“What should I be doing now?” I thought to myself. “What would a chaplain be doing now? How can I chaplain to this family?”
I never came up with an answer, which was probably for the best. We’ve been warned not to chaplain to family for good reason. These people weren’t precisely my family, but they were close. They were my boyfriend’s family, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
The Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula has a very nice waiting room down the hall from the intensive care unit. It is reached via a series of clean corridors and down a wide stair in a bright atrium. The atrium is tall, with the back wall patterned in white art deco squares, and contains several tables and chairs on the lower level. The sitting area is along one side, tucked cozily beneath a lowered ceiling and filled with a variety of comfortable couches and chairs done in soft beige, sea-foam green, and dark wood. Sprawled throughout the sitting area was a close-knit clan of the descendants of the woman now in ICU following open heart surgery, along with one totally unrelated Buddhist chaplain-in-training.
So what did I do? Not much. I chatted, knitted, read, napped, and played games on my phone. I held my boyfriend’s hand and patted his knee. I offered to fetch coffee or munchies. I listened to every update from the ever-rotating number of family members who went every twenty minutes or so, two at a time, to check on Grams. They relayed news from the doctors and nurses as well as personal observations and managed to keep a fairly upbeat attitude despite the circumstances.
I never did “chaplain” in even the remotest sense of that word, but I don’t feel like my presence there was wasted. I don’t know that being there helped anybody, but it certainly didn’t hurt (except maybe Chloe and Orion the cat who had to give up their bed for two nights). I just waited, like everyone else. I was there. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it’d be.