An elderly woman went into cardiac arrest on one of our patient floors and the staff were not able to revive her. The family asked for a chaplain to come and be with them and I was sent to the floor in response to their request. As I sat in a respite room with a daughter, a granddaughter, and a brother of the deceased lady the daughter and granddaughter were crying. Before I could engage in some conversation with the family one of the doctors on the team came in. She took the hands of the daughter in her hands and she said, “Your mother did not suffer. She went quickly. You don’t have to worry that she went through a lot of pain. If there is anything else that we can do to help you let us know.” Then the doctor got up and left the room.
I sat there for a moment and then I began to visit with the family members. The daughter told me that she had just flown in to Milwaukee this very morning. She said, “I called my mother from the airport in Atlanta where I was changing planes. She told me not to worry. I should take my time and not hurry. She told me she loved me. When I finally got here to the hospital I was fifteen minutes too late to see her. She was already gone.”
The granddaughter told me that she lived in Madison. She was going to school. She was a very busy young lady with all of her studies and social activities that she had going on. But she cried as she thought about her grandmother and she said, “I wish I would have spent more time with her. She was such a wonderful woman. She was so kind and wise and I could have learned so many things from her if I could have been with her more.”
The brother wasn’t shedding any tears but he talked about a gathering the two of them had been to in the past month and how good it had been for the two of them to be at this gathering and how much fun they had together at that event.
As I heard these words it struck me how important it is to allow people to say what is on their hearts so we know what their tears mean. The doctor assumed that the family was upset at the thought that their loved one might have suffered pain in her last moments and she wanted to assure them that this was not the case. What the daughter’s words told me was that she was crying about the inability to have one more conversation with her mother. She wanted to be able to tell her mother one more time how much she loved her. She wanted to hear one more time how much her mother loved her. Her tears were her expression of her regret and her pain of experiencing that reality that death separates us from our loved ones.
Her granddaughter’s words told me that her tears were a recognition that she could have chosen to see her grandmother more frequently if she had rearranged her priorities. She was sorry she hadn’t put seeing her grandmother higher on her list of things to do. She was learning a life lesson that we can’t always assume that grandma will always be there when we want to go to see her.
So when you see someone in tears and your first response is to say something that will make them feel better and help them stop crying, the first thing you want to do is to stop yourself. Stop yourself from thinking you know why this person is crying because you may have no clue why they are crying. Stop yourself from thinking your job is to make them stop crying. Stop yourself from thinking you need to fix this and make it all better. Enter into the space where the tears are being shed. Allow time for the tears to flow and then for the words to flow that will come after the tears cease. Then you will know why that person is crying. Allow them time to express their regrets and their guilt and their anger at themselves and then help them to see that they didn’t only make some mistakes, they also had a wonderful relationship with this person. They were blessed by this person and they were a blessing to this person so their regrets can be tempered by joy as well as sorrow.
I want to end this post by saying that I recently attended a workshop on the subject of confidentiality and I have come to the conclusion I should be careful in sharing stories of patients that I meet. Even though I haven’t revealed names there is still the possibility that someone might be able to figure out whom I’m talking about. Therefore I am going to stop sharing stories in the interest of protecting people’s privacy. I may share some thoughts on occasion when confidentiality is not an issue. If you, my readers, have some ideas please let me know of how we might proceed. If you have questions about life that you are pondering that we might ponder together I would be happy to respond to those so let’s see where you want to go from here. In the meantime thank you for reading my blogs. I hope you gained some helpful things from reading them.