On the first day of my chaplain residency, a nurse called me to provide spiritual care for a grieving couple on the hospital's birthing unit. This was my first crisis referral, and the couple was Greek Orthodox. I entered the room quietly, and met "Ana" and "George." When I told them I was the chaplain, and that I was Orthodox, they embraced me, kissing me on both cheeks." There was an immediate closeness among us.
For we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
Ana and George had just found out that their baby, of 20 weeks gestation, had died in Ana's womb. They had tried to conceive for the past ten years. This was her first pregnancy. They were utterly devastated. Their grief was palpable in the sterile, gray-tinged hospital room.
Ana, a heavyset woman with dark circles under her eyes, reached out to me, crying, "Why? Why, my baby? We waited so long for him... and now... what will I say to my family? What will we do?" I stayed with them on that rainy afternoon, in silence, in prayer, and in spiritual reflection. My presence helped them to articulate the painful questions weighing on their hearts and minds. When words failed, we watched silently through the window as rain fell. It felt like God's creation was grieving with us.
The next day, Ana delivered their son. That afternoon, their priest and I joined together to offer a prayer service for the baby. George, Fr. "John" and I stood over a small bassinet, which held their tiny, precious son. We prayed traditional Orthodox prayers in Greek and English, blessing the baby and their family. Ana did not attend the prayers, for she found it too painful to do so. However, her husband’s presence at the bassinet, and the beautiful Orthodox prayers carrying her child to heaven, lent a sense of quiet comfort to this grieving mother. The mystery and fullness of Christ’s death and resurrection—the joy of life-giving love and the grief of death—felt real and present among us. Lo, God is with us always.
So many tears flowed that day—tears of love and devotion, offered up to God in the midst of nearly unspeakable grief. I was thankful to be there for Ana and George, to provide spiritual care for them in the sacred space of their hospital room. Truly, the Spirit blessed each one of us with a quiet prayerfulness, "too deep for words."
Sarah Byrne is the Chaplain at All Care Hospice in Lynn, Massachusetts. She is endorsed as a chaplain by the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) and is board certified with the Association of Professional Chaplains. She received a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School, with additional study at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. Areas of particular interest for Sarah include ministry in ecumenical and interfaith settings, music and ministry, Hospice and "the remembrance of death" and the role of faith in bereavement care.