From 2017-2018, for nine months, I was a Chaplain intern at a large medical center. For those of you who are unfamiliar with what Chaplains do, they provide emotional and spiritual support. Chaplains do not preach or try to convert others. Rather, Chaplains are trained to listen more and speak less. Chaplains may pray with others if asked or offer prayer, but the Chaplain’s role is to provide an additional layer of support alongside the medical staff.
During my nine-month Chaplain internship, I provided emotional and spiritual support in many emergency situations. An emergency situation, for example, could be when someone was brought into the medical center after a traumatic accident. In these situations, I would support family members should they be present. Should no family be present, I would stand in a corner of the room praying silently while the medical staff did what they had to do. All I had to do was pray.
During my time as a Chaplain intern, I was present with families in situations ranging from blessing a newborn baby as he left the hospital with his parents to standing in the corner of a room silently praying as a family’s worse nightmare of a tragic death unfolded right before my eyes. Then, when all was said and done, I walked away.
There is a saying that you should never take your work home with you. In most cases I didn’t; I was able to do what I was called to do, then leave a room as quietly as I entered it. However, you never do really just walk away. A part of what you have experienced always stays with you. You just learn to somehow file away your experiences in the back of your mind and go on to the next person in need.
Often, when I reflected on my own chaplaincy work, I always said to myself that I could never do hospice chaplaincy. I said that I could never be a hospice Chaplain. Though I greatly admire and respect hospice Chaplains, I just could not fathom how someone could foster a bond and relationship with a person knowing that the person was going to die.
Be careful when using the word never.
On the day that my dear Mousie was diagnosed with an inoperable abdominal tumor, which is most likely cancer, my dear friend Lisa called me and asked “Apara, how can you apply what you have learned as a Chaplain to Mousie?”.
I didn’t hesitate when I gave her my reply: Hospice chaplaincy.
Mousie may have months or even longer, but my dear sweet Mousie whom I have developed a bond and a relationship with is going to die. In the blink of an eye, I have gone from being his mere caretaker to his Hospice Chaplain, and I was given no choice in the matter because once a Chaplain, always a Chaplain.
When I first brought Mousie inside to live with me, fleas and all, I promised that I would always do right by him. I intend to keep that promise. Mousie will be allowed to live out the rest of his days in my guest bedroom which I have affectionately named his luxury apartment. Mousie adores sitting in the window and feeling the warm late summer breezes. At night he sleeps on the guest bed like a king. During the day he feasts on salmon, tuna, and whatever else his little heart desires. He is living a good and blessed life.
When I told people of Mousie’s tumor and prognosis I was advised to get a second opinion, to get a biopsy, etc. But, would putting Mousie through invasive procedures and additional trauma really do any good? In order to get checked in the first place, he had to be tranquilized as he is unable to be handled. I will not put Mousie through that again. Any further medical procedures would be for my benefit and my best interests, not Mousie’s.
Mousie has a tumor. The tumor is most likely cancer. Mousie is going to die.
I am part of an online feral cat discussion group and those members in the group know of my journey with Mousie. The group members have been a tremendous support to Mousie and me. Many times the group members called me his guardian angel. I’m not a guardian angel; I’m just a human being with a great love for all of God’s creatures big and small.
I do believe that there is a God, and the God I believe in truly does work in mysterious ways. Or, does he? Perhaps the God I believe in sent Mousie to me to show me that I am capable of doing anything, even that which I thought I would never be capable of. God didn’t give me a choice; he gave me an assignment. God said “Apara, I want you to be Mousie’s hospice Chaplain. You can do this!”.
I thought my journey with Mousie began when I first laid eyes on him outside my home in the summer of 2019. Little did I know that my true journey with him has only just begun.
© Apara Mahal Sylvester, 2022