The Family in the Lobby at 2AM

Hospitals look and sound different at 2:00 in the morning than they do at 2:00 in the afternoon.  While the patient floors might be just as busy at both times, the public areas tend to quiet down or even clear out over night.  Lobbies and waiting areas are generally empty or maybe have a few people sleeping quietly.

I was really surprised, then, to find a rather large group of people not only awake but perky and joking as I made my way around the hospital nearing 2:00 on Saturday morning.  I stopped to talk to the group, telling them this was an unusual sight for me.  Their response?  “We’re an unusual bunch!”  I chatted with them for a while, and before I moved on they asked me to keep in prayer their family member.  I promised to do that, and to check on them when I could.

The family was there once again in the early hours of Sunday morning, and we spent more time joking and laughing.  I talked with them each time I passed by on my way here and there. 

This morning, I checked in with the nurse in charge of their family member.  I was surprised to learn how grave the situation was for the patient, and that a date and time had been set.  You get my gist.

As I went out into the lobby, knowing the family would be there, I debated trying to take a more serious approach with them.  Serious didn’t seem to be their style.  I sat down to talk with the 10 or so family members who were awake.  I said I had seen the nurse and asked if there was anything I could do, anything they needed.  They said to keep praying, and I did.  I chatted with them a couple of more times this morning as our paths crossed.  We talked about states we had lived in or visited, basketball, college teams, individual players, and fun but seemingly trivial topics like that. 

At 6:30, someone knocked at the chaplaincy office door.  It was two of the family members, coming to tell me they were heading to the patient’s room in a few minutes to say goodbye.  Would I go with them and pray with the family.

To my amazement, the family had swelled to 20+ people.  They hugged each other, and several hugged me.  Then we started the long, slow walk to the patient’s room for the final time.  They played music, they sang, and then they asked me to pray.  I joined hands with a family I barely knew, and I cried as though I was one of them.

You see, last night was rough.  I had some difficult cases, the kind that most people would file under “freak accident” or “worst case scenarios”.  I was emotionally and physically drained from a long, overnight weekend, but walking by and talking with this family  so many times renewed my strength and gave me inspiration.  In the midst of their own “worst case scenario”, they chose to make the most of their time together.  They said that was how they had been raised, and that was what the patient would want.  They chose love and solidarity, and it was beautiful.

I only knew them for a weekend, but I’m going to miss them.