Monday, February 02, 2004

First Known Death

Today I found out in morning report that a man I had visited last week died suddenly over the weekend. Thursday morning another chaplain came up to me and said she'd heard in morning report that the patient in 6801 had asked for a priest to provide communion and to help him with "anger issues." I was feeling a little shaky that afternoon (emotional stuff coming up in CPE) but took a deep breath, checked in with a quick prayer, and felt like the thing to do was meet the challenge head on. I walked into the man's room and saw him stretched out on the bed. His wife sat in the recliner by the window. She looked anxious; he looked restless.

I introduced myself as the chaplain on the unit and he motioned me in and said hello. I told him I generally come around and say hello to everyone and see how things are going. He said, "Well, I've been really anxious," and he and I talked a bit about his treatment, the waiting, the worry, and home. He was from South Bend, which is several hours north, a town I lived in 20 years ago. We talked about the snow and joked a little bit. His wife joined in but was a bit reserved. I left the room after 10 minutes or so, pleased that his "anger issues" seemed to have dissolved into a very understandable anxiety. When I added my notes to his chart, I saw that the priest had been to see him earlier that morning.

Today in morning report Nan asked for prayers for his family and said they are all struggling with anger related to his sudden death. I felt a kind of numb shock. It seemed strange that someone I was talking with only four days ago was now dead. I wished I had known what to say or how to say it that might have helped prepare him or...or what? Or something. Something meaningful. Something helpful. But there's nothing to be done now, except prayer for the family. And that's not a little thing.

I found myself wondering about the passing of the anger from the man to his family. I was reminded of the way family systems work. I will look for an opportunity to talk with Nan more about her ministry with this family at the time of the man's death. I'm interested in hearing more about this from a systems standpoint, but I'm not kidding myself. I'm looking for answers, too.


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