O. Kris Widmer
This journal entry is to record a confirmation of my new call to Chaplain ministry. I want it written down and printed out…and blogged and Face Booked too…so it will remind me in the doubts that may eventually come my way.
I want to tell you of the amazing heavenly “signs” of affirmation that happened over the weekend. There are times we have all asked for signs and not received them. There are times we have asked for a heaven sent sign and received them. This time, I didn’t ask for a sign…but got two of them anyway. (God is like that, you know. Gracious.)
After I had made the decision to transition to chaplain and told my local Adventist conference leaders and the church head elder…but before announcing it at the church board meeting…God sent me these two heavenly affirmations.
Sign #1 - On the Sabbath. Remember Jesus’ quote “My Father is working and I am working.” Well it was true on this past Sabbath day. God was working in the details of my life.
Saturday morning at 6:55 a.m. the phone rings. It’s the Sheriff’s office, asking me as a volunteer chaplain to go to a nearby town to visit a woman. I dressed quickly and headed out the door for the 25 min drive. (I’ll share the story from my written report, changing the names to initials)
As I approached the neighborhood, I saw an ambulance driving the opposite way with lights and siren. I didn’t think anything of it, for I was on my way to a fatality. As I drove on, I passed 3 Sheriff vehicles driving in a convoy the opposite way. I assumed they had left this call, knowing a chaplain was in route.
I arrived at the home and checked in with the officer who briefed me about the situation. I learned that the ambulance I passed was indeed transporting the victim to a local hospital. He had a very occasional pulse, but it was very likely that he would not survive. She mentioned that the family is very faithfully Catholic, as evidenced by the art and photos in the residence.
She took me into the house where I met FP, the wife of the victim. FP had one other person in the home, G, a neighbor.
Both G and I tried to get FP to sit down for a while…but she said she couldn’t sit. She was too agitated. Beside the floor needed to be mopped up from her husband’s vomit. (She was mopping, and wringing out the mop in the kitchen sink.) All that was left was to move the refrigerator, and clean underneath it.
So I took off my coat and took on the mopping chore. I found a bucket and put a few drops of bleach in it as a mop solution, for no other cleaning product could be located quickly. I pulled out the refrigerator and continued to mop up the black (blood) vomit of her husband. (Hey…it’s what this chaplain does.)
She was very appreciative of my taking over this task but would not sit down.
As I mopped, FP talked. She said JP (husband) had had a cold and cough for the past week, but it didn’t seem to be serious. But Friday night, he’d been up most of the night, not feeling well. She found him on the floor having vomited up black/white vomitus.
JP and FP had matching plaques on the wall in recognition of their volunteer chaplain work at a local hospital as Eucharist ministers. And I learned that G, their neighbor was a retired minister and hospice chaplain. So I remarked how God had brought 3 chaplains into the house and two to minister to her at this moment of need.
FP said that she and her husband had 7 children (including one set of twins) and that God had brought a double birth into their home because of the death of an infant son years ago. As we didn’t know if JP would live or die, at one point she said “JP is greeting his baby boy in heaven.” This was a comforting thought to her.
She also lamented that next week their grandson and great-grandchildren are coming from Florida for a visit. “And now they won’t be seeing JP,” she said.
At 8:09 a.m., A, her daughter from Berkley, arrived. Shortly after that, her husband C arrived in a separate vehicle. Shortly after they arrived, G the neighbor left.
As family was now present and they were planning on heading over the hospital to check on JP; and as I had church services to tend to starting at 9:00 a.m. myself I needed to leave. I had a prayer with them and left their home at 8:25 a.m.
(I just checked the local obituaries…and indeed JP did pass away that morning.)
I got to the church at 9:00, still in my chaplain shirt and credential…and got started on the morning meetings: Prayer, Sabbath School Class done in my chaplain clothes. Church conducted in my new Punjabi suit. – our photo report on India. Debbie and I went home for lunch and rested, as we are still recovering from “jet lag.”
Sign #2 – I know the Sabbath is over…but it’s still Saturday. I’m in bed, sleeping. At 10:55. the phone rings. It’s the Sheriff’s office, asking me again to serve as a chaplain. I dressed quickly and headed out the door for the 38 mile drive. (As before here is the story…longer than the first…with the details, copied from my written report.)
I arrived on the scene (ER Waiting Room) and identified myself to the officer. He introduced me to the 3 family members that were present: AM, widow of the decedent, SM, their daughter and H, their granddaughter, who is pregnant. I learn AM has two other children: A son, RM and a daughter RM. They have other grandchildren and one great grand-daughter, age 1.
AM told me the story of how she and her husband had attended a Police Charity Ball event that evening. They have been faithful in attendance at this event since 1983. Mr. M had expressed that he wasn’t feeling well, but they attended the gala event anyway. She said “On the way out to the car, he was walking like he was drunk – but he had only had one glass of wine, with dinner.”
He had unlocked the car with his key-fob, and she got into the passenger seat. Now he didn’t join her in the car, as He had collapsed beside a nearby car. She found him on the ground, unresponsive, with a laceration over his right eye. She called for help from others in the parking lot and 911 was called. She said that 2 other men came and adjusted his neck for a clear airway and that they did chest compressions, until EMT’s arrived.
He was transported to this Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
Mr. M was a diabetic, had COPD (with oxygen being recently delivered to the house) and was being prepped for dialysis therapy. An access fistula had already been constructed in his arm.
While listening to AM tell the story, 3 times she said “Well, at least his last evening was a happy one. Good food. We were out on the town.”
I spoke to Officer H and mentioned how the chaplain service worked through the Sheriff Department and that one of the purposes was to free him to return to patrol. He said he was off-duty at 1:00 a.m.
At 12:20 a.m., 5 other family member and 1 close friend arrived. So now there were 9 family members in the waiting room.
At their arrival, Officer H excused himself and the family and I said our good byes.
At 12:30 a.m., Nurse N came out with Mr. M’s personal items in a bag and gave us two pieces of information. (1) The coroner’s office had released his body (2) The Neptune Society (here after abbreviated as NS) (the family’s pre-need choice of mortuary services) had been called and would be coming in the next 2 hours to take his body into their care.
I thought it would be a good time for the family that arrived to see their father, for I believed the NS provides no viewing options at a later date.
At 12:35 a.m., I escort Mrs. M back to her husband’s body for her to have a private moment with her husband, while Nurse N retrieves two additional personal items: a gold neck chain and a ring from his Right hand. Then we came out to the waiting room and brought the rest of the family back to have their moments with the body of their father/grandfather. A granddaughter was particularly tearful as she said “He won’t be able to attend my graduation (from college) this year.” Everyone was out of the room by 12:50 a.m., and we were back in the waiting room.
The family said TO ME they wanted to wait for the NS and be present when his body left the hospital, to “walk him out to the van.” So we waited, while I watched my wrist watch.
During this time I listened and learned:
· Mr. M was an immigrant from Holland. During WWII, he had been in Europe as a young man. During his childhood, his aptitude test recommended he become a doctor or a lawyer…but there was no schooling opportunity. So, he made a career in real estate. He had tried to retire twice, but was still working; assisted by one of his daughters.
· Mr. M was a world traveler. He had been to every continent of the world, stepping foot on Antarctica just last year. Mr. and Mrs. M had also taken an around the world cruise together, and were marooned by a storm for day and a night on the Falkland Islands while the cruise ship left port for the safety of calmer waters elsewhere. He had been to Russia, China, Mongolia and Egypt – and he had even told stories of his adventures while at the dinner table that night.
· Mr. M had recently told his wife he has lost 20 pounds in weight.
· Mr. and Mrs. M had just had their 58th wedding anniversary February 28.
· Mrs. M asked if DL was the coroner. I explained that he was the elected Sheriff official, but there was a large crew of deputies underneath his leadership.
· Mr. M had a “conceal and carry permit” for a gun. But Mrs. M had disclosed this to the officer and he had secured the firearm, and they had a phone number to arrange for retrieving it later.
· The family discussed who would drive “Mom” home and who would pick up the car from the parking lot of the banquet.
Critical Moment at End of Visit
So still we waited.
I assumed the NS Personnel would enter through the ER entrance, so there was no possible way we’d miss them. I had spoken to ER Reception Staff and they knew we were waiting for them. We expected them to be there by 2:30 a.m. at the latest. (Their initial ETA) At about 2:05 I spoke to ER Reception and they said they had called the NS staff and they were “minutes away” “Good,” I told the family, “they will be here shortly.”
In truth, I had thought to leave at this point. But a daughter and then a son at different times expressed appreciation for me sitting with them while they waited. So I stayed.
And we waited. Another 35 minutes.
At 2:45 a.m. I went up to ER reception again. “Can you check on the NS again?” They called. I got the number from a NS card that Mrs. M had in her purse. After being on the phone for 20 minutes, I learned from one NS office that their records showed he had already been picked up! It is now about 3:15 a.m.
I asked to come behind the ER security door and speak to reception. I told them what I learned. They were clueless. So I walked back to the room where Mr. M’s body had been at 12:30…and indeed he was GONE. ER staff said that the NS staff had come in the ambulance entry and the nurse there had thought the family had left. NO ONE CAME OUT TO THE WAITING ROOM TO CHECK ON US! The NS had arrived about the same time as a new critical case…and the ER staff had scrambled to his aid.
In reality…they had “been there shortly”…and had come and gone – without the waiting family knowing it or being told they had come through another door.
They had come in and out…and hospital records had the body removal at 2:15 a.m., while we were all in the waiting room…waiting.
I told the ER staff that they owed the family an apology and that their internal communication left something GREATLY to be desired. (Where was the hospital chaplain anyway! I never saw one! Perhaps the Hospital doesn’t employ one at that that facility. I have questions without answers.)
The female nurse and the ER supervisor came out and apologized to the family…and that was a new small loss in the face of the large loss of the death of Mr. M. His son was the most upset.
Apology made, I gathered the family for a few more moments and explained as best I could what happened.
I gathered them together and they were agreeable to a prayer, so we had a prayer circle, then hugs all around…and then the family departed.
I went back to the ER reception and had a few more choice words for them. I explained to them that I felt they had let this family down in their service of their emotional needs. They were the ones who knew the family was waiting. They had been looking at us for 2.5 hours, while other patients came and registered and were taken in for treatment.
Learning Lesson: When waiting for body removal to a mortuary or the NS particularly – have someone remain with the body until they get there. This would have prevented this sour end to an otherwise positive few hours of initial grief following this death in their family.
So…if you’re still with me at this point…thanks for reading to the end.
God’s sign was simply this. In the previous 4-5 years I’ve only had 2-3 callouts for the sheriff department. And on this Sabbath….3/18/17…a day in the middle of my announcements of my transition from pastoral ministry to chaplain ministry…God arranged for me to have 2 the same day.
It was as if God was saying to me “CHAPLAIN WIDMER…you have made the right choice and the right time. I will bless you and make you a blessing. I have used you in pastoral work…and now I am sending you into a new line of work.” Like the remaining of Abram and Sarai and Jacob…it was as if God was saying “You shall no longer be called Pastor…now from hence forth, you shall be called Chaplain. I am the Lord your God!”
At least that is how I viewed the events of the weekend. So there you have it. Divine Signs.
O. Kris Widmer