Hospital Chaplain Sees Grief, Joy

May Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.  Rule of Benedict

“I killed my mother,” Jenny* sobbed. Sr. Helen Carey, OSB, remembers standing next to the distraught woman as she wept on a gurney in the emergency  room. She was being examined for the neck injuries she had sustained in the car accident that had killed her mother. Sr. Helen, a hospital chaplain, had been called in to help.

   “Jenny had been helping her mom care for her ailing father,” Sr. Helen says. “She and her mom had decided to take a break and go shopping. Apparently, Jenny had glanced away for a moment and had rear-ended another vehicle. Jenny’s injuries didn’t turn out to be serious, but her heart was broken. She wanted to die.”

   Emergency room experiences are often wrenching, but the drama in any hospital room can be as emotional.

   “You can’t help but pray your way down the halls,” Sr. Helen says. “You pray with patients and their families. You pray for people you don't know. You try to be a good listener. It’s been a real blessing for me, because it’s helped me get out of my head and into my heart.

   “There are sad times, of course - like when someone is dying and afraid, or in despair because of a problem in the family - but there are joyful times, too,” Sr. Helen continues. “Whenever the hospital plays a lullaby over the loudspeaker, it means a baby has been born. It reminds us there is always life and celebration.”

   But gratitude is the emotion Sr. Helen most often mentions. “You feel grateful when your presence helps people come to peace,” she says, and offers an example.

   “Several years ago, I was called to the emergency room for a baby’s death,” Sr. Helen explains. “The mother was hysterical and lashing out. All I could do was pray. Then, a couple of weeks ago, she came to visit me. She said, ‘Today would have been my daughter’s birthday. I want to ask you to forgive me for how terribly I treated you when she died. I was so angry.’

   “We embraced and she told me  how prayer had gotten her through that time. Being a Sister helps people talk to me, to open up and not censor their hearts. They share things they might otherwise feel inhibited about sharing. It’s a tribute to Sisters that patients feel that sense of security.”

   Jenny, too, found peace. “Since Jenny was from out of town, friends of her parents came to the ER to get her,” Sr. Helen says. “They took her back to her dad’s house, to tell him. Her husband and pastor came. They surrounded her with love. I got a beautiful letter from her at Christmas. She said that through prayer she had been able to forgive herself. She thanked me for my prayers and support. You never forget something like that. That’s when you know you’re doing what God wants you to do.”

*Jenny is not her real name.