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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hospice Lesson #8: Miracles.

Note: I've completed four units of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). In every single unit, the thing I hated most was the "verbatim" - a word for word written report of a pastoral encounter with a patient or client. While writing them I thought it was a tedious waste of time. Working with the verbatim in group, however, with just the script in front of you - cold, lifeless words on the page, open to everyone's individual interpretation and projections - enabled deeper learning. Even though I am no longer in a CPE group, I often come home and write down conversations to deepen my own reflection and learning. I share them with you here because I learn from your feedback in your comments.

Here's my "verbatim" of a phone conversation with the 65 year old husband of a 63 year old woman, dying of metastatic breast cancer. They are chicken farmers and live in a small trailer in one of the poorest towns in the county. He had initially agreed to a visit at 2 PM the next day, then called again, 15 minutes later to cancel that appointment.  That conversation - on my cell phone, pulled over to the side of a long, lonely country road near a wind blown, barren, snow covered corn field - went something like this: 

He: So, I forgot to ask you something, because, you know, I'm thinking we shouldn't have you come.

Me: Oh, I see. Well, okay, then. Ask your question and we'll see if I have an answer for you. 

He: So, my question is this: Can you prophesy a miracle? 

Me: Um, I'm sorry. I'm not sure I understand your question. 

He: (Unmistakably frustrated deep sigh) Can. You. Prophesy. A. Miracle?

Me: Um. . . . yes . . . well . . . Thank you for your patience with me. I'm sure it must be frustrating to have to deal with all the different Hospice people asking you all sorts of questions. I'm going to beg your patience just a little bit longer so I can be sure to answer you correctly. Is that alright with you?

He: Well, it's a pretty straightforward question, ma'am. You know. It don't get much easier that this. Yes or no?  Can.You.Prophesy.A.Miracle?

Me: I'm truly sorry if I'm causing you to be any more frustrated than you already are. If you're asking if I can tell that a miracle is about to happen, I would have to say that I see miracles happening all the time. 

I'm sitting here in my car on the side of the road, watching the wind blow snow across a cold, hard, barren corn field and it doesn't look like any life was ever here or will ever be here. But, I know, come spring - in just a few short weeks - this place is going to be green and full of life. 

That's a miracle I can prophesy.

But, I have a sneaking suspicion that's not what you're asking me, is it?

He: (Sniffling. Clears throat.) No, ma'am. No it is not. I'm asking for a miracle here. If I'm gong to get through this, I need to know that a miracle can happen.  We need a miracle here. Right here. Right now. And, if you are comin' to fix us to get ready for heaven, well, we don't need none of that talk right now.  You Hospice people don't have no faith. All you can talk about is pain management and dying and death and DNR and no 911. I can excuse the nurses, you know. They are tryin to help. And the social workers, God love 'em, they mean well. And, I know you're all good people and tryin' to help and all, but . . .  . . .

(Raises voice in anger): But, I don't want no pastor, no woman of God, comin' in here and talkin' that talk to me and my wife. We need people of God in here. Ain't you got no Christian nurses and social workers? You got 'compassion' but you got 'Jesus'? Look, we done stuff in our lives that wasn't good. Wasn't always right.  Everybody does. That don't mean we deserve to die. That don't mean we don't deserve a miracle. (Begins to cry)

Me: (Silent for awhile. Praying up a silent storm.). Sir, are you still with me?

He: (Voice is soft, croaking) Yeah, I'm here, ma'am. I didn't mean to raise my voice. That was disrespectful and I'm sorry. We ain't gettin' much sleep around here these days, you know?

Me: Yes, I sure. These are difficult days. The early days of Hospice often are.

He: And, nights. Nights is worse. So dark. So long.

Me: I'm sure. 

He: So, listen. I'm going to have the pastors and the fellars from The Prophecy of God Church come and prophecy a miracle. Cuz that's what we need right now. You understand, right? I'm not being mean or disrespectful of you, ma'am. We just need to have strong men of God who can prophecy a miracle.  That's what we need right now.

Me: Then, if that's what you need, that's what you should have. 

He: I mean, I know you mean well, and you sound nice and all, but well, this is what we need. My baby and me. We got enough with the nurse and social worker talkin' all DNR and such. We need some men of God who know how to prophecy a miracle. 

Me: Sounds to me like you are trying to take care of yourself and you are doing your absolute best and all that you know how to do to take care of your wife. Here's what I know for sure: God will bless that abundantly. 

He: (Breaks down sobbing) Oh gawd, O gawd, O gawd.  . . . .  . . .

Me: (Silent for awhile. Praying up a storm.) Sir, would you like me to pray on the phone with you? I could say the Lord's Prayer, if you like.

He: (Crying). Please do, pastor. I need to hear that prayer.

Me: I'll say it and you can jump in any time you feel like it. Or, not. Whatever feels right for you. Okay, so . . . . Our father, who art in heaven . . . . .

He:  . . . . THY will be done . . . . EARTH .. .. Forgive . . . Sinners . . . Temptation . . . AMEN.

Me: (Silent for awhile) You have my cell phone number. Call me if I can be of some help . . .

He: Thank you, pastor. 

Me: God bless you. 

He: Yup. God bless you. And, pray for a miracle, okay?

Me: Just know that God is always with you. Always. Even when we don't think God is there. Even so, God is always with us. That's the greatest miracle of all. It's the empty tomb, you know?

He: The empty tomb?

Me: Yes, you know. The Roman soldiers thought the tomb was empty but the women - Mary and Mary Magdalene and a few others - knew that it was filled with God and the Spirit of the Resurrected Jesus.

He: Huh! That's right. Huh! The empty tomb!?! What does that mean, pastor?

Me: Well, one of the things it means to me is that miracles are not always what we see with our eyes but what we know in our hearts. 

He: Huh! Okay. Alright. Thank you, pastor.

Me: You have my cell phone number. Call if you need anything. Even just to talk. Okay?

He: Okay. Yes. Thank you.

Me: God bless you, sir. You and your wife are in my prayers.

He: Thank you. God bless you. God bless you. God bless you. . . . ..

NB: And, on my "Activity Sheet" I will simply report: "TC (Telephone call) to PCG (Primary Care Giver). Visit declined at this time. Assurances given. Prayers said."


Maggie said...

Oh my. I can't begin to say how touched I am by your verbatim. Over two units of CPE I shared your frustration with the idea of recalling the specifics of a conversation to get it down on paper. I too have had someone want to call in the "real" ministers--male, evangelical--because they werent' sure they wanted what I had to offer. Your work with this man is amazing. Thanks so much for sharing.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Maggie. Verbatims are SUCH a pain, aren't they? Except, we learn so much about ourselves and others from them. I'm learning that it's so important to stay humble in the face of arrogance. It really is the strongest antidote. Well, at least it lessens the toxicity. Besides, it's really not about me. What good is imposing my beliefs on someone who wants to impose his beliefs on me? That's just a waste of time. Well, much more so than writing out a verbatim. Ha!

Daphne/Maryland said...

Elizabeth, Tht was a truly amazing and wonderful conversation. I will certainly pray for this man and his wife. I had to do verbatims as part of my social work internship and as tedious as it is, I know it is a wonderful learning experience.

Susan Brooks said...


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi Daphne - I wonder if CPE units and SW internships are still doing verbatims. I hope so.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Susan Brooks - Thanks. And, congratulations to you. I'll keep you in my prayers for your big ACF Day in April.

Susan Brooks said...

Thank you...I knew you would!

Melody said...


In all of the grief and pain it is hard to see the empty tomb as the miracle that we want. We want more time here and now. Change is scary. Packing up and leaving for a trip that you're certain that you won't see your family for many years, if ever, is devastating. I think the miracle is the faith that God will be with us every step of the way and works everything for our good.

God bless that family.

Rik Rasmussen said...

Elizabeth - As a long time lurker on your blog I want to say thank you. I am completing a unit of CPE in Hospice and you give me inspiration. I just completed my last verbatim for this unit on Monaday TBTG. So yes verbatims are alive and well in CPE!
Deacon Rik

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Rik. I think verbatims are the best way to reflect on the pastoral encounter. I've got another one brewing in my head right now.

Muthah+ said...

Trying to maintain one's spiritual integrity in the face of such theology is so difficult. I too loathed verbatims main reason because ive never had a good memory. But it was Also because i didnt listen well. Verbatimade me listen