16: The Chaplain’s Prayer

16: The Chaplain’s Prayer

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

The Chaplain’s Prayer

Faith makes things possible, not easy.

~Author Unknown

My story of grief began with a phone call. The kind every mother dreads receiving. The call I found myself wishing I had never answered. The one that left me mourning for my baby boy—my son who had just turned 40.

It was still dark as I rode to work that May morning in 2008. I navigated the familiar route along Highway 40, headed for the Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala, Florida. A coworker had requested the weekend off and I was reporting to duty—prepared to work a tiring, 15-hour shift.

Arriving at the hospital, I went about business as usual. Parked my car and headed to the North Entrance. Walked a long hallway toward the kitchen. Made two left turns and arrived at my workstation. Listened to patient messages on the answering machine. Made personal menu changes for breakfast. Took a quick break. Came back to my computer and started working on lunch menus for every patient in the hospital.

In the middle of my routine, somewhere around 9:30 a.m., the outside phone line rang. On the other end was my youngest daughter, Nancy, calling from Michigan. She was crying and incoherent... and I was asking her what was wrong... and in between sobs she was trying to find a way to tell me... and I couldn’t understand what she was saying and she was spilling out the words... and I was trying to find a way to step out of the nightmare and make sense of it all.

“Mom,” she finally cried. “Michael is dead.”

What happened next was a frightening blur of events. From the phone call, to the kitchen, to the dietician’s office, I found myself screaming and out of control.

Did she say dead? I tried to grasp what was happening. I told myself to get a grip.

My only son couldn’t possibly be gone. I struggled to make sense of it all. Did she say overdose?

Staff and fellow workers rushed to my side but I was inconsolable, confused, refusing to believe what I had heard, and yet the truth was slowly seeping into my soul. Two employees from the kitchen, concerned over my hysteria, insisted on taking me downstairs to the emergency room. To wait until I calmed down. To wait until a relative arrived. To wait until I could face reality. They called for a doctor and hovered near, offering words of comfort.

Later, as I sat in the ER—just waiting—without friend or family, without a hope in the world, without any way of knowing how I could possibly survive, I reached back in time to the God of my childhood and offered up a painful and desperate prayer.

I can’t do this alone. I need Your help.

The chaplain on call that day was of the Catholic faith, casually dressed and soft spoken. Summoned to wait with me, he took me into a side room where we could be alone. He listened with genuine concern as I wept and told him—as best I could—about my only son, his overnight stay at his sister’s house, his accidental overdose, his last hours before bedtime, and his silent death while everyone else was sleeping.

The chaplain reached out to take my hands. “May I pray with you?” he asked. I nodded, surrendering to the sorrow.

“Do you understand that we pray to Mary?”

“That’s fine,” I whispered.

The chaplain paused. “You know,” he said, “Mary, too, lost a son.”

And with that uncomplicated truth, my heartbreaking journey to recovery began.

I bowed my head and listened to the chaplain’s prayer, amazed that God had sent help so quickly. That He had heard my insufficient plea for mercy and through the words of a total stranger, had reminded me of the suffering Mary must have endured, losing a son so young.

For two years, my rugged, mountainous road to recovery has been an uphill march. I continue to mourn my son’s short life, but step by step, I find new comfort and strength knowing I am not alone. Knowing that another mother marched uphill, too, with a broken heart.

Each morning my cross seems easier to bear, and often when I pray, or meditate, or lift the cup, I embrace the chaplain’s words, “Mary, too, lost a son.” And I am comforted.

~Brenda Dawson as told to Charlotte A. Lanham

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