A misfortunate soul once asked me to tell him my story. He realized he had made a mistake when my story started out, “Well, it was another hot day in August, 1950 when I was born into this world…”.When I was asked to tell my story about becoming involved with Lifeline Chaplaincy I struggled with where to start. I’ve thought about it for quite some time now and I know I have to start here…
”Well, it was another hot day in September, 1951. My Dad kissed my Mom, hugged my older sister, and held me in his arms for a moment before climbing on the train and heading for his hometown in South Dakota. He had been on inactive reserve in the Army after coming home from the South Pacific during World War II. His unit was called up to fight in Korea so it was back to war. My Mom’s younger brother, Glyndon Hallmark, better known to us as Uncle Frog, came to live with us while my Dad was gone. By the time Dad got back home his young son had grown to know Uncle Frog as the household hero and all round great guy to be around. That affection for my Uncle Frog continued to grow throughout the years.
As I grew into an adult and started a family of my own I failed to notice everyone else growing older as well. Life flew by, as it tends to do, and one day I woke up to find my own kids grown, my parents aged and feeble, and all my aunts and uncles either passed away or ailing. I promised myself I would start visiting my remaining family on a regular basis…and of course I failed. One night my Mom called to tell me Uncle Frog was in a hospital in Denton, critically ill, and not expected to live another week. I drove up the next afternoon. I worried about what to say to an uncle I loved dearly but hadn’t visited in years. As I walked into his room I was shocked. My burly, rough-living uncle was an old and very weak man. When he saw me his eyes lit up and he stuck out his hand….my uncles weren’t the type to hug. I asked him the standard question, “So, how are you feeling?” It felt so empty. He smiled and held my hand. I couldn’t make another word come out of my mouth. I stood there for a few minutes saying nothing then turned and walked out the door telling him I would be right back. I never saw my Uncle Frog again. He died a few minutes later. The emptiness and feeling of failure haunted me for years.
One day I was talking to a good friend who was involved with Lifeline Chaplaincy. His love for the work was overwhelming. I became interested in the work but my natural shyness and fear of confrontation won out and I avoided a commitment. My friend, Mike St. Clair, can be quite persistent. In his quiet, loving way he coached me into signing up for the weekend training. I’ll admit I started the training with no intention of following through and actually visiting hospital patients. After all, I couldn’t even talk to the man I loved as much as my Dad as he lay dying in a hospital room. A funny thing happened on the second day of training. The instructor made a statement which allowed me to let go of all the guilt I had carried for so long. He said, “When you are visiting someone in the hospital you don’t have to talk. You have to listen. You have to be there.” That rocked my world. It was possible I had been a comfort to my uncle by just being there and holding his hand. I completed the training and made the decision to begin the actual onsite portion of training. After two or three shadow sessions I was given permission to make visits on my own. The first afternoon I went to the hospital I had a hard time getting to the elevator. I stood in the lobby for quite a while and then sat in the chapel even longer. Eventually I made it up to the second floor and received my list of patients to visit. It was a long and stressful night. I left the hospital wondering if I had done the right thing. I was a longtime member of Wallflowers Anonymous after all. I had no business trying to do this work. Mike and David Martin encouraged me and kept me going for a couple of months until I began to make the visits with more confidence. I noticed one night that I felt much better leaving the hospital than I felt when I arrived. I realized it wasn’t because it was finally over but because the patients made me feel so good. After that I began to look forward to my visits and my feeling of actually helping grew stronger. Then “it” happened.
“It” was the visit that left me shaking for a couple of days. I had walked into a room to visit a middle-aged man with an infection in both legs. I introduced myself and asked about his reason for being there. Instead of telling me he pulled his sheets off and showed me his legs. It wasn’t a pretty sight but that was nothing compared to the bombardment of anger and profanity that followed. I took it like a man though and left after a couple of more minutes. I have to admit I was ready to quit after that experience but the good I experienced far outweighed the bad.
A few weeks later I picked up my list and sure enough, my middle-aged, leg infected patient was on the list again. I made all the other visits while gathering up courage for “it”. Eventually I walked up to the door to his room, knocked, and quietly entered. I spoke and he didn’t respond. His back was to the door so I spoke louder. There was still no response and no movement at all from the patient. I nearly panicked and quickly came around the bed to see if he was still breathing. He had headphones on and was watching an old John Wayne movie. Whew! He saw me and pulled off the headphones. I apologized for interrupting his movie. He laughed and told me he had that movie, as well as most other John Wayne movies, completely memorized. I told him I could say the same and added the Clint Eastwood westerns to my boast. Our conversation was relaxed and interesting. I totally enjoyed it but eventually felt I must move on. I nervously asked if there was anything I could do before I left. He said no so I went on my way.
Written By: Russell Mihills
Story Submitted By: David Martin