The sounds of an emergency room are unmistakable. The swift footsteps of nurses as they hurry into a room. Machines beeping an urgent rhythm as they track heartbeat, pressure, and the flow of medicines. Doctors issuing orders. And all the while, loved ones endure an anguished wait.
As a volunteer chaplain at our local hospital, I am on-call for a weekend every month so that our hard-working chaplain can take a much-needed break. When a call comes in, I know it will be urgent. Often it is a family requesting a priest who can administer last rites. I used to explain to the nurse on the phone that I was not a priest and therefore was no in position to offer Catholic sacraments. But over the years I have learned that most people yearn for any assurance that God is with them in a time of crisis. Even when the person delivering that assurance is a female Protestant minister.
Early in the morning, I huddled with a family, separated from their loved one only by a thin floor to ceiling curtain. We could hear the effort that was being put in to save this particular life. Calm but urgent voices counted CPR beats as carts were wheeled in to supply additional support.
And then – silence. Talking stopped. Machines were turned off. The hurried steps of these brave first responders ceased. The curtain was drawn back and the dreaded sentence was spoken, “I’m sorry; we did everything we could.”
That’s when grace enters in. Suddenly these strangers became the first comforters. Nurses came to offer hugs. Doctors stopped to offer condolences. The ambulance driver brought in chairs so the overwhelmed family could rest. Someone offered coffee, another brought in a pitcher of water. This was compassion brought to life.
Names were not necessary. In that moment kindness ruled. Everyone was aware that this was someone’s mother. Someone who had made breakfasts for decades and worried when her children came home late. Someone who played cards with neighbors and was always ready to offer a cup of coffee and a listening ear.
And now she was gone. Just like that. With no warning.
Tears ran down cheeks of people who may not have even known her name. Strangers gave hugs. And the family received comfort.
Living kindness and offering compassion is what we are called to do as human beings. The need for love is greater than all that divides us. Thoughts of which political figure was supported or disdained disappeared. We were just people together, confronting the fragility of life.
In that moment of life and death, love prevailed. Compassion, care and comfort were freely given.
It reminded me of how we are meant to live – with the ability to care for our brothers and sisters around us. Even the ones we may not know.
9 thoughts on “Hugs from strangers”
Thank you, Sue! You are blessed to be a blessing and such scenes are privileges reserved for the likes of you…..
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Sue, How fortunate for the family of this woman you write about, that you were there. I recall how much you helped Joyce when Charlie passed away and you came to the hospital. I didn’t know you then but I know you now! You have no trouble giving hugs and comfort to strangers! When Ron had a heart attack in 2001, he was readied to go to UMass in a helicopter. I was given a phone, a drink, and lots of help. As I went to the parking lot, to see Ron to the helicopter, a woman approached me and asked if she could help me. I never saw her again but wish I could. Not awfully long ago when Ron spent time at Hubbard rehab, , a young black male nurse from Jamaica said, he is going down and you and I are getting him to the emergency room. He was right and he never left us as he cared for us until the ambulance came. I think about him a lot. There have been many trips to the emergency room for us as you know. After reading your new post, I will be so much more aware of all the kindnesses from strangers that we have received for there have been many. Thanks Sue. I know your job is not easy on you. Love, Dottie Sent from my iPad
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Thank you Dottie. I love your story of compassion and caring – it is those moments of human kindness that can see us through the challenging times in our lives. Thanks for sharing.
Dear Sue…About 40 years ago, I was sitting alone in an empty church sobbing my heart out. What felt like an eternity was more than likely a half hour. I felt self conscious that I was sobbing so uncontrollably loud in a place of worship. But it was my refuge. When I was drained of tears for the time being, a hand touched my shoulder. It was the hand of a stranger , a woman I had never seen before. Apparently she had been sitting in the back of the church and had witnessed my grief first hand. She said, ” I don’t know what has broken your heart so terribly, but I will pray that you will find peace. ” So here I am, 40 years later, peaceful, and forever thankful for the kind words of a stranger. As you have said so many times, Sue….you never know what an impact you might have. I just wanted to share this with you. Sent from my iPad
Thank you so much, Marjorie. What a lovely story. And it says so much that after 40 years, the memory is still so fresh and powerful. It is good encouragement to try to do what we can, wherever we are.
Another fine post. I’m always so impressed by the way you can make your words so universal and so personal all at once. Those moments of grace and kindness are indeed unifying human experiences. When life seems jolly and fun and full, it’s easy for compassion to go underground. It’s good to be reminded how important and even lifesaving an open and understanding presence can be. Your hospital is lucky to have you as an on-call chaplain.
Thank you, Carol. It is a humbling experience to be called in: it is a gift to spend such precious moments with families.
Wow! This one needed a tissue alert! I’m brought back to hospital scenes such as this when life was in its most delicate state, and strangers among us were certainly angels. Thru your example I have been courageous enough to put forth that gentle touch, hug, or just a common smile to help someone get thru a difficult moment. But those strangers, angels, heart friends are such a blessing. And YOU, my dearest female protestant pastor, are a precious Angel and gift from God!
Thank you, Lisa, for your kind words. Your compassion and caring are gifts to everyone you meet.