Years ago as a new hospital chaplain, I looked for milestones in the work. My first trauma call. My first Code. My first emergency Baptism. These challenges came along and were met. My first death didn't happen for quite some time. And when it did, I didn't feel ready for it.
I was alone in the hospital overnight, carrying the beeper, and when it went off and I called the floor, I was asked to come up to be with the family of a patient who had just died. I asked for a little information -- and was told the patient had been sick for awhile, and her mother was present at the death. Walking to the room, I prayed to know what to say. I'd anticipated that the first death would be something very different -- the end to the suffering of a very old and very sick patient, perhaps. As I approached the room, I didn't have the words I needed. But when I went into the room and saw that the patient was in her sixties and her mother in her eighties, I enfolded the woman in my arms and said to her, "This isn't supposed to happen. This isn't the way it is supposed to be."
When we are mothers, when our children are very, very little, we have the miraculous power -- for a brief time -- to make everything all right. It is an amazing gift we are given; the ability to comfort, to fix things, for these little tiny people, the ones we would give everything for. The thing is, though, we don't realize the power is transient. We want it so much that we think it will always be thus.
And we are mistaken.
This summer a close friend's son has developed a dreadful progressive neurological disorder. My friend is at wits' end, feeling helpless and powerless. Not long after that, I learned that the brother of a boy Tom was in school with has Lou Gehrig disease. A friend from church lost her daughter to breast cancer. This isn't supposed to happen.
This past week I learned that a blog friend had lost a daughter at some point long before I knew her, and I just ached for her. We expect to lose our parents someday; that is the natural course of things. But our children?
This morning I learned that a friend's daughter has been hospitalized with an auto-immune hepatitis -- it seems her body has been attacking her own liver to the point where two days ago she was close to death. She's rallied a bit, and tomorrow will be transferred to a major teaching hospital and begin the assessment for a transplant. My friend is devastated. This is her only child and she's a terrific one, too. The kind of gal that has a million friends, a tremendous sense of humor, and a brilliant mind. Much like her mother. But my friend wants so much to be able to do something. To make it better.
Much like the mom of the guy with the neurological disorder who told me she would trade places with him in a minute. Of course she would. Moms should be able to make things better for their children.
This isn't the way it is supposed to be.
There are those who say, "I know that everything happens for a reason." As if there is some reason that they would accept for the tragedy that has befallen them. I don't buy it. I don't believe God visits these horrible things on our children, on His children, for some reason or lesson. I think, instead, that God aches along with us in our pain and that sometimes, at some point, gives us the grace to make some kind of sense out of these things, and to be able to see glimmers of good that come out of even the most awful of situations.
I've been thinking about this a lot today as I cried with my friend and prayed with her daughter.
These are our children, for crying out loud. This isn't supposed to happen.
But it does.