Susan Harthon, CBF-endorsed chaplain serving at Vidant Medical Center’s Clinical Pastoral Education program in Greenville, N.C., shares what it means when a chaplain gives others a voice for their story and healing process.
The patient was skeletal, the contours of his ribs clearly visible under the thin white sheet. The chaplain had been called because earlier, when the patient had coded, his wife had rolled on the floor in the hall, screaming. She now stood at his bedside, drooping, mute.
The chaplain walked slowly to her side and joined her. Side by side they stood without words, looking down at him. Minutes passed. A blanket with a Marine insignia, smooth and squared, covered his legs. The silence continued. Then the chaplain said, “I see he has a Marine blanket. I guess he is a Marine.” The wife nodded. Then, slowly, she began to speak, a word or a phrase at a time, with many pauses. The chaplain listened and responded, using voice to help the wife move out of her silence and give voice to her story.
He was a Marine, brave and strong. There was nothing he couldn’t do. He loved her so much. He took care of her. What would she do without him? How could she manage on her own? She couldn’t let go of him. Not yet. Not yet.
Giving voice to her story took a long time. Each word she pulled out with effort. It was late evening when her story reached the present moment.
He had been so brave, so strong. Then, the cancer. He loved her. He was holding on, just for her. He knew she didn’t want him to leave her. She loved him too. The most loving thing she could do for him now was to let him go. But not yet. Not quite yet. One last night together. Then she could let him go.
She pulled the recliner over next to his bed. She settled herself in, covered herself with a blanket. She reached out and took his hand, once so strong and capable, in hers.
“Thank you, chaplain.”
He died early the next morning. Calmly, with love, she was able to let him go.
The ministry of chaplaincy includes joining others wherever they are in their journey and journeying with them for a time. We use our voices to empower others to find their voices and tell their stories. Healing and growth take place when stories are shared. Giving voice to our stories helps us move forward into the future with faith, hope, and love.