I am always honored to be given the opportunity to lend an ear and offer support to health care providers who are grieving the loss of a pregnancy or infant. Lately, I've heard some providers sharing their experiences of receiving comments like, it was God's will. Or God needed another angel in heaven from their friends or family.
It has also become apparent to me that religion and faith can sometimes act as barriers to acknowledging the profound pain associated with losing a baby and working through the intense emotions that come with such a loss. With that in mind, I have invited Reverend Daryl Labway to join us and share his extensive knowledge, experience, and wisdom.
Daryl has dedicated his career to ministering in various churches and retired as the Senior Minister at Grace Baptist Church in San Jose, California. California in 2014. In addition to his work in churches, Daryl has also served as a chaplain in a level one academic medical center, where he witnessed firsthand the tireless efforts of healthcare providers at all hours of the day and night.
Given his unique perspectives and work, I believe Daryl can provide valuable insights, suggestions, and empathy to the grieving healthcare providers listening to this podcast. Furthermore, Daryl's diverse background, He is a master certified main guide, has traveled internationally, and has more recently taken on the role of teaching robotics to high school students.
Welcome, Daryl. We are so grateful to have you here. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. Yes. So let's jump into something that I mentioned in the introduction. Some of the comments that people can sometimes say when somebody is grieving. So somebody were to say, it's God will, or it's part of his plan.
Do you have some suggestions of A, how to respond to that? And B, maybe how to process some of those comments? Yes, I think. First of all, my response would be, How do you know?
Who told you that this is part of God's plan or God needed another angel? I don't find that anywhere. And so, when I hear people say things like that after I'm done cringing, it occurs to me, somebody should ask them some questions. Because I think the framework that the question is asked is, I want your experience, as traumatic as it is, to fit into my face structure.
Because I can't even remotely conceive of what you're going through, I have to somehow make it work. So, I think it's an appropriate question to say to somebody that says that, How do you know? Who gave you that insider information? That's I think that's a fair question. Yes, and then I think if they say well the Bible says well then You haven't read very well because people in the Bible struggled with the same thing Job, Job gets to the point where he says to God I wish my mother had wiped me from the womb That's the exact words that he uses in the midst of his struggle.
Now some people say Well, everything turned out great for Job in the end. He got children again, and he had all this. That's not true. He still grieved the loss of his children, that he had before that whole series of events happened. And so, I just, I just hate it when religious, I say religious or Christian people go down that road, because it's not how my faith operates.
I, I could share an experience from my early ministry when I was like maybe 23 years old. There were a young couple in a neighboring town who had no church affiliation and their baby died of SIDS. A little boy. And I'm 23 and I don't have a clue. I don't know, and they called me to do a memorial service for him, and I had to drive like 20 miles, and all the way there, I kept saying, why me?
Why me? I don't, I'm not equipped to do this. I don't know what to say, and so I'm sitting in the little room waiting for the service to start, and I don't know these parents, I don't know their context, I don't know anything, and I kept saying in the little room, I don't know what to say, I don't know what to say, and so I left.
to go out and start the service, and I looked at the mom and the dad, and they're, they're barely as old as I am. And I finally stood up, and I said, first of all, I don't know what to say, because I don't have this experience, but here's what I believe. I believe that this is not God's will. I believe that God's will is life.
And I don't understand this, but I will tell you this. I believe that God grieves with you because He, too, lost a child. And so, I said, I don't understand this, but I believe that God does. Because He knew what it was to lose a child. And then there's, that's two weeks later, I got a note from the mother.
saying that in, out of the whole process, those were the only things that made any sense to her. That she understood that God was grieving with them, and that they hadn't done something wrong as parents, that they, they hadn't ignored or whatever their child, and no, there still wasn't medical answers, but she did state that she didn't feel alone in the process anymore.
Somehow, I had spoken some truth resonated with her, that, that God's will is life, and these things happen, and we certainly don't, I don't pretend to understand them, but I do really believe that God grieves with us. And so that's how I came down on that and there had certainly been, and especially in that little corner of Maine, there had been plenty of people using the platitudes, just harmed them more than help them.
It just harmed them. And, and I frankly don't think there's any. Thing wrong was clergy, either professional or other, otherwise saying, I don't know. Mm-hmm. , I don't know why this fell on you. I don't know, but I do believe in God sharing our grief with us in, in the Christmas story, the word Emanuel that we translate in handles, Messiah, et cetera, is God with us.
The Hebrew word and the Aramaic word actually is God who sits beside me. That in the original Christmas story, the whole concept of the incarnation was a God who sits beside me. Not a God who is above or unreachable, but one that sits beside me. And so I've held on to that for as many years as I can remember.
This, this nebulous concept of God with us wears pretty thin, but when you talk about a God who sits beside you, no matter what your circumstances are, I can identify with that. I can get into that. So there you have it. And, and grieving can be an incredibly isolating experience. And so that sense of presence, God's presence.
For some may be very comforting when you think of it in that way in that framework Yeah, just for me that that made the Christmas story come alive for me Because I'm not a kind of a person that really gets into the ho ho ho la dee da part of it But a God that sits beside me is is something that I have never stopped thinking about that's It's a really beautiful thing to think about and, and way to view it, especially when you are going through something difficult like losing a baby for sure.
So just to shift a little bit here when you look at grieving from a faith perspective, do you have any suggestions of how to use your faith as a tool or as a comfort in addition to some of the things you just mentioned?
My first thought when I saw you suggest that question was I encourage people that are grieving to trust their gut. Trust the process that you're going through as horrible as it is. Trust that process. Don't trust anybody else with that process, and I don't mean to isolate yourself that way. I, I think that avoiding isolation is important, but it's, you're, you should avoid isolation in a community that you trust.
Church is not always that community. I've been thinking about it since I read your questions, and I, I thought, why is that? And then I realized is that church people aren't necessarily interested in your grief, they're more interested that have you gotten beyond the part of picking at the scab, if you will.
That's what they want to know. When they ask you how you're doing, they're not prepared for you to say not well. They don't want to hear that. Not all church people, but Certainly a large number, especially in American culture, where church is not seen as a healing place. It's a place to prove that you've got everything together.
And it's just not true. And there are good people in our churches who are sensitive to that. They really want you to grieve on their schedule, if you will. And I don't think that church is always a safe place for grief. In some senses it is, in some contexts, but not always. And that's why I go back for somebody who is going through this, trust your gut.
If church doesn't feel safe to you, don't go there. You have enough trouble dealing with the grief itself without trying to deal with somebody's expectations. Or somebody saying, well, you don't understand it now, but you will someday. Oh, you're, you're not going to understand. You will grieve. This loss for all the time you breathe, it's yes.
It stays with you. I think it grows tolerable, but it tinges everything from the point of the event onward. You're not the same person. And if somebody comes up to you and says, well, we missed the old Amy. Well, tough. The old Amy changed. There's There's not an old Amy to go back to. If there was an old Amy to go back to, it would mean that you would have birthed your child and continued on.
That would have, and there's... That doesn't happen anymore. Church people are uncomfortable around that. So they want to know that you're doing better. And even that, even if it's not verbalized, if you sense it, trust your gut and get out of there because they aren't going to be, they don't have any wisdom for you because they feel like they have to say something.
Sometimes with people in grief, I've just sat with them, just presence. Holding some space. Absolutely. And, and in the framework of my ministry, it was always a guarantee that if you are in my office or in my presence, or we're sitting in your living room, I guarantee you it's a safe place. And I have never regretted making that guarantee.
That, that, because grief is so individualized, there is no process of grief. There, there is no way that people automatically check off the six things of grief or whatever the death and dying thing was. There's no, it doesn't work that way. It just doesn't. And it's not, it's not a, it's not a straight shot either.
And sometimes it's two steps forward, five steps back. It's not linear at all.
And in the framework of American culture, we're almost totally dependent on a linear, linear experience. You grow up, you go to school, you get a good job, you get a better job, you have children, your children are better than anybody else's. And you... Are so successful that you retire early and it's all a linear shot,
but we don't summarize it perfectly. We don't go where people struggle. There's no room in our culture for people that struggle even with just the basics of life, not just economically, but emotionally and all of that. So sometimes I wonder. So many health care providers have had a very linear journey professionally.
So you know, you know, in high school that you've got to get good grades so that you can go on and become, you know, very, do very well in your undergraduate degree so you can get into medical school or you can get into graduate school, what have you. And you have this like checklist of what you need to do to get to where you need to go kind of thing.
I have a plan. Yeah, and so when you have this situation where all of a sudden you are in a very non linear, it feels uncomfortable and you don't know what to do with it. And so I think I, you know, I personally struggled with that, but I, I'm hearing other people struggling with that as well. I'm certain they do because everything's wonderful until the off ramp that you didn't expect.
And, and of course, all the other people that are still on the linear path. What's wrong with so and so you you have to get on with life. Well, no, you need to take every second of time that you need to do this grieving. And it's very much like the waves or the tide. It comes in and goes out. And you may even have days where you think you're fine.
And the next day it's the waves are crashing over your head. And that is not a failure to grief. That is. The definition of grief in my understanding. Yes. I met a woman at a bereavement retreat who was older and her child would have graduated from high school that year and it reignited that grief.
And so she came to the bereavement retreat after 18 years of, you know, managing, but all of a sudden it just was like a wave that had crashed over her and she needed support. And it was like, it had happened yesterday and she needed to work through that next layer of grief 18 years later. Yeah. I had a member of one of my congregations whose father passed away and she, he passed away and she didn't cry.
And then she said one day she was driving home from work and a Red Sox game came on the radio in her car and she had to pull over because her father loved to listen to Red Sox game and that was the trigger for her to really grieve. And it had been six, eight months. from his time of death, but then she understood the loss.
I think, I'm, I'm almost certain she hadn't really embraced that sense of loss until that day. That he couldn't listen to that ballgame with her. And she grieved. And I really think for her that was the beginning of the healing process. I, I really do, for her, I think that was the beginning. Sort of embracing that sense of loss, you know, we we've talked about how everybody grieves differently in your experience with couples who have lost a baby and they're grieving differently and some of the friction that can be Created in the relationship because of a different grieving journey Do you have any suggestions for couples?
who might be grieving differently and are really struggling with each other. My suggestion always was, come and see me separately. Let's talk about your grief, just you and I. That's a great suggestion. And I tried to do that. I went to, I assume it was some kind of training for therapy practice. And one of the things stated there shocked me so much.
But as a general rule, now this was in the 70s and 80s, I don't know if it holds true now, of in couples where they lost a child before the child was a teenager. So, it would be pre puberty, I guess, 80% of them ended in divorce, 80%, and it went even higher than that if it was an accident one thinks the other could have prevented, 80% because their relationship wasn't equipped to let each other grieve in different ways, and
it was painful to hear that. And yet, as I've watched that over the years, I realize that mostly it's because they couldn't acknowledge that they were grieving in different ways. And that's, I used to suggest, I mean, I obviously had experiences in the ministry with couples that didn't grieve in sync, if you will.
And I just used to say, come and talk to me, just you and I. And that way, they weren't sitting together saying he doesn't understand or she doesn't understand. And then we have to work through all of that. I would say, come and see me alone and we'll talk about your grief.
Because it, even though you're a couple, it's still an individual process. And I'd like to think, I'm not positive, but I'd like to think my success rate was better than 80%. I have a feeling it was they blew my mind to see that statistic that So 80% is huge for I mean, I just felt for lonely couples Who were lonely?
And, as a couple, probably isolated from the grief event from their friends and colleagues, and then feeling isolated from each other because you feel guilty because your grieving process isn't the same as theirs, or they feel guilty, vice versa, and so I just used to say, come and see me by yourself, and, and, and then there was no competition or anything.
There was. It was, and they knew, absolutely, I would not discuss with the other person what we talked about. They absolutely knew that, for sure, that whatever each one talked to me about, it stayed right there. And I would stress that, and I would say, if you haven't built that trust level yet, don't worry about it.
You disclose as much as you trust. And we'll build that in the process and so it sort of served a double purpose, I think, to be able to trust an individual, but also be able to trust your own process that it wasn't wrong because it was different then. And so that was my suggestion to couples, because it is awesomely hard.
Yes, and I don't think that our culture promotes. Any kind of skill set as you're growing up as a kid, you know, when you have a tremendous loss. And so there's almost, you know, a learning curve when you are in the midst of it and you're not your best self to learn it, you know, and so having somebody to help guide you through the grief can be tremendously helpful.
And again, when there's, when they're there individual, you can just sit with them. There's nothing that you have to accomplish.
And I also think that our faith doesn't provide us our, in our culture, our faith system doesn't provide us with the tools to deal with that either. That's when you ask the question about not wanting to go to church or whatever. Don't. If your God is telling you, don't do that. That's not the place for you until you yourself get up on a Sabbath day, whatever day it is and say, I want to go to church today.
That's the time to do it. Because our faith doesn't, I don't care who it is. My faith doesn't prepare me. I, my faith didn't prepare me to miss my mother. She passed away 22 years ago, 23 years ago, and I still miss her every day. I'm, I am Comforted by my faith that I believe I know where she is and all of that stuff But I wasn't prepared for that.
I just wasn't And I don't think, you know, healthcare providers, you know, for this podcast are ever prepared to a be the patient and B have such a tremendous loss and C have such an interruption in a very linear career. And so there's, it's multiple things, multiple layers to that process. Yes. And then also on top of that, and I feel like you can really appreciate this having worked in the hospital as a chaplain and seeing the stressors that providers go through on a day to day basis.
Do you have any thoughts or observations from your time working in the hospital of suggestions you would have for providers if they're having a really bad day at work because of their grief or that sort of thing?
I found in the last four years, like when I sort of came out of retirement and did the papalency at Maine Medical Center, I found that I spent at least 50% of my time with staff. Interesting. And I was intentional about that. I built relationships. anywhere I possibly could. Patients were important to me and their families were important to me, but what those patients and families experienced often was a once in a lifetime type of thing, and professional staff saw it day in and day out and day in, and they aren't as hard shelled as everybody wants them to be.
They're not immune. So I built relationships wherever I could. And in the last year and a half, I was on a team started by a new chaplain manager where we met and the chaplain would be the lead of the team with maybe a charge nurse or something. But we would meet with individual health care staff. If they had spent a whole shift with an abusive patient or whatnot, we actually created what we call the rapid response and all the nurse had to do is say, I've got a 10 or 15 minute break at 10, and I would gather a little team, and they were the center of our attention for that 10 or 15 minutes, just to say you know, I hated to go in that patient's room.
I, I just didn't have what it took anymore because they were so abusive. And so we did this rapid response thing and now, and I re retired, but I would have liked to have seen that be in a broader scope where a floor nurse could come to us and say, well, you know, so and so lost his, A member of their family or something, maybe you could maybe touch base with them and to me that was just as important as any patient visit I made in that shift would be to touch base because he or she is there working.
Being compassionate to patients, they needed somebody to be compassionate with them. So, I would have liked to have seen that to expand. It may have to healthcare providers that suffer these losses. They aren't immune from that any more than anybody else is. And yet we expect them to lay that aside and go and do their job.
That's hard. That's hard. And I had, I'm trying to think. There was, there was one instance where we did the rapid response where there had been an abusive patient and the nurse was just beside herself because she's a good nurse and no matter what she did, it was just this outpouring of abuse and we did it there.
And then there was, I don't know what you call them, the person in the ER that directs the people to different rooms. Like the triage nurse? Well, she was, she was sort of the filter for phone calls and all of that stuff. I don't know what they called them. I can't remember, but I used to go to the ER. I was called the ER all the time and I would always spend a few minutes at her desk.
Or the counter and one day she said to me, my 14 year old daughter just got arrested for drugs. Now, she's there doing her job until midnight, driving 25 miles back home, not knowing what she's going to find out when she gets home. Husband not in the picture. Which was very fascinating for me because he was quote unquote a very well known and well loved pastor.
They were divorced and he was no help at all. It was like, well, she just needs to come to church more or you aren't strict enough with her and... She built a level of trust that she could say across the counter, my daughter got arrested for drugs, and I don't know what to do. Well, I didn't have any easy answers for her, but she knew it was safe.
The person on the other side of the counter was going to listen to her all the way through and not come up with pat answers, because there isn't. So, I always wanted to build those kinds of relationships with staff. Did my best to do that. I would imagine that most chaplains in the hospital setting would be very open to supporting a health care provider who's grieving.
In fact one person shared with me that sometimes she would, when she was on call and she took a lot of OB call. And she would have a bad night here or there and she would go and she would ask the chaplain in the middle of the night. Will you please have a cup of coffee with me and just sit with me and that's all she needed.
Yes. So I just want to just point out what a tremendous resource the chaplain service is and they're not always the first person we think of when we as providers are struggling. So it's a gentle reminder to anybody listening to this. I think the chaplain service at Maine Medical Center was moving in that direction, but I also have to be honest enough to say that some chaplains are on a linear trajectory.
Also, and some of them found through the CPE courses that they were taking for seminary or whatever, chaplain work is hard. Sometimes mustering compassion is hard, and some of them just, quite frankly, needed to finish their CPE course and do something else. They, they just weren't chaplain material. I never said that to them.
It's the truth. It's the truth. One student in CPE didn't know what to do with mentally ill people. Just, she just couldn't hand it. And Maine Med has a special section in the ER for mentally ill intake. And somebody had called for the chaplain, and she went down and just pushed a Bible through the door, interlocking system, and left just quickly.
As possible, because that so frightened her that she I was called in late because I used to do the night shift, and I was called in at night to go and see the same person, and it was the security people that said, well, there was a chaplain that came down, but they just pushed the Bible through the door, left, and I said, well, I'm old enough not to worry too much, and you're here, so I I vetted If they get violent, I'm trusting you.
Went in and ended up having a decent conversation with them. But chaplains get afraid of different things the same as anybody else does, I guess. You're a chaplain too. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, and I think in any profession, there's some that stand out, you know, in different areas and have different strengths.
And so if you're, if you're on call one night and that chaplain doesn't seem to be able to sit down and have a coffee, a cup of coffee with you, maybe the one, the next night will, please don't give up just because it's and everybody in the hospital framework is used to beepers and all of that. So we all know that you can sit down to have lunch with somebody and you may not finish your lunch type of thing.
Everybody sort of accepts that as it goes, but yes, yes. Is there anything else you can think of as we start to wrap up the conversation that you feel is important for people who are grieving? The most important thing for me is find either someone or a community that you can trust that isn't going to say, well, you should be over this by now, or there.
Trust is so vital in the grieving process, and I think we don't even think about that, but it really is. Can, can I trust you to see me at my absolute worst and still walk with me? I think that's a question grieving people should ask. And if you go and see a religious leader or something and your gut doesn't feel good about that, Find somebody else.
It's, it's, it's just so important to have a level of trust for whoever is going to walk with you in this process. And I don't recommend doing it alone. I, I don't think doing it alone works, or at least it doesn't work well. At the same time, there has to be trust there. You just have to trust somebody. And, and sometimes it's not your best friend or it's not the person that you would think it would be.
It may be somebody that only knows you in that context. And that's perfectly all right.
But we just, I, I really think that the religious culture in our country has promoted the linear thing. The more Christian you are, the better your life will go. And I always bothered me that evangelists always had famous people to show off. Of what it meant to be Christian, but they never went down into the Bowery or the homeless and said, Christ is making a difference in these people's lives.
I don't want to show you that because that doesn't fit my linear model. And I've found some very devout Christians in homeless shelters. And if you ask them, the fact that they're still living is a gift of God,
whether they've made it to the Mercedes or not, as proof of their faith or whatever. So, I don't want to get on that particular soapbox. Feeling safe is the most important. I appreciate that. And I really appreciate all of your experience and, and your insights and sharing all of them with everybody here at the pause to remember podcast.
Thank you. Well, if it makes any difference, feel free to pass on my contact information. If there's somebody that gets in touch with you that found something of value that wants to pursue it, I'd be glad to do that. I will do that. I will put some information in the show notes for anybody who wants to get in touch with you and we'll go from there and if anybody has any follow up questions for this I'll put a way to send an email and we can address those as they come in as well.