Day in and day out, they put their own lives and families on hold, extending their hands to others.

They are a shoulder to cry on, a gentle ear to listen. Irreplaceable servants that act selflessly comforting us during 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?  Chaplains.  Angelic and faithful beings.

Properly trained, yet naturally gifted and appointed by God, demonstrating no question of their anointing. They dedicate their lives to helping others, which rare few could handle such a task.

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 life changing.

Upon arriving at the hospital via ambulance, waiting for me was a chaplain. I had always heard about chaplains, but honestly, I never gave them a second thought.

This time was different.  I was face to face tragedy 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 aided in planning my precious girl’s memorial.  He wanted to get to know our daughter as he helped pen those difficult words in her 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. He listened to my gut wrenching cries for help as I begged and pleaded, asking why.  Why her?  Why not me?

After eleven years, I’m not going to kid you, it’s not been easy.  It’s been dark, dreary, lonely, frightening, heartbreaking and unbelievable. Yet, it’s also been hopeful and beautiful.  It seems like so long ago, it is but it isn’t.

How have I survived this long?   Well, I have received the hands of God and His grace.

The Chaplain looked into our red, dripping eyes and informing us it was time to tell our son his sister was now in heaven.  His faith filled heart guided the way, speaking impossible words for us to repeat, 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.

When it was time to go to the funeral home, he was there.

What I saw next before my eyes, I could not believe.  Our law enforcement family had united once again, transporting my girl from the big city hospital to our local town, with an entire forty-five mile police escort down the freeway.

Three motorcycles in front flanked the black van carrying my precious Lydia, and three more motorcycle officers covered the rear, complete with colored lights flashing in the distance.   The tears started to roll down my face as my breathing became labored.  Surely I was dreaming.  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 nine 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 walk through the door.  Consumed by guilt, terrified 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.

Our chaplain held my hand as we slowly walked in. We were seated in a side room behind a giant curtain where several rows of pews were set up.  We sat for what felt like an eternity mostly in silence, listening to my cries.  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 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 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, I could see her.  My girl.

The hot pink casket was openly displayed, Lydia looked beautiful with her strawberry blond hair draped with her pink head band peacefully resting.  She was dressed in her high school musical shirt, colorful floral skirt, and her favorite rainbow striped tights, complete with hot pink fingernails, courtesy of her beloved Nana.  Yes, I know she loved this outfit. This mom did one thing right.

He was right.  I was able to see my baby girl. One last time.

My husband then came in and sat beside me holding me as tears flooded my face.  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 of a vault of memories, 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 bear.   Easily, I could have spiraled downward at an alarming rate with no hope in sight. Yet I didn’t.  His hands were upon me.

Our chaplain 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 man to walk by our side.  I knew I wasn’t strong enough to handle this on my own. The burden was too heavy to bear, yet the chaplains made it lighter, they made is survivable.

Now, years later, we remain avid supporters of our local chaplaincy. Feeling compelled to share my appreciation, I wrote a letter years ago to our chaplain, expressing my gratitude for all he had done for us.  A letter he later told me he 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 Him and all He stands for.   Here’s to all the chaplains out there.  May we intentionally seek out and support those who are touching lives and making a difference.

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.

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