by Ralen M. Robinson
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
The sun slowly crept into the room as I held her frail bony hand, pierced with needles and festooned with tubes. As the light cascaded into the sterile, impersonal room, it highlighted her sunken face. I peered into her half-closed eyes as low murmurs, beeping machines, and soft weeping filled the air. I tightened my clasp as my prayer joined the sorrowful hospital orchestra.
For a year, I had held grieving women and men as they cried out for their loved ones to come back. I had held weak hands that grew cold as life slipped away. For a year, I had shuttled between hospital bedsides and the family consultation room, accompanying people as they transitioned into death, as they grieved the loss of a loved one, and as they encountered the true darkness of the world, perhaps for the first time.
This past year, I walked the hospital halls as a chaplain for a major hospital in the inner city. I saw brokenness consume families and witnessed grief so overwhelming that it took my breath away. I walked with people as they experienced the most devastating moments of their lives, moments that left them only a fragile shell.
Early one morning – or was it late one night? – I was called to accompany two young adults who were losing both their parents to their father’s violence. That morning, I sat with the brother and sister as they held their dying mother’s bloodstained hands.
The young woman, through tears, said goodbye to her mother. She would have to finish growing up without her mother’s guidance. Her brother was filled with rage at his father’s unimaginable act. I sat with these children and saw them became parentless young adults in this broken grim world.
I had no words to console them. Words were so inadequate. The usual cliché phrases like “You will get through this” or “She is in a better place” would not, could not possibly suffice. In this moment, as sorrow and anger and horror choked the people around me, words seemed obsolete.
There are times in life when we confront real devastation and brokenness, times that are so hard that we cannot see the light. But even then, even through the most difficult times, God is still with us. God is that much more present with us as the light that holds back pitch-black despair.
I learned that for us mere human beings, simply being present and holding people in their grief is all that is needed. There are no right words to say, no quick fixes. Words cannot ease the pain that can overtake someone so completely that life seems like a dim light. It is in these dark and sorrowful times that, through silence, people can simply be. No one has to name it or express how it feels – people can just feel. People can let the diagnosis sink in. Silent moments are imperative for people to face the horror, experience the sorrow, and begin to heal. Death is beyond our human understanding. People need wordless moments to grasp that.
This past year, I silently walked with parents as their children’s lives were cut short, with people as they were told that their cancer has come back, or that their time on this earth would come to a far too early end. The hospital houses the sick, the lost, and the despairing. Yet, within these walls, God brings comfort, strength, and solace. As chaplain, I stumble, cry, and joyously witness the brokenness of the world. The hospital is a holy place, and there I find and experience the beauty of sacred, wordless moments.
Ralen Robinson is a seminarian at United Lutheran Seminary at Philadelphia seeking a call to be an ordained minister. She will be going off on her Internship year this fall at The Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion in Center City, Philadelphia. Ralen believes her faith and a good pair of shoes can take you a long way.
I’m Am So Very Proud Of You Ralen I’m So Blessed To Call You My Niece Continue To Do Gods Work That He Has Called You To Do Blessings To You Always I Love ❤️ You Always Aunt Debbie
Well done, Chaplain. I agree, wordless moments are at times more powerful than words. Thank you for the reminder of how the hospital is a sacred place.
I know that if I had been given the choice to serve as a hospital chaplain or not during my first summer of seminary I would probably have said – no thanks. But I am eternally grateful that the church required me to experience chaplaincy. Ralen – you learned exactly what chaplaincy is designed to teach us. And you are right – your faith and a good pair of shoes will take you a long way. Many blessings.
Beautifully written Ralen, you are wise beyond your years. In times of sadness, a caring presence is needed – and remembered, and you’re right, no words are needed. I will always remember the people who came to be with me at these times – pastors, friends, neighbors, church family. They came. They sat. They hugged. That’s what I remember, their presence . . . not their words. You will be a wonderful pastor!
Wonderful article. You have done whAt is needed at the time of death. Best wishes as you enter your intern year.
Ralen, I do not know you, but KNOW your work is a testament to God’s will for you. Selfishly, I hope that when God calls ME home, you just happen to be on your way through Iowa and stop at my bedside to offer your gifts for the grieving. Gratefully and with admiration for your myriad gifts, Shelly
Beautiful! My daughter had the same thoughts after the tragic death many years ago of my eldest daughter.. she returned to her college and told me that the most comforting times were when one of her roommates sat silently with her. Guess that silence enables us to hear God.
We are much stronger together than apart, this is most certainly true. To share in the solidarity of human life, words can guide us or get in our way. Your words are a wonderful, soft light on the path of life.