Buena Muerte/Good Death

I am a nurse. I had always thought I wanted to work in Labor and Delivery. What a blessing to see life begin with all the hopes and promises. Even in the worst of situations, a birth lends beauty and a breath of heaven. Tiny fingers, brand new sounds and cries, babes who make quirky movements and gestures as they learn to live outside of their warm, watery womb. The almost instantaneous change in some moms and dads as they look upon their child’s face for the first time, and realize that living life is about serving someone other than themselves. Awesome. I did get to witness a number of such blessings, but it wasn’t the call God had for my life and career.

Instead, and quite by surprise, I wound up in a 40 bed ICU/CCU that encompassed a Level 1 trauma center, open heart, neuro specialties, and more. I was shell-shocked for two straight years as I cared for these patients, and fell in love with their families, and fell apart for their families. Shift after shift I watched as some patients fought to live and others surrendered to death. Some fought fiercely even angrily, while others strained fearfully to the bitter end, in agony and despair… Still others with similar diagnosis or injury, left this world with joy and peace, in total rest. The dichotomy was blinding. It wasn’t just evident to me, something I alone was perceiving and privy to. It was a frequent but also taboo topic of conversation amongst the staff, whispers at the desks, small gatherings at the medication counter. What was the difference? Why were some endings so gut wrenching and even horrific, while other endings were such a wonderful privilege to watch, you almost felt as though you were witnessing a birth?

The answer is Jesus. Plain and simply, Jesus. Even those medical staff that had come into that unit as atheists and agnostics had to admit that something spiritual was happening in each of those deaths, whether good or bad. It was just too much to ignore.

The more I experienced the more overwhelmed I felt by the desire to share Jesus with patients. In the beginning I was afraid of being reprimanded or even disciplined for what I did, but I didn’t want to be responsible for withholding a person’s last opportunity to know Him. At one point I even began to worry about whether or not I should share with all the patients I possibly could while at work. How could I get alone time with each of them? It was then that I was blessed with a conversation with a good friend of ours, a Navy Chaplain. I asked him, “Don’t you feel guilty, or bad, with all these people walking by in everyday life, in the grocery store or on the street who certainly don’t know the Lord? How do you deal with that? How do you live without feeling like you have to tell every person you run into, the good news of the Gospel… or do you?” He didn’t linger in his answer, it was right there, as though God had spoken it to him just minutes before. I will repeat it to the best of my recollection, he said, “I don’t feel guilty. I am not responsible for telling everyone around me, God is. People are responsible for their response when He makes Himself known to them. I am only responsible when God lays it on my heart to share with someone. If I don’t, then I am guilty, I am choosing for them in a way. So, when He tells me to share, I do and know that He will give me the words. If I don’t, then I suppose their blood is on my hands, and that is heavy. If they receive it, great! If they don’t, I just assume it is another seed God is planting.” WOW! What a relief that was to me! At the same time, it was sobering to think about the obedience required of our leaders and teachers, their need and desire to stay tuned in and sensitive to the leading of the Spirt.

So, after that, I waited on the Lord to show me who needed Him. I am sure I made mistakes, but God is gracious, He knows our hearts… and He rejoiced with me in moments when people made decisions for Him, His warmth and love so tangible at times I could hardly contain myself. Some folks I shared with were even in comas. After praying with even these “incoherent” people, there would often be an overwhelming sense of joy in me from head to toe, and I believe God was working. I believe that the spirits of people are alive and sharp well beyond the age and condition of the body in many cases, and I believe God made it possible for those people to participate in prayer through His Spirit and theirs. The evidence of a persons awareness even in those situations is there, and I could rattle on forever about it, but I won’t keep you. God can impress it on your heart as He has mine, without a list of my clinical experiences.

I work in a much smaller, low-key ICU these days. Although the medical acuity of these patients is no where near as great, the spiritual acuity is just as severe. I pray and ask God to provide me with the patients He wants me to care for, and show me if there is a way I can minister to them. I ask Him to bring me patients that need Him or would enjoy a nurse who can celebrate their relationship with Him. He is faithful. I know the Charge Nurses think they are making out the patient assignments, but I know that it is really God who is doing it. Numerous times, I have had patients who express fear of death… what a privilege to share a prayer of salvation with them, and what a miracle to behold as the peace that passes all understanding washes over them and surrounds them through their last breath. No less incredible is to share in such an event with a faith focused family and listen to them as they reminisce about or with the person that is in their last moments. I have to confess, I think it is me that is blessed beyond words in those moments, what an amazing opportunity to see God work.

Having Jesus in death is full of comfort, peace, joy and expectancy. What a privilege to see people pass from death to life, it is better than birth a hundred times over. I want that. I have that! I hope you have that, too.

Acts 16:31 …”Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.”

Roman 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

1 John 5:5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

6 comments for “Buena Muerte/Good Death

  1. September 10, 2010 at 9:27 PM

    This is beautiful. My daughter-in-law is a Christian nurse and I am going to share this with her. What is your website? I would like to add it to my blog honor roll. God bless you.

  2. September 17, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    This is so true. I worked in ICU at a level one trauma center as well. Then later with a hematologist. The difference in the attitude, outlook, and peace that surrounds death in those who know Jesus and those who do not is astounding! I confess I often, but not often enough, stood by patients who would never utter another word on this planet, whose brains were likely no longer functioning, and I would whisper. I would whisper salvation words. “There is forgiveness in Christ. You only have to believe.” I will not know this side of heaven if any of the patients I spoke those words to put their faith in Jesus or not. I honestly wish I did that more. I with you consider it an honor to watch someone leave this world, only to walk into the arms of their Savior. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Katelynn
    October 4, 2010 at 12:54 PM

    This is so wonderful and beautiful! To think that out of this evil called “death,” the Lord is using you in such a powerful way. It makes me have an new appreciation for Christian nurses that I never had before!

    God bless you!

  4. Nancy Meager
    October 13, 2010 at 12:18 AM

    I work in activities in a nursing home (“long-term care facility”) and have lost 2 dear ladies to heaven this past week and another will not stay much longer. (The halo is already present and she just needs wings!) I preach a bit and talk about God with anyone who will listen- and that is quite a few! We have a Joyful Noise Gospel Sing-a-long every 2 weeks or so. It never fails to amaze me that people who do not remember what day it is know all the words to these old old hymns! I attend Liberty University Online now and hope to one day be a chaplain for hospice. I could not stand the misery without trying to alleviate it and God put me where He knew I was needed because I could do it. I always appreciate the nurses and CNA’s- they make all the difference in so many ways. Bless you for all you do! Nancy

  5. Lori Ann
    November 9, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    Great article Jen, but I do take some exception to your first paragraph. Like many other nurses, you assume labor and delivery is mostly filled with “warm fuzzies”. You did state, “Even in the worst of situations, a birth lends beauty and a breath of heaven.” I worked in a level 3 regional perinatal center. In one room a mother losing her 7th pregancy, no living children. Next door a 17 year old delivering her 3 child (she doesn’t have custody of any of them). It was so frustrating to not be understood even by fellow nurses who ridiculed labor nurses when floating to another area of the hospital telling you, “Now you will find out what REAL nursing is”. Diabetics, cardiac, renal and transplant patients all get pregnant and have babies. Pregnancy is no respector of medical problems/complications and while birth can and often is a joyous experience, when the outcome is not good, it’s very sad. On the other I did have many opportunities to share my faith with patients and family in that setting.

  6. Jen Koop
    November 9, 2010 at 3:15 PM

    Dear Lori,
    I don’t disagree at all. L & D is filled with best of circumstances and the worst of circumstances. I did do some time in L & D and would never suggest that this nursing is anything less than real. L & D is practically a science and medicine unto itself, it takes the best of the best to fill this role, and I am still in awe of the skill and critical thinking I witnessed in the nurses there.
    I fear that you may have missed the point of my mentioning L & D in my article – it was simply to remind myself and those reading that our best laid plans are often not God’s. I had thought that birth, the ones that are in the “best of circumstances,” was were I would find joy in my job… I saw death as the downer. So God, in His abundant wisdom, took me into a job I feared, and showed me that joy can come even in death. Do you see? He had to take away my definition of good to show me that I was limiting my own experience and blessing.
    This article was never intended to diminish the L & D nurse, it was intended to show that my plan for my life needed to be diminished so that God could show me that His plan is perfect. Is it possible that your heart has been so wounded by the words of others, that you perceived to read them here in this article? I hope that you will reread it, and see that the focus is on God’s plan for us and the unexpected blessings it can bring. This article is also about our responsibility in sharing Jesus with those we come in contact with on the job and in day to day life. Thanks for reading, Jen

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