I’ve been sitting closer to death in the last week than I remember doing for a good while. I have, of course, sat near quite a number of individual deaths in the past, but these have usually been spaced out. I have also been involved in innumerable Funerals, but somehow being close to bereavement is a step removed from being close to death.
But in the last week neither local Hospital Chaplain has been available and so one of my very minor roles in providing a back up phone number for emergency call out has come into its own again; what was previously perhaps one call a quarter became several in the week.
I’ve sat, listened and prayed with different families watching the last laboured breathing of an elderly relative. One had been moved with care into an individual side ward. Another, the staff genuinely regretted, remained in the main ward behind a curtain because all the side rooms were needed for isolation treatment.
And I’ve once again named and blessed a stillborn child (which I’ve found in the past to be the most frequent request for emergency call out), this time following this through to a Funeral service in the Hospital Chapel (one of three baby Funerals there in the last week, I see from the register) including visiting the Mortuary for the first time.
There are huge numbers who sit this close to death much of the time, Funeral Directors as well as medical, mortuary and portering staff, and the ones I’ve encountered this week seem to have the knack of practical kindness (including the nurse who provided a posy for the child’s mother to bring to the Funeral) which somehow makes briefly working alongside them seem more life affirming than depressing.
The picture is a detail from the window in the modern Hospital Chapel - moved from the redundant early twentieth century All Saints’ Church elsewhere in town.