For years I have written about what it means to be the Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside. Today I am at the bedside, but, as I have often said to hospital staff in my care, I’m “on the other side of the rail.”
Specifically, today I am the husband of a patient. My Best Beloved is the patient, and as we have long been explicit about, I am her husband, and neither her priest nor her chaplain.
This is not the first time I have been “on the other side of the [bed] rail;” but it is one of the most acute we have known. Let me share some of those feelings.
First, I have great hope. I know who is caring for her. I know everyone’s credentials, and something of their skills. Indeed, we are in the hospital I serve, and by her choice. She wanted to be here, trusting in the people and in the care. I know what to expect, and what to expect is very good.
Second, I am afraid. I have been a chaplain more than 30 years. I know what can happen. My Best Beloved has been a nurse more than 20 years, and she knows, too. This is not a matter of distrust. It’s an awareness that stuff happens, even in the best of circumstances; and suddenly those circumstances aren’t “best” any more. As I often comment, I know too much. I’ve seen too much. With the best people, and all the hope in the world – which is pretty much where I’ve started – I’m all too conscious of the randomness in life. So, I can’t get away from the fear.
Third, I have good support. The Rector spent hours with us this morning – well, with me, because we didn’t have that much time before she was taken to the OR. I am in my own house, as it were, with people who know me and are concerned for me. My colleagues have already been with me – in one moment literally surrounding me – assuring me of their concern and of their prayers. I do not have the stress some have of going through such an experience alone; and I can’t say just how much that helps me.
Fourth, I trust that God is with me. Granted, there’s that part of me that can say, “I wish God had prevented the need for this altogether.” However, since I’ve long believed that God doesn’t micromanage, I know that’s an emotional reaction, an awareness of my own powerlessness. So, it’s a bit of a stretch to say that I’m aware that God is with me. But in the moments come those things that sustain me: support from others; the snippets of music, and especially the Taize chants, that reassure me; the narrow but important Pentecostal streak that runs through me. I’m no better than anyone else at touching God and knowing; but I trust.
And that is today. That is my morning as the patient’s husband. It helps for me to share this. With time and reflection, too, this will help me be a better chaplain and a better priest (and I will never be done learning to be a better chaplain and a better priest). But that’s down the road. These feelings, these concerns, these hopes: this is my morning on the other side of the rail.