June 17, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
June 17, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I had a powerful experience several months ago. A series of events brought me to Hackensack Hospital to train as a chaplain. One does not need to be a rabbi or a priest to become a chaplain, but you do have to want to help people on emotional and spiritual levelsas they struggle with the various challenges they are encountering.

Very often in the hospital, I respond to emergency cases in addition to the list of patients I must visit. The list contains the person’s name, bed number, and religion. This list is not limited to Jews—I visit people of all faith denominations and am learning so much from meeting each of them. Most people welcome and appreciate my visit even though many have not specifically requested it.

One day, when I first began the program, I asked the nurse if there was anyone on the floor that needed a visit. She pointed to a specific room. I asked her if there was anything I needed to know about the patient before entering the room. She said the patient, a man, had only a few days left to live and was being discharged into hospice. I checked my list and noticed that this gentleman was on my list. He was Muslim. I felt this kind of encounter might make me feel uncomfortable but it was inevitable that I would one day have to counsel a Muslim. (Little did I know this would be my first of many encounters with Muslims).

My heart started pounding and I became a bit sweaty. . I felt uneasy about going in and found myself walking away from the room. I was uncertain of what I should say to him. I walked over to the pastoral care office to find a mentor of mine, intending to get someone I felt was “more qualified” to do this visit. However, Hashem had other plans for me and wanted me to learn. The door to the pastoral care office was locked and no one was to be found. I was torn. Someone needed to visit this patient and, as uneasy as I felt, it looked like I had no choice. I gave myself a heavy duty boost of internal encouragement and started walking back to the room. I could do this, I repeated to myself over and over.

I knocked, introduced myself and entered the dimly lit room. I found a man sitting in a hospital bed with many bandages around his neck. He had a patch covering his eye, bandages on his ears and an IV in his arm. His mouth was lopsided. He had a pen and a notepad with which he was communicating.

C.M. (Initials have been changed) introduced himself to me and within minutes opened up to me about his life. Most of our “conversation” took place via writing, as speaking was difficult for him. C.M. moved to this country from Iran when he was 17. He went to school and got a college degree in math. He opened his own business as a wholesale distributer selling fruits and nuts to vendors all over the tri-state area. He got married, had a child, and shortly thereafter his wife died from cancer. Several years later, he himself developed a form of oral cancer which spread to his lymph nodes and then later to his neck. He had many surgeries and went through many rounds of chemotherapy. He lost his very profitable business and went bankrupt due to his illness.

The doctors recently told C.M. that there was nothing more they could do for him. The cancer had progressed too much. It was just a matter of days before he would die. C.M. told me how he was so grateful to God for giving him a good life. He reflected back on some positive moments in his life with me. He told me that we all have a beginning and an end and his end has come. He has accepted that. He told me that he believed that God gave him challenges in his life with the knowledge that he would be able to handle them and become stronger from them.

As I sat in the chair listening to C.M. and asking him some intermittent questions, there were so many thoughts racing through my mind. What am I doing here? This man has such trust in God. Did he always? Was he always grateful for his life and its challenges? What on earth am I going to say to him?

After a few seconds pause, the anticipated question came. “Are you Jewish?” he asked me. My heart skipped a beat or two. I answered yes. I had no idea what he was going to say next. Would we be entering into a discussion about politics or religion? Was he going to praise me and my faith, condemn me or neither? Would I be able remain professional and not let my own personal views interfere with what was about to come next. Instead, C.M. said, ”Some of my best friends were Jewish. Have you ever been to Colbeh restaurant in NYC?” The comic relief was evident because I am not sure if I started to laugh or just had a huge smile on my face. I asked him, “How do you know about that restaurant?” He told me that someone introduced him to it and he loved it for the amazing food and nice-sized portions. He went on his iPhone and told me what I should order if I go.

C.M. told me that eating is something that he misses so much. He felt that if God could take away his pain for just three hours he would love to sit down and enjoy the pleasure of eating a nice meal. C.M. and I continued our conversation for a few moments longer. We conversed about regular stuff. He then said, “You are Jewish and I am Muslim…So much fighting.” He nodded his head back and forth. “But one God” he said. Again, he mentioned to me how he is so grateful to God for all that he had and was ready to leave this world. He asked me if I was disturbed by him saying that. I quickly answered that I cannot judge anyone’s pain and suffering. It is not my place.

As I was getting up to leave, C.M. looked into my eyes and said to me, “Thank you for coming. You really helped me.” I asked him what he meant. He said, “You showed me kindness and compassion. I hope that God always will show you and your family kindness and compassion too.” I thanked him, said goodbye, and left the room. I was not sure how you say a final goodbye to someone you barely know, but who taught me so much and yet I would never see him again.

When I got home that night, thoughts raced through my mind…I recognized how interesting it was that if I were have ever to have seen C.M. walking on the street I never would have spoken to him. But as a hospital chaplain, it was my job to try to provide pastoral care to this individual.  I realized that I interacted with this person and we were able to look beyond being people of conflicting faiths. What I saw in that hospital room was a person who was face-to-face with death and who accepted his own mortality; someone who reflected back on his life and was able to be appreciative to God for all that he had…despite the many challenges he went through. I saw a person whose face was deformed, whose body was put through traumas of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgeries. C.M.’s life in this world was over and what was done was done. His physical body, riches, and other material possessions all became inconsequential.

I discovered I was able to look beyond C.M.’s faith and realize that he was an indivdual with emotions just like me. When you think about it, it is our emotions that often divide us as people, but at the same time it is often those same emotions that make us similar as people. Among other crucial things I took away from the experience was that we get chances in this world to work on ourselves. Our deeds, our actions, our thoughts, and emotions all contribute to help make us who we are, shape us as human beings, and mold our hearts and souls. At the end of the day, it is those things that count and all that we have left when we leave this world.

Debby Pfeiffer lives in Bergenfield, NJ and is thankful to run a very busy household.

By Debby Pfeiffer

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles