It’s a nice hospital, as hospitals go. I don’t have clergy credential at this one – my people almost always end up at the much less nice county hospital. But here I am, with Sarah and our friend Shelden, who is as good as can be but looks stereotypically homeless. We got a few looks just walking in the lobby.
We were there because Shelden’s brother was in the hospital with lung cancer. And Shelden had asked us if we could go with him to see and pray for his brother.
The first clue something was wrong was at the front desk, when Shelden asked for his brother’s room number. The receptionist looked on the computer and then picked up the phone. A cryptic exchange happened, then she hung up and said, “You need to go to the nurses station on the fourth floor, they will tell you where to go.”
So we go off in search of the elevator. We get lost and wind up on the wrong elevator, and at the wrong nurse’s station. We ask for his brother’s room.
The nurse looks up the name and then picks up the phone. And I know this is not going to end well.
She sends us to the other end of the fourth floor, to the correct nurses station. Sarah and Shelden start that way, while I linger.
“He has passed, hasn’t he,” I ask the nurse.
She looks at me with sadness and nods, probably violating eight different privacy laws.
Sarah and Shelden are about halfway to the nurses station. I take a huge breath and then hustle down the hallway to join them.
There are no rules in such a situation, other than to take care of your parishioner. Actually, that is a good rule any time. I figure it’s better for him to hear this from me than a nurse, so I stop him in the hallway and, for probably the sixth or seventh time in my life, I had to tell someone their relative is dead.
The hospital staff had been watching us, and when Shelden broke down in the hallway, they were right there with a chair and a wet rag. They assured him his brother had went easily, in his sleep that morning. One, in such a scene that only happens in the South, told him his brother was “with the Lord now.”
Fifteen minutes or so pass, and we’re handed more wet rags and ginger ale and boxes of tissues and Shelden gets hugs from a few nurses. Then he looks at me and says, “Can we get out of this hallway?”
We go to the chapel to sit for a while. That’s the nice thing about hospital chapels – they are almost always empty.
As we walk in, I tell Shelden this chapel is much nicer than ours back at Love Wins. He tells me that it would look more authentic with a drunk guy sleeping it off in the corner, as often happens at ours.
Again – no rules. We all sit. He cries, Sarah talks to him about his brother and memories he has. At his request, I read “some stuff from the Bible.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:37-39
We sit and time passes. Then he is ready to go. It’s after five now, and I ask him where I should take him. He asks to be dropped downtown, where he can hang out until he finds out if he has a bed for the night at the shelter.
And that last sentence is the complexity of where I work. Not only does he have to mourn the unexpected loss of his brother, but he has to mourn that while not knowing if he has a bed to sleep in. And I have to drop him off, and hug him and tell him we love him and will see him Saturday and watch him shuffle off, and then go home to my house and get ready to go out to dinner with my friends.
To quote Hyman Roth, “this is the business we’ve chosen.” And sometimes, I am even able to sleep at night. I wonder if last night, Shelden did.