In my retirement, I get to do occasional preaching. For over a year, I have been preaching once a month for a small Presbyterian church near me. They have a part-time pastor, but she has a full-time day job, so sometimes I am able to make hospital calls for her.
A while back I made such a visit. Jane (not her real name) had become a good friend at this congregation. A few months before my visit, she found out that she had cancer. Nearby is a major medical center, with its own cancer hospital. I have visited there no more than a handful of times, but each time been impressed by the tone and environment. It is quiet and peaceful, lacking many of the sometimes irritating sounds one hears in a hospital. The lighting is subdued. The rooms are welcoming to visitors. Workers are not hurrying about.
While I was visiting Jane, a doctor knocked on the door and gently entered. Jane introduced me to him. He reached out his hand and identified himself not with his title, but with his first name. He didn’t act as if a god had just entered the room—so move aside everyone! I asked if he wanted me to step out for a few minutes. He said, no, I was welcome to stay. I sat off to the side to give him room. He sat next to Jane and gently asked questions and listened to her. There was nothing profound in this, except he wasn’t acting like the Savior, but like a listening, caring friend. He made reference to me, calling me her buddy. He named higher powers at work, admitting that doctors don’t know everything. Because of the nature of Jane’s cancer, he led her to speak about death, about her fears and hopes.
It was as if he had been trained in pastoral care (perhaps he was). When he left, he again shook my hand and thanked me for being there. I thanked him for being there for my friend, my buddy.
Some months later Jane died. She once gave me a mug that had a character saying, “Hey God, I really like your book.” Whenever I have a hot beverage in that mug, I think of Jane and give thanks for her life. And I remember that day I visited her in a cancer hospital.