Category Archives: Tom Nuckles

DNR: “It doesn’t mean, ‘Democrat, Not Republican!’”

I entered her room with the knowledge that she had had a heart attack. She looked like she was improving. Even though she looked okay, the shades were drawn and the room was dark. That should have told me something, but I forged ahead. She pointed out that I had visited her before in another hospital. Soon, she began to tell me her story which I summarize here:

She began about her kidney failure, with a fistula in place (in order to assist with dialysis), but now doctors aren’t going to do dialysis or any heart surgery, since they found a heart valve problem. At her age of 88, “they aren’t going to do anything. I’ve survived cancer, lived with lots of health problems, but now they can’t fix me anymore. I’ve been put on hospice and now I’m ready to go.”         

I realized that this was more than a routine hospital visit. This woman, this servant of God, was saying goodbye. She began to give what grief experts term “life review.” I have learned in my fourteen years as a hospital chaplain that if we will just listen long enough, we might be privileged to hear an incredible life story…that life counted for something…‘why I am here, after all.’

So, I just sat and listened, nodding from time to time, to let her know I was paying attention. She spoke of being a charter member of her church. She rehearsed her stories of her love for her husband, now deceased. She smiled as she told about moving back to Temple, Texas, “three times…but, the last time I came alone.” There was a gleam in her eye as she discussed her love for her children, saying, “I raised them all to be believers in God…I did my best.” Thinking about her family, she chuckled when her son-in-law told her that the Do Not Resuscitate order depicted on her wristband, “DNR”, meant ‘Democrat, Not Republican!’ “I told him that’s surely NOT what it meant!’”

Finally, she shared her love of church. Her eyes sparkled as she recalled visits from elders, church members and favorite preachers who had come not just once, but many times to check on her. The conversation concluded with her love for God and a forward look toward heaven where, as she said, “my husband and a son are waiting.”  Family. Friends. Church. God. These were important markers in her life.

Desiring to say something helpful, I shared I wished for a magic wand to take away her pain. Sensing some anxiousness in my voice, she reassured me, “It’s going to be okay, for I know I’m okay with God.” I thanked her for allowing me the privilege to sit with her. She reached for my hand, and together we prayed for her courage, for her faith, and for being a blessing to others and to her children as she looked forward to going home to heaven.

As often happens with someone who is nearing death’s door, I sensed God’s presence while talking with this great faith pilgrim, to spend a moment with her at the end of her journey. I was invited into her sacred space, with an invitation to see the face of God.

Thank you for helping Lifeline Chaplaincy to be present in such powerful, holy moments.

By Tom Nuckels, Director of Spiritual Care, Central Texas


I Saw Love Today

June (not her real name) is an eighty year old mother with heart problems. She was surrounded by four daughters when I went in to see her. She was sitting up in a chair having just had a shower and a fresh shampoo. Though she was not out of the woods health wise, she was in the mood to cut up and joke with those around her. One daughter commented on her hair being “spiked” and mom just left it that way to aggravate them. We joked about how she would fit in with the younger crowd and you could almost see the wheels turning in her head as she smiled and became more animated as she spoke of her grandchildren. In fact, the four daughters were part of a group of thirteen siblings. Yes, grandma was only fourteen when she married and now had a quiver full of children which included thirty-nine grandchildren, eighty great-grandchildren and nineteen great-great-grandchildren.

I commented with “what a blessing it must be to have such a large family.” That’s when she sat up, looked me right in the eye and said plainly, “Well, it was no walk in the park! We’ve had our share of problems, but God has seen us through it all.” Then, someone shared the painful story of how one of the eight daughters had suffered a heart attack and died at the early age of thirty-four. There was talk of troubled teens and other difficult times, but what was clear were the visible signs of love and support these women had for one another and the high esteem they held for their mother. During the conversation, the youngest daughter brought in a “Princess Barbie” doll that had special significance between the two of them. That brought smiles and laughter to everyone.

I reflected on the fact that there are times when I visit a patient who have no family at their bedside. They suffer alone and in silence with their illness. They, too, need special attention, care and a listening ear. But, what a delight to see love demonstrated by a family who genuinely cares for one another. We joined hands in prayer and I thanked God for relationships, care for the present and hope for the future.

As I rose to leave, June smiled and thanked me for coming and for the encouragement given. I thanked her as well, for her humor, her hopefulness and for giving me a blessing today. As I walked down the hall, I recalled a statement of a chaplain colleague, who often says, “I have the best job in the world.”

A couple of weeks went by, then June was back in the hospital for the last time. When I saw her on this occasion, she was in a coma and in her final hours. Surrounding her bed were many of the family, some I hadn’t met before. But there were her daughters again, holding on to their beloved mother, one stroking her hair, another whispering in her ear words of caring and tenderness during those waning moments. Then, someone began the soft melody of an old familiar hymn and one by one others blended their voices to the refrain until she breathed her last.

Again, I thanked God for allowing me the privilege of being witness to the love of this family; a love that began long ago through simple acts of a mother caring for her children and came full circle as she became the recipient of that same love.

Her children rise up and call her blessed…Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. -Proverbs 31:28-30

Author: Tom Nuckels

Going Home

George (not his real name) appeared very frail, but alert as I entered the room. It was obvious that he was a very sick man. There were IVs and an array of tubes running this way and that. One that was protruding from his neck looked rather obtrusive as he tugged at it. He had all the usual signs of a patient under hospice care.

I greeted him with a smile and my normal introduction of “Hi George, I’m Tom Nuckels, with Lifeline Chaplaincy.” He frowned. Thinking he didn’t understand, I came a little closer and said more firmly and with a little more volume, “I’m Tom Nuckels. I’m a minister with the Church of Christ.” He shook his head and pointed to his ear. “Well”, I thought, “I’ll I need to talk louder.” So, I raised the volume a bit more, “I’m Tom Nuckels with Lifeline Chaplaincy with the Church of Christ.” He responded with something like, “No, the nurse just brought me some ice.”

Finally, George gave me some grace by pointing to the bedside table. On it was a marker board, outfitted with a pen and a tissue for an eraser. It was clear. George wasn’t just hard of hearing. George couldn’t hear at all! He tried to help me out by reading my lips, but wasn’t yet very proficient at it. I wrote, “My name is Tom Nuckels. I’m a chaplain with the Church of Christ. Is there anything you need?” He took the board and read with eagerness. Then with complete clarity said, “I want to go” and pointed skyward. Seeking to understand, I wrote, “Are you saying that you want to go to heaven.” “Yes,” he nodded, “I’m ready to go home.”

George began to rehearse a life filled with a mixture of good and bad, of misdeeds for which he had deeply regretted and some things that about which he was proud. He spoke of faith and how he admired the story of Elijah and how God came to the rescue in the showdown with the prophets of Baal. He rehearsed how the armies of Israel’s enemies surrounded the city of Jerusalem and how Elisha prayed that the servant’s eyes would be opened to see the angels who were with them ready to fight their battles.

When we prayed, he requested that I would ask God to take him home. Once more, I took the marker board and wrote, “I will pray that God will take you home. I will thank God for your faith and I will pray that you may have eyes to see like the servant of Elisha and to know that God is present with you.”

As we held hands, I knelt beside his bed and prayed that God would give him relief, eyes to see, and the answer to his prayer. When I stood, I looked into bright eyes that belied the fact that they belonged to a man whose body was tired and ravaged by disease. It was then that I realized that I was standing next to one of God’s truly wonderful saints, who, like the apostle, was ready to face the future in faith when he said,

“The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.” — 2 Timothy 4:6-8.

Author: Tom Nuckels

Pink Glove Dance

Our daughter-in-law, Emily (MacInnes) Somers, created, directed and choreographed this in Portland last week for her Medline glove division as a fundraiser for breast cancer awareness. This was all her idea to help promote their new pink gloves. I don’t know how she got so many employees, doctors and patients to participate, but it started to really catch on and they all had a lot of fun doing it.

Ann Somers

Tom Nuckles

Lifeline Chaplaincy Central Texas Invites you to . . .

“The Empty Chair: Handling Grief Through The Holidays” Seminar

CT 11-14 wrkshp
· The Emotions of Grief
· Coping with the Holidays
· Creating Lasting Memorials

Saturday, November 14, 2009
8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

Seminar speakers:
Tom Nuckels & Dan Bonner

Event Location:
Brentwood Oaks church of Christ
11908 North Lamar
Austin, TX 78753

To register: Call Lifeline Chaplaincy at
(toll free) 1-888-767-6363
Or reply to this email with your name and phone
Or email Tom Nuckels

Registration deadline is November 9th
Continental breakfast courtesy of Lifeline Chaplaincy

Please print this invitation for your bulletin or order of worship or forward it to friends, family, staff or church members who may have interest.

Prayer for Caregivers

Everything that happens to you is your teacher. The secret is to learn to sit at the feet of your own life and be taught by it…Everything that happens is either a blessing that is also a lesson, or a lesson that is also a blessing. (Berends, Coming to Life, pp.8,177)

If life is for learning and all of life teaches, then every person we care for and every moment of our caregiving presents a unique opportunity for growth that comes only once. How sacred, then, are these moments! What might it take for us to sit at the feet of our own experiences and patients and moments of caregiving and be taught by them? Can we recognize the lessons and the blessings? Can we find one lesson in each day?

“O great Life Giver, you fill my days with blessings and opportunities, and you offer me myself in every moment and experience. I often mistakenly think that I need to look elsewhere for the way of holiness. Let me see that the people I care for are my teachers, that every experience I have is my teacher, and that my life offers lessons tailor-made for me. Don’t let me miss the blessings.”

-Selected from 124 Prayers for Caregivers by Joan Guntzelman

The Old Woman, Babies and Lullabies

Mary has an unimpressive appearance, being now in her eighties, and her strong accent has a distinctive eastern European tone. As I entered her room and greeted her with words of cheer, she growled, “When are they going to discharge me…I’ve been waiting all morning!” “Well, I don’t know anything about that,” I said, “I’m the chaplain.” She reached for her glasses which were resting on the bedside table and put them on. After looking me over for a few seconds, there was a small notice of recognition in her eyes. “We’ve met before,” I said, looking to make some connection. “I visited with you and your husband last year when he was here after his fall.” Another scowl appeared across her brow. “Yes, and if he hadn’t gotten on that ladder to change that light bulb, it would have never happened. He’s not young anymore, you know. He ended up in the nursing home and now I’ve fallen and broken my hip. We’ll never be home again and he needs me…and now look at me. I’m not able to do anything now! I’m supposed to be released to some rehab place, but I’m waiting on my son to come. He’s in Dallas, but on his way now.”

I sat down while she rehearsed her story of immigrating to the U.S. and of life and love; a young couple who had hopes and dreams, success and failure. She shared about her one son, who is a successful businessman in Dallas, and how he takes opportunities to visit from time to time. Now in their 80’s, the couple has been in and out of the hospital on several occasions with broken hips, he with pneumonia that often comes with immobility, a barrage of medications and antibiotics, and etcetera. Now in the twilight of her years, I looked for something, anything that might bring a moment of hope and happiness…then, as if right on cue, we heard the clear, but gentle melody of a lullaby. “What is that sound?,” she queried with eyebrows raised. “Oh, that” I said, “that is the lullaby that’s played every time a new birth occurs. The nurses play that tune over the intercom to announce that a mother and her baby have been safely moved from delivery to their room. It says ‘all is well!’ It tells us that a new life has entered into the world. Isn’t that wonderful!” She smiled, as if recalling some long lost joy. “Yes, it is wonderful, life goes on doesn’t it!”

Light seemed to break through the dimness in the room. Mary was more cheerful now. She seemed more hopeful and not so focused on her own plight, but rather on thoughts of rehab and getting back to her husband and helping him. We visited a while longer until interrupted by medical personnel who needed to perform their task.

As I left, I thanked God for allowing me the privilege to come alongside for a moment in the life of this one; to offer care and a listening ear and to learn that God sometimes speaks through His word, sometimes through the stories of an old woman, and sometimes through babies and lullabies.

Author: Tom Nuckels