Who answers the call in the middle of the night?
Who runs on minimal hours of sleep only to be awakened to the sound of tragedy as they leave to touch others with God’s hands in the darkness?
Who is on that team of first responders when devastation and disaster strikes?
Who spends their time counseling and offering advice and grace to those on the front lines, softening their trauma and providing crisis intervention?
Who seemingly effortlessly counsels couples and speaks the gospel to us during our most fragile and delicate hours?
Who reminds us of God’s word, supporting us with scripture when we need it the most?
Who tends to victims and families of catastrophe when there is no one to turn to?
Day in and day out, they put their own lives and families on hold, to be there for others.
They are a shoulder to cry on, a gentle ear to listen and irreplaceable servants that act selflessly to bring hope, peace and comfort to us during tragedy, personal struggles, and difficult times.
They are seldom recognized and often overlooked until we are directly impacted. Then who is right by our side, making us wonder where they came from and how they got there?
Who are these angelic and faithful beings?
Properly trained, yet naturally gifted and appointed by God that there’s no question this was their calling in life. Chaplains who have dedicated their own lives to helping others, which only a rare few could handle such a task.
So what’s in the heart of a chaplain?
From my own perspective, mercy and compassion are rooted deep in their souls.
The role of a chaplain is nothing short of extraordinary. Having been directly influenced and impacted by my experience, I’ve found it’s a must share encounter that has been and still is, nothing short of positively life changing.
Upon arriving at the hospital via ambulance, waiting for me was a chaplain. I always knew who chaplains were and thought I knew lots about what they did, but never really gave them a second thought.
This time was different. I was face to face with one and now they were here for me.
He stayed with us, never wavering, through the first few days and hours after the accident. He guided us as to what to do and have at the memorial. He wanted to get to know our daughter as he wrote the obituary while we gathered on our front lawn, telling of her stories and interests as if she was still here.
Our chaplain comforted us and filled the uncomfortable silence at our home using every moment needed to speak God’s word, as he listened to my gut wrenching cries for help as I begged and pleaded, asking why. Why her?
Well, today marks six years. I’m not going to kid you, it’s not been easy. It’s been dark, dreary, lonely, frightening, heartbreaking and unbelievable. It seems like so long ago, it is, but it isn’t. Six years..
How did I survive this long?
Well, I have received the hands of God and His grace.
In hindsight, it is clear that God was preparing my husband for this difficult journey long before it happened. Many months earlier, he had begun a relationship with the chaplain at the Sheriff’s Department where he worked, professionally and gaining personal insight for difficult situations. From lunches, to meetings, emotional phone calls to the heart, this chaplain came into our lives for a reason.
The team of law enforcement chaplains that my husband worked with knew our family inside and out. Strangely, they were now by our sides, comforting and supporting us in our darkest hour.
He showed up at the hospital and was there when we were told the news, leading us and guiding us on what to say to our surviving son. His gentle words, soft voice and patient heart was exactly what we needed as we began this unknown journey.
Two days later, we were told we had to be at the funeral home at 10 AM.
What I saw next before my eyes, I could not believe.
Lydia was being transported from the big city to our local town, with an entire 45 mile police escort down the freeway.
Three motorcycles in front, flanked the van with Lydia in the middle, and then three more motorcycle officers behind, complete with colored lights flashing in the distance. The tears started to roll down my face as my breathing became labored. Was this real or was I imagining? What was I seeing? Some heart breaking Lifetime movie? No, this WAS real, and soon this became the second longest day of my life.
I had not been in a funeral home since I was 9 years old after my great-grandfather passed away, and now, my immediate family was in the parking lot in addition to my best friend and her family. Upon seeing them , I kept thinking to myself, this isn’t real, this isn’t happening., But it was. One by one, they took turns going in to see Lydia one last time.
Then it was my turn.
I was petrified, I hesitated.
I waited in the parking lot until everyone was done, as I couldn’t bring myself to go in there. Afraid of what she may look like, afraid of seeing my daughter not alive, thinking of my last moments with her and how I wanted to remember her. How could I do this? How could any mother do this? Did I have to go in? So many questions and he answered them all.
Chaplain Todd held my hand as we slowly walked in. We were seated in a room to the side where I couldn’t see anything but a giant curtain where several rows of pews were set up. We sat for what felt like an eternity mostly in silence. After some time had passed, he asked me questions, and gave me thoughts on experiences and what other families had chosen to do. I sat quietly sobbing, clutching her favorite stuffed zebra, wiping my tears for many hours. Just knowing what was behind that curtain was terrifying , heartbreaking, and so surreal.
This compassionate man sat next to me, patiently letting me stare off into space, with moments of uncontrollable sobbing in between, for hours on end, not once rushing me or pushing me one way or another. As the hours ticked by, my indecisiveness faded. Chaplain Todd looked at me and said “If you go see her, you won’t regret it.”
This man, I had only known for a few months, but something told me I could trust him. I trusted him with my whole being. I felt safe with him. Suddenly I knew I needed to see behind the curtain. We walked through and sat on a bench towards the back of the room. Up in the front of the room, I could see her. My girl.
Lydia looked beautiful with her strawberry blond hair draped with her hot pink head band peacefully resting, all dressed in her high school musical shirt, floral skirt, and rainbow striped tights, complete with hot pink fingernails, courtesy of her beloved Nana. Yes, I know she loved her outfit, This mom did one thing right.
He was right. I did not regret it. Even though I stayed at a distance, I still was able to see my baby girl. One last time.
My husband then came in and sat beside me holding me as I cried, while I gave him her stuffed zebra, Marty, to put beside her along with our family picture. I watched with uncertainty as he carefully placed them next to her.
I didn’t take pictures as I didn’t want to remember her this way, but I didn’t want to leave either. Walking out that door was a horrible feeling of permanency, like closing the door to a vault, never being able to open it again.
I thought I knew what a chaplain was, however, what I knew was just the tip of the iceberg. What he did in those long hours and days would forever set the path and tone of my future grieving.
There were some words I needed to hear, others I couldn’t stand. Easily, I could have spiraled downward at an alarming rate with no hope in sight. Yet I didn’t. His hands were upon me.
Chaplain Todd then, drove six hours across the state to say a few words on our behalf at the burial of Lydia. We couldn’t have asked for a more genuine and compassionate chaplain.
Now, six years after Lydia died, we remain avid supporters of our local chaplaincy. Feeling compelled to share my appreciation, I wrote a letter three years ago to Chaplain Todd expressing my gratitude for all he has done for us. A letter he told me he takes out and reads periodically, as it touched his heart so deeply.
My story is just that, mine. A tiny piece of the puzzle. Imagine the thousands of people who have been touched by chaplains all over the world. God is at work. God is here during those times when it’s so easy to question God and all he stands for.
I’d love to hear your stories if you have them. Please share your experience with chaplains, let them know they are appreciated, needed, valued, and so loved! Take the time to thank them and write that letter! A few simple words can make all the difference.