Joe was a large man with a large head, white as a clean sheet of paper. He sat on the edge of his bed, his head in his hands, eyes closed. I thought he was asleep, hoping that he was because the day was getting on, I was tired, and I needed to get back to the office to do some paperwork.
So, I wrote up a visit note and quietly entered his room, leaving the note on his tray table. I turned to leave and glanced at him. He was awake, looking at me intently.
“Oh, you ARE awake!”
“Yes, I was just resting. Who are you?” he asked.
“I’m Chaplain Pat. Just making my rounds on my floor. Checking in to see how you’re doing today…” This was my standard introduction. Little did I know that Joe’s response and sharing would be anything but standard. “We have you listed in our records as “None” in terms of religion. Is that accurate?”
“It would have been a few months ago. I’m Jewish by culture, but I haven’t been practicing.”
“So...should I change it to ‘Jewish’ or leave it as ‘None’?”
“Well…” he moved slowly into what he wanted to say, like a new tributary trying to rejoin the main stream. “I’d like to tell you what happened to me.”
“Mind if I pull up a chair?”
“Not at all.” I sat down and leaned a little forward. “I’d love to hear about it.”
“I have a brain tumor, and during my surgery, I had a remarkable experience. I remember moving toward a pin prick of light. When I got to the end of it, there was my dad. You have to understand that he was the last person I wanted to see. I hated him. Growing up with a father who was abusive physically and verbally was a tough thing to forgive. I tried to keep him at a distance for the rest of my life. Then he died.”
“You’ve carried the bitterness all of your life?”
‘“Yes. I could never forgive him, and that has weighed on me all of these years. How do you forgive someone like that? My own father? Anyway, there was my dad. He smiled at me, took me aside and explained to me why he had been so awful. He told me that he had been bipolar and that affected his life in a very negative way. He never sought treatment because back then, bipolar was not really talked about or recognized. We just thought he was one mean sonovabitch (pardon my language). I never knew he was bipolar...and then he asked for forgiveness. I was so overcome with emotion. I did forgive him, and then I remember waking up from surgery. It was the one thing left in my own life that needed some kind of resolution, and now I am free.” He began to tear up.
Empathetically, I also began to tear up and asked him for a tissue. “What an amazing experience! You are set free from the bitterness. What does that mean for you?”
“Well, the first thing I want to do is return to the synagogue. My faith has been restored.” He smiled and looked over at me.
“That’s a good idea...a place to give thanks and rekindle your relationship with God.”
“I’d also like to share this story with whomever will listen to me.”
“One question I have for you...do you fear death?”
“Not at all. I almost look forward to it. I have a deep peace now. I also have another brain surgery coming up, and I have no fear,” he appeared pensive.
I took his hand and thanked him for sharing this precious experience with me. “I think others would love to hear your story. It would be very encouraging.” He nodded, and I said good-bye, walking out of the room with a new appreciation of God’s work. God’s touch is so personal and unique in each person’s life!