One weekend as a hospital on-call chaplain, I received a call from a Cardio nurse asking if I would be available about midnight to attend an extibation procedure. Not having a medical background, I had to ask what type of procedure she was talking about and she explained they would be removing a young man from life support. She said that his family would not be present and his grandmother had requested a chaplain to be in the room when he took his last breath. As a chaplain, I agreed to be in the room as a stand-in for the family however as someone with little experience of death, I did so with some trepidation.
This was a difficult first-time experience for me knowing that I would watch a human life slip away. No one had trained me for that. What would be expected of me when I stood beside this man’s bed? I didn’t know him or his family. How would I know what to do? When it was finally time, it felt right to lay my hand on his arm and say a prayer for his peace and comfort for the journey ahead. When those solemn moments and prayers were finished, I stepped back so that the nurse and the CNA could perform their duties. I watched with awe and wonder as the two medical professionals began the process of removing life support from their patient. They spoke to him in quiet and comforting tones; addressing him with a formal Mr. each time they removed the tubes that sustained his life and explained every action to him that would end his life. Once the equipment was removed, they remained by his side watching him carefully to address any discomfort issues he might experience in his waning moments. For 8 minutes they cared for him until he took his last breath and was pronounced dead. When leaving the room, I again said a prayer for the young man’s soul and a prayer of gratitude for the medical staff who showed such great respect for human life. Once at her desk, the nurse called his grandmother to offer her sympathy for her grandson’s death and reassure her that a chaplain had been present during the end-of-life procedure. The grandmother was relieved and grateful to the medical team and the chaplain, me, for taking care of her grandson’s death with such grace.
As I watched the life of this man slip away from his earthly body, it occurred to me that his grandmother’s fear that he would be alone without the presence of a Chaplin was unfounded. God had provided this tortured soul with two angels of mercy to care and comfort him as he took his last breath. The medical duo honored and respected his life with their caring and kindness to ensure his peaceful death. It was a gift to be present to watch God’s handiwork in action for some very holy and sacred 8 minutes.