How To Get Through Difficult Traumas
Trauma work is often the most unsettling and difficult of all within the work we chaplains do. For that reason, the trauma instance offered below, can be helpful to both new chaplains and chaplains seeking to do their best work when responding to a Code Trauma Red, especially those involving children.
The trauma described below was even more difficult and challenging for the chaplain involved. As a volunteer chaplain, Sarah stepped forward into her first on-call trauma service facing up to one of the most difficult of all occurrences we chaplains encounter.
I contacted Chaplain Sarah the following morning so she could talk and perhaps express some of the feelings that could be still present. She was willing to write about this trauma involving a family whose 5-year-old died at the Emergency Department following an accident that happened while the child was on an all-terrain recreational vehicle:
“It was a very difficult situation yesterday as I didn’t know what to expect. I spent almost an hour at the hospital with mom, dad, grandma and aunt at the bedside of a 5 year-old dead child. I was able to speak to the medical examiner transporter before entering the room and got the details of the accident. I was also able to pray with the med. examiner tech, before visiting with the family. She has been doing this work for three months and this was her first time picking up the dead body of a child. She was very upset. I felt at a loss for words. I didn’t feel qualified. But somehow, someway God showed up.”
We talked the next day. She said, “Thanks for praying while I worked. You asked how I am doing. Today I’m doing okay.”
It was important for Sarah to talk about what transpired within this trauma call. Doing so allowed her to acknowledge the emotions felt as she came alongside a devastated family within what may have been the worst time of their lives.
Upon arriving when called to minister, none of us know what we will see and hear. We, of course, go with prayers asking for God to use us. We ask that He be able to speak through us . . . and we ask that God will sustain and protect us from our natural bent toward feeling inadequate.
The Lord alone is empowerment—and He is within us. Always remember our presence holds power because we take God to people . . . simply and surely, because His Spirit dwells within us.
Every circumstance is different and we don’t go in our own ability, “know-how,” or empowerment. We cannot be fully trained for what will come. The best training you can have is to trust the truth. And the truth is this: No matter what you face, God will work through you. Trust that He will see you through anything and everything. I speak from 27 years of doing pastoral care as a clinical chaplain.
This work does call for courage. At times, it feels like stepping into “a lion’s den.” Going in, I never feel totally prepared for what will be expected of me. Yet, I find trusting God will soon see me supplied with what is needed moment-by-moment.
In this work, we never go into a patient’s room or into a trauma situation knowing what to say. We go in, trusting God, not ourselves. No need to doubt. You do this work because He has called you. And, God is always with us. He gives strength to endure what we see and hear.
Often we feel vulnerable—and at points even startled by what has happened to people, or in families. But, we go in! We are hoping to help, yet not knowing if they will order us out. It rarely happens that we are ordered out—but it doesn’t kill us when this happen. Always, God heals our hearts, making us ready for the next challenge. It is all about trusting God within each experience. It is an understatement to say, “We grow with this work.”
Chaplains take their love of God, their love of people and their willing hearts to the scenes. There, chaplains are fortified by God’s presence within the love we feel and the desire we have to bring God’s help to those who hurt. God does show up. Ideally, we leave all events where we have served praying inwardly for all those we have served.
In reading Sarah’s report, I am amazed! Sarah touched the lives of multiple people including the medical professionals. As Sarah went into that unknown situation--in a loving way--to help a family loss. Her presence was without a doubt indelibly etched on their memories. God can trigger this memory at any point in the hearts and lives of these people going forward.
As chaplains, we prayerfully step into the pain of another’s trauma. We stand. Sometimes, we would rather run within what we see and hear. Yet, we stay. We trust God and speak what comes to our hearts.
As for feeling inadequate, this is part of the work at times. It reminds us to rely on God, not ourselves. God alone is adequate and He is with us. We are His presence—and our strength is from Him. It is God’s support we are bringing to people.
God uses us when we work—even when we cannot do anything but to show up. The great thing is that what we do—when able to serve hurting people—is indelible stuff. It sticks in memories . . . even when they say, “Go away.”
Once when I entered a patient’s room, he said, “Oh. You wear the God tag.” We need to realize the power of our badges. Even the sight of them reminds them of who we work for.
Remember this, if you only go into the room, introduce yourself and ask, “May I come alongside in hopes of helping you through this?” If that is all you do, you have served them well. They can ask you to leave, which in that case we say, “Certainly”—and leave while praying for them silently as we go.
Rejection rarely happens. People want to be cared about. Most always, they open up to us. While with patients who are greatly sick or wounded—often unconscious with family standing by, we can simply ask, “Could you tell me about your loved one?” Or, “What do you know about the accident [or his/her illness].” By getting the family or friends to talk, you are helping them out of shock and into addressing their feelings. Through this work, you can allow the family to tell you who this person was to them (or is to them when a patient is in a coma). We stand and listen as they unfold with words about who this person was to their loved ones. Sometimes family stories will start and the people rejoice in their love for one another within this setting, while also weeping for their loss of a person so precious to them.
While reading Chaplain Sarah’s report, it was evident her work made a tremendous impact. She had one of the hardest types of chaplaincy care within which chaplains are called to minister. And, it was her first on-call. And, she was working alone—while not being alone—as God was obviously with her. She said in her report, “I didn’t know what to say.” We chaplains often feel that, yet, soon learn God places on our hearts what to say. Or, when we “hear nothing inwardly” from our hearts to say, we stay silent, letting that silence work. We hold steady and listen as people grieve or talk out their feelings.
Please know for sure, God ministers through you regardless of the sense of inadequacy that can come at times. You are fully and certainly more than adequate because you go to bedsides—and into trauma rooms—trusting God to be “on the spot” with you. And, He is!
When timing is appropriate you can check with nurses, even doctors after they have dealt with a very difficult patient event, or a death. Ask, “Are you doing OK?” Mostly, you will see they are touched by your strength to be there for them, as well. Our presence holds power.
Within this work, while learning to listen inwardly, you will have more experiences than ever of hearing God’s leading. At times, you will even hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”