Last night, Parkview Chaplaincy held its biannual memorial service. Each April and October, we hold a service to honor all of the patients who have died at each of our two Fort Wayne locations.
Last night, we lit candles for approximately 300 people. For a six month period.
Let that sink in for a minute.
For our two Fort Wayne locations, Parkview employs five full-time chaplains, four part-time chaplains (24-36 hours weekly), and four on-call chaplains. Add to that our manager and director, as well as four chaplains who are either part-time or on-call at our community hospitals but who also fill in at the Fort Wayne locations as necessary, and two palliative and cancer chaplains. 21 chaplains who were involved in those approximately 300 deaths.
We we are present in some combination of before, during, and after every death at those two hospitals, including miscarriages and still births. It isn’t all of what we do, but it’s the most important piece.
But I digress.
Last night I was privileged to attend the memorial service for the first time since I started working for Parkview. A coworker was kind enough to cover part of my shift so I could attend. I greeted guests and checked names of those they were there to honor. I read a scripture passage from John. I helped light candles as names were read.
There was one person in attendance who I recognized immediately, but it took me several minutes to place the situation. I greeted the person before I could make the full connection. He attempted a half-smile through tears. That expression was so familiar.
As we sang a hymn and I studied him from the side, I suddenly remembered. I remembered who he lost. I remembered helping him try to contract family and friends. I remembered the stories he told. I remembered he was alone and did not want to leave, so the nurse and I spent three hours with him. I remembered it all.
When I had a chance later, I made sure I told him that I remembered and apologized that it took me some time. He said he would never forget that night. We both cried in that moment because his grief was still so raw.
I went to work shortly after. I had two emergency room calls, one spiritual consultation, and two deaths within my first three hours of my shift. It was busy. Back to the work life I’m accustomed to.
I reflected on the service later in my shift with a friend. I told him about the man I had talked with. My friend asked if the encounter reassured me that sometimes we really make a difference here at the hospital.
He was right. We may not save the life of every person who comes through our doors, but that doesn’t mean we don’t impact them. The doctors and nurses, the cleaning and kitchen crews. The police and public safety team. The chaplains. We’re all called, and we’ve all answered. It’s a gift.
And while we may not remember every face and every situation, they do, and we honor that.