"Well, You Did It."

I was the on-call chaplain that night.  This meant that I was the only person from Pastoral Care in the hospital.  I carried the beeper and had a quiet little room where I could sleep if things weren't busy.  My shift began at 5 p.m. and would end at 7 a.m.

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.    



Wendz said…
Wow, I find those to be extremely powerful and wise words, that can be applied to so many different situations in life. Thank you for sharing them.
Kimberly Mason said…
Dang, Miss Nancy. That his home and hard. Thank you for today's lesson, I'll be meditating on that thought for a while, I imagine.

Pat said…
Oh my. Unfortunately mental or physical pain is not always like a disfiguring scar or a limp that calls attention to itself; it's crippling none the less. That pastor's words were so very wise.
Ray said…
Oh Nancy, so much sadness in such a short time - first experiencing it, then witnessing it. I send you virtual hugs!!
sosarahsew said…
I'll keep this to share. My first husband took his life nearly eighteen years ago. Now my older son is in seminary and spends some time as the on-call chaplin at the university hospital. Thank you for offering this experience. Sarah
One thing you can't hide, is when you're crippled inside....
And many people don't know how to handle immanent pain of others, nor can feel their pain but for someone to point at it.
I feel very sorry for the woman that was brave enough to end what she couldn't live through. The loneliest place is in the middle of a crowd...
Thank you for sharing.
Irene from Amsterdam
Nan said…
I've been thinking about your post since yesterday. I'm glad the cousin's words helped the children grieve. And I'm sorry for this woman's pain. But I think people in pain are still responsible for their actions. How many criminals and specifically abusers are in pain? They need help but they shouldn't get a free pass just because they're in pain. When I lash out at my spouse in anger, I'm in pain, but I still need to apologize for it. We don't know the specifics of this very private situation, and I'm not judging this woman. But I do question the premise of the "wisdom" offered.
Salem Stitcher said…
Bless him for knowing just what to say to help them move from anger to mourning. Bless you for being there period.