On the corner of my desk there's a stack of little pink slips of paper. Each time someone dies in the hospital we chaplains must obtain from the surviving family a small bit of information which I record on these pink slips.
It's been four months since this residency started and I've lost count of how many deaths I've attended. Each has been a different kind of somber in it's own way. Sadness is shown, tears are released and sometimes held back. Family members ask "why" questions: "Why did this happen?" "Why did he die so young?" One teenager , after his father was pronounced dead, looked at me in shock like a dear in headlights and asked with dry eyes, "Why can't I cry?"
This past Wednesday while on call for the day and night I attended six deaths among my calls for the day. My emotional reservoir, like the teenager's eyes, was dried up. You could say I was "all deathed out."
I'm on call again tomorrow, and I fear the stack of pink slips will grow again. After all, it's rare in a big hospital for no one to pass away within a 24 hour period.
Attending a death has become something I expect, yet it has not become something I am comfortable doing. I have learned to sympathize, empathize and at times protect myself erecting emotional boundaries. No strategy makes it any easier.
When a person dies, others hurt. There's emptiness, loneliness, shared pain and loss. These are things with which we can all identify, and therefore, we hurt as well.
In this way we all seem a bit more connected. After all, we will all experience death as well as losing someone to which we're close. The pink slips represent something we all must endure. They're symbols of our connectedness, our oneness as humans, our shared experience, our unity. For me, this gives reason to put an end to oppression, violence, acts that hurt others, because in the end we are only hurting ourselves.
These pink slips are reminders that, if in nothing else, by experiencing death and loss you are a part of me, and I am a part of you.