stayed in the ICU for three days, sleeping on the floor in the waiting room, periodically taking my turn on watch–only my father, grandparents, and my stepfather keeping me company, keeping my mother company.

“Just like thousands of our fellow Americans, she had a mortgage, cancer, and little cash.”

At the time I was a graduate student in Religious Studies, not a nurse, and experiencing the helplessness the families of our patients feel every day.

I requested the Chaplin, cried in his arms, and requested he baptize her, something I knew she wanted.

At this time, I knew she was going to die. It was only a matter of time.

My mother was in remission from cancer, but apparently had lost her health insurance.

Just like thousands of our fellow Americans, she had a mortgage, cancer, and little cash.

She had depleted her savings, never letting me know her circumstances, shielding me from social Darwinism, and from life.

The power of forgiveness

It was about 10:45, I was sitting in the waiting room, sitting with my stepfather.  I hadn’t spoken with him in years.

I stopped speaking to him after I found out he was an addicted gambler, an alcoholic, and, sometimes, abusive.

“I forgive you,” I told him.

And in less than a minute after echoing those words of forgiveness, my mother’s heart stopped.

I couldn’t help it. I was an atheist, a non-believer, but I couldn’t explain it.

I don’t know if God exists, but something seemed to be giving me a signal, giving me a sign that there was something beyond human.

Now, as a nurse, I know the importance of caring for the spiritual needs of our patients.  At the time, God comforted me, even when I didn’t believe in him.

Hospital chaplains are, in my opinion, the cornerstone of the healthcare team.

They are natural advocates, comforting the sick and dying, as well as helping friends and family rationalize mortality and the fragility of life.

And we must always remember that, in our field, business as usual for us isn’t “usual” at all.

I’ll never forget leaving the hospital that day, knowing my mother was dead yet watching the world move on without her.

I can’t explain it; it was surreal, watching people go about their lives, all while my world had collapsed around me.

It made me realize that we’re here today, gone tomorrow.

And either way, whether I’m here or not, the world won’t skip a beat.

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