So far, I am not in the hospital as a patient or provider. I have no symptoms of COVID, and as far as I know, have not been exposed. I’m hopeful my outcome isn't death but life.
Living each day, I find myself keenly aware of how fortunate I am as well as how "prepared" I feel. I confess, I routinely have a large supply of toilet paper on-hand - a relic of my mom's stockpiling, itself a relic of her parents' depression-era habits. But the toilet paper situation is actually not the preparedness I have in mind.
Experiences I had as a chaplain have surfaced in my wandering thoughts. For a year at Hopkins, I made daily rounds in the cardiac intensive care units. Within many rooms, I felt awestruck and not infrequently disturbed to see the sophistication and variety of machines - and the fragility of life. Even after 50 or 100 times, I could feel gut-punched again. It was hard.
Softness came as I grieved with families. I remember being with a Latinx family in an unusually large, sealed-off room with multiple complex machines doing all of the work otherwise done by a human being's internal systems. The family and I slowly paced around mom who lay in her bed unresponsive, as if we were walking a labyrinth, until the family let go.
In general, I'm a person who appears calm. In my years of chaplaincy in hosptials and then in home hospice, a different kind of calm sustained me.
Calm made herself available in moments of anguish, heartache, and pain ... moments sublime, surreal, and senseless ... moments of intensity and uncertainty ... moments filled with waiting, rushing, and pressure ... moment after moment for every code called and attended. There was Calm.
As a hospice chaplain and as a daughter, I have held hands of fellow human beings as they've exhaled their last breath and shed their last tear. The veil between life and death has seemed exquisitely thin in so many moments I've been privileged to share .... These moments have felt sacramental.
NICU nurses used chaplains especially well. One night that felt, itself, like a hazy, waking dream, I was called to be with a mom who had just lost her tiny child. She held her baby in her arms, in her own hospital bed, wheeled-in from her room into the middle of the NICU itself. I felt the love of all the sleeping babies and all the staff who surrounded this duo as I prayed.
In a similarly quiet but private moment with parents in a hospital room barely big enough for the three of us, mom and dad asked me to baptize their baby. At first, I didn't understand. Mom was fully pregnant, but she and dad seemed stricken. They tearfully explained their child had died - and they were to deliver him later that day. Laying my hands on mom's belly brought me up close and personal with the finest edges of life and death.
For all my "preparedness," whenever my own end occurs, it will be something for which I imagine I will feel unprepared. I'm actually afraid of being alone at the end; and yet, in some ways, each one of us will be alone, even if accompanied. What I've noticed is that we enter and exit life on our own terms and in our own ways. Maybe we feel life's finest edges even now, within ourselves.