"Well, You Did It."
The beeper went off around eight o'clock. It was the head nurse from the ER. A woman had been brought into the hospital after a successful suicide attempt. Her family had been contacted and would be coming in to see her. Would I please go to the viewing room and wait for the family.
The woman was in her sixties, not unattractive, and dressed in casual clothing. There were no marks on her; she had taken pills. I felt uneasy as I waited with her, and this was unusual. The viewing room felt exceptionally cold.
When her adult children arrived, they were angry. They did not seem at all sad. "Well, you did it," said one of them. And the rest of them echoed that sentiment. They berated their mother for what she had done. They were very, very angry. But they showed no signs of wanting to leave. It was confusing. My task was simply to Be With Them; if I could do more, that was good. But I was at a loss as to how I could work with this family. Their anger was so bitter and pervasive.
Then came a knock on the door. It was a cousin, who was a pastor in the Swedenborgian tradition, a Christian faith very, very different from my own Lutheran one.
"Well, she did it," they told him. They remained stiff and angry as he looked first at the mother and then at them.
The cousin waited a bit. Then he said, "You know, we are only accountable for those things that we do when we are not being forced and when we are not in pain." Another pause. "And she spoke with me many times about the pain that she was in."
And then they began to grieve, and the room felt warmer.