34 “I’m sorry.”
Thoughts on how to be at a deathbed
As a hospital chaplain, I find myself next to the beds of people who have died. I’m standing with the family members or friends or personal representatives. I’m there within forty minutes of death or sometimes five minutes before. I’m there because, at our hospital, chaplains are the people who talk with the next of kin about what funeral home has been chosen and ask that person to sign the piece of paper which allows the body to be released to the funeral home.
Regardless of religious affiliation – regardless of anything, actually – one of us is there. Which means that we think a lot about how to talk details in the middle of difficulty.
I was next to one of those beds on Easter Sunday morning. And I thought about the connections between the Easter story of resurrection and the life story that I was watching come to an end.
I thought you might benefit from some of what I think and do at those moments.
Inside my head, on my best days, are these thoughts:
- This is not a hopeless moment
- But this is a painful moment
- God is here, maybe through me
- God loves this family more than I ever could
- My best work is being a non-intrusive intentional presence
But I keep those thoughts inside my head. They ground me. On my best days, they keep me from being thoughtless, from being insensitive, from adding to the pain of the moment.
On the outside of my head are different things.
- Respectful silence.
- “I’m sorry for your loss” (Because I am.)
- “I don’t know.” (why this happened now)
- “Take as long as you need. And there isn’t a right amount.”
- “Would you like me to pray?”
- “When you are ready, I have a couple of arrangements to talk about.”
You may never be a chaplain. But you may well stand where I stand. Feel free to borrow. And consider being a non-intrusive intentional presence.