I retired from active hospital chaplaincy in January of this year (2022). Even as time distances me out of the loop, there are some memories that I will always keep deep within my heart. As a healthcare chaplain, I was often faced with challenging yet beautiful situations where I saw God at work. It was not uncommon that at least once or twice on a particular day, I would walk away from a patient’s room filled with the awareness of God’s presence.
On such a day, I walked into a room in the Intensive Care Unit to check on a mother whose youngest son had been shot days before as he attempted a robbery at a convenience store. Unfortunately, he pointed a gun at a police officer and was fatally injured before he could kill others.
His mother was sitting in a chair resting. I approached her quietly. She looked up and noticed my chaplain badge. “Hi, Chaplain.” I sat down beside her. “How is your son doing?” I asked.
“We were told today that he is officially brain dead.” Unexpectedly, she appeared peaceful.
“I am so sorry,” I pulled up closer to her.
“He is really a good boy, a good young man. He just got mixed up with the wrong crowd. He just came out as gay and was seeing an older man. He was with this man when he tried to rob the store. And do you know what this man said to the policeman? He said that my son was trying to steal his car!” She shook her head. “I tried to warn him, but he just couldn't pull away. We even sat down together Sunday evening and watched a sermon on TV. He told me that he was born again.” She spoke quietly with a peaceful undertone.
I had a difficult time believing that she was so unaffected. “Denai, have you taken time to cry?”
“Oh, yes. I cried my eyes out until they were swollen, but God has given me peace about this. I decided that I want to donate his organs. I think he would want that. At least something good can come of this.” She smiled.
I took her by the hand. “You are a brave woman.”
I went over to see her son. What a handsome young man. What a tragedy. Tears welled up in my eyes as I said a silent prayer over him.
“You know, Chaplain, he was just hospitalized last weekend and diagnosed with schizophrenia.” I silently wondered how she could bear all of this. “I have another son, Dejuan. He’s here and should be coming up soon.”
Shortly after she shared all of this with me, a young man entered the room. Another handsome young man with dreadlocks down to his waist. Mom introduced me to her older son. “Dejuan, this is Chaplain Pat.”
He began to cry and then to cry out. “This is my little brother! How could this happen to him? He was shot by the police!” His sobs filled the room, magnified by the silence, as a punctuation mark to the dull whoosh of the ventilator.
Denai got up to leave. “I’m going down to the waiting room to see if my relatives have come yet. Since we decided to do organ donation, they want to say good-bye today.”
She quietly left the room. Dejuan sat down next to me. “This was never supposed to happen! Policemen and black men--you know the history! But he did have a gun, and he was pointing it at the policeman.”
“You are realizing the danger that he put others in.”
“Yeah, I am, but why did he have to do it? He just wasn’t like that. He was confused.”
“Your mom shared with me some of the things he has been through. That’s quite a lot for a young man to handle.”
His tears caught up with him once again. He leaned over, his arms resting on his legs, and he began to sob once again. I placed my hand on his back. When he finished crying, he looked up at me. Our eyes connected, and something very special passed between us. A young black man and an older white woman.
He left the room as his mother returned. The Gift of Life representative came in and sat down beside her. “Would you like me to leave?” I asked.
“Oh, no, please stay.” I listened to the process undertaken to secure his healthy organs, organs that would save at least two to three lives, perhaps allowing someone to see again or obtain grafting tissue to assist healing.
The representative finished and left the room. Denai sat back in her chair. We were silent together, the pressure of the vent pushing and releasing in the background. “You know,” Danai finally said, “not too long ago, I had a chance to go to the Holy Land. It changed my life. Walking where Jesus walked has given me courage for this.”
“I’m so glad you had that opportunity...almost as if God knew what was coming and gave you what you needed.”
“Yes. I think you’re right.” She sighed. “I never imagined that I would be going through this.” The silence once again wrapped itself around us.
“Would you like me to go down to the waiting room and check up on your relatives?”
“That would be great! Thank you!” I walked out and down the hall to the elevator. When I got off on the first floor, I checked in at the security desk. The receptionist pointed to a blocked off area. She knew what I was there for.
When I entered the private area, there were three women sitting around talking quietly. I introduced myself and then checked in with each of them to see how they were handling this tragedy. Because it had been a few days since the shooting, they seemed relatively calm. The strong emotions had dwindled to sighs and the sharing of thoughts about losing their loved one.
After a few moments, I decided to go back up to the room. Denai had been standing by the bed. Dejuan was sitting off to the side. When I came into the room, he looked up at me, stood, and without missing a beat, he threw his arms around me. “I am so glad that you spent time with me! I just needed to talk it out, you know.” He was whispering this in my ear.
Something very special happened in that room that day. There has been so much turmoil over the past few years. Racial tension has ripped apart our nation. I do see that there has been some progress, and I hope it continues. But on this day, in this room, we were one. We crossed the barriers. In fact, there were no barriers. The Spirit of God was present and ministered to all of us, giving each of us what we needed and binding our hearts together. I will never forget that magic moment when Dejuan hugged me! So many speak of reconciliation. God gave us the gift of experiencing it!
Read more stories like this one in Listening for Life: Cultivating the Courage to Connect. It is available on Amazon, and if you do read it, please leave a review. Thank you!