The Train Wreck

By | March 14, 2014

Betty was reluctant to see me, but her nurse had talked her into it. Even though Betty was sad and depressed, she was reluctant to speak with a chaplain, because she’d never been big on religion.

When I met her, she was seated on her hospital bed in her living room, breathing with the aid of oxygen. The tube running from the electric concentrator delivered the needed oxygen into Betty’s nostrils with the ever-present whoosh-whoosh sound. Betty found the sound annoying.

Betty was not a happy person. She’d been married five times, and each of her five children had a different dad. Her one joy in life, shopping, was now a distant memory now that she was nearly bedridden. The bedside commode gave evidence of her most recent indignity.

As she was complaining about how rarely her children came to see her, the phone rang. It was a daughter from California. Because of hearing loss, Betty had the phone turned up as loud as it could go, so I was able to hear the whole three-minute conversation.

Betty’s daughter began by apologizing that she wouldn’t be able to drive up today for her planned visit because she’d had an out-of-the-blue job interview. She’d been unable to find work for more than four years. But this interview came up suddenly, she went, and she actually got the job. It was in a hospital and the pay was more than $18 an hour plus benefits. The daughter was ecstatic. Her excitement was jumping through the telephone.

After a short pause, Betty glumly replied, “Well, I hope I’m still alive when you get here.”

It was like watching a train wreck and being unable to stop it.

At least four times in the brief conversation I heard Betty’s daughter desperately and joyously share “I got the job!” Someone wanted her. Someone saw something hirable in her. And she had phoned her mother aching to hear similar words of acceptance. But none came. Betty was so imprisoned by her own pains and need for acceptance that she had nothing to give her daughter.

It was a tragic scene.

I wanted to grab the phone and shout, “Congratulations! You’re spectacular! They’re lucky to get you. Get here when you can and drive safely, but I’m so proud of you!” But I didn’t.

Now, I don’t know what misery Betty had endured in life that robbed her of the ability to give the gift of acceptance to a daughter who desperately wanted to hear she was special. Betty never told me. But I do want to learn from Betty’s pain.

I want to cultivate the wonder of gratitude in my life so I can offer as much loving acceptance to others – NOW– while I can. My intentions really aren’t that pure and noble. I realize one day when I find myself bedridden with oxygen tubes shoved up my nose, I simply don’t want to be sad and alone.

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