Occupational hazards

I’m a hospital chaplain. At our hospitals, each time someone dies, we talk with the next of kin about the funeral home they will be using.

We talk about more than that, of course, offering compassion and presence and giving permission for questions and pain. But I tell you about the funeral home conversation to let you know that we always connect with people in their hardest moments.

Even when the person that dies is only a few weeks from their beginning.

I’m realizing that, like all of my colleagues, I’m formed by facing death regularly. It means, for example, that when I think of babies, the majority of my experience during the past five years has not been happy.

So when I wrote to a couple of friends about the advent of a grandchild shortly after Advent 2022, as we remember the loss of a grandchild in 2020, I said to them, “you know what I do and what I see and what that means for my expectation of the worst. (I know, right? It’s a happy time. But you know me, for which I am grateful).”

After talking about her own experiences, my friend Jen wrote this to me: “I told my best friend how scared I was to even hope; That it felt like accepting the possibility of horror and tragedy was far easier than accepting the possibility of a baby. She replied, ‘That’s OK. You don’t need to hope. I will do that for you. I will hold onto hope for you.’ That, friend, is my promise to you. I’ll hold hope when you cannot.”

It’s been a month since she wrote to me. I still can’t read those words out loud. Literally. The gift is too precious to vocalize.

But, I think that maybe you need Jen’s words, too. You need to know that in the middle of understandable fear, you can do the living part. And maybe someone else can hold hope for you. Maybe I can. 

The truth of course, I think as I write this, is that often when I walk into those rooms, part of what I am doing is holding hope in my heart until the family is ready.