Published on April 7, 2023
Alive chaplains bring comfort, spiritual support and companionship to the patients and families in our care. They don’t promote any ideology or a particular faith, but rather, they will meet you where you are and provide the resources most helpful to you. That could be as simple as sharing a song or as involved as finding a local faith leader to perform a desired ceremony.
Chaplain Deborah Lynn shares a few moments with a patient that moved her recently.
Presence and the Internal iPod
This patient was alone in his ICU room, mid 60’s and dying from cancer. His closest relative lived too far away to get to the hospital.
I introduced myself as a member of his hospice team, wanting to check on him to see how he was doing. He seemed like a quiet, stoic kind of man. Noticing a rose and hearts tattoo on his arm, I asked him to tell me about it. He looked at me, smiling a little and said, “It’s old now. It doesn’t matter.”
“Well, it’s still pretty,” I replied. “And speaking of pretty, it is a beautiful, sunny and almost warm day. If you were not in a hospital bed, where would you like to be?”
“The river is my favorite place. I’d like to be fishing, “ he said.
“Which river is that?” I wondered as TN is full of rivers and creeks and lakes.
“The Elk River. That’s near my home.”
I let silence flow between us for a few minutes. Silence is an important part of visits. It gives folks a chance to breathe, to remember, and to rest as dying is hard work.
In the silence, a song came to mind from my “internal iPod.” I brushed it aside, yet the lines felt relevant. “I wanna lay my bones down in the water, I wanna lay my body down on the earth. I wanna lay my bones down in the water, I wanna lay my body down on the earth. Lean in, Lean in, Lean into the River. Lean in, Lean in, Lean into the River.” (Starling Arrow)
Breaking the silence, I asked if I could sing a song about a river that keeps coming to my mind. He said yes, and I sang the song to him. Then I asked him who his favorite musician was. To my delight and surprise, he said, “John Denver.”
He began talking about the death of John Denver, wondering if it was suicide and how he cried when he heard the news. When asked what his favorite song was, he replied, “Rocky Mountain High.”
“I have that song on my phone, would you like to hear it?”
He nodded. The old familiar guitar notes began, and he closed his eyes, and a look of peace that spread across his face, softening, for a moment, his appearance.
“Thank you,” he said when the song was over. His O2 count had lowered, and the nurse came in to check on him, encouraging him to breathe through his nose.
Recognizing he seemed tired, I thanked him for allowing me to visit and asked if he would like me to come back. “Anytime,” he said.
Our next visit will be in spirit, though, as he died the next morning. I’m hoping that the memories of the Elk River, along with the strums of John Denver tunes, carried him on to his next adventure.
Fare thee well, “Mother Nature’s Son”.