“Hey, Family, I wanted to share a bad experience with you through a metaphor. It’s going to be a little repetitive, but there’s a good reason for that. Please bear with me as you imagine the following scene at your favorite bar, which has just brought on new staff.
This is one of the most tragic days of your life. You’ve just delivered the first eulogy that’s ever been asked of you, and three hours after returning home, your father-in-law (who lives next door) dies in his living room. While that wasn’t unexpected, the timing was catastrophic for you and your entire family. You really need a drink and to take care of the final arrangements.
The server arrives and starts to take care of things for you. During the course of their duties, they starts to tell you about the food, which they feel has changed their life. they ask if the family would like to meet the chef to talk about the food. My mother-in-law declines and no-one else asks to meet the chef; even if they want the food, they’re not interested in what’s on the menu right now. I wasn’t interested at all, I just wanted things taken care of, and the server was becoming bothersome.
Despite our refusal of the chef’s services, and us not asking for the food, the server proceeds to talk more about how the impacted them and comforted them through their life. The server then forces the food down our throats and at that point I was so angry I had to leave my grieving wife and go outside before I made a scene and shouted the server into tears. – End Scene –
Now, that sounds like a ridiculous series of events, but I’m sure many of you have already caught the metaphor. For those that haven’t, copy and paste the three previous paragraphs into your word processor of choice. Now, do three quick “find and replace” functions, replacing “chef” with “chaplain”, “the food” with “Jesus”, and “server” with “hospice nurse”. While it was still outrageous, this is unfortunately more plausible in the American South.
The day this happened, we had interred my wife’s grandmother’s ashes, came home and everything had just settled down. My brother-in-law and his wife had went to their home, down the street, and my wife and I had went to run a few quick errands. We knew my father-in-law was not long for this world. He had just been placed on home hospice the previous week, but he seemed in good condition that morning. It shocked us all to our core to find out that he had died so quickly, while everything else was going on. For this hospice nurse to come in and proselytize to us at our darkest moment was so far beyond unprofessional that I was speechless.
When the nurse said that they asked every family in this situation if they knew Jesus, I stormed out of the house and couldn’t return for over an hour. I wanted so badly to scream at this nurse about how improper their actions were, and I was literally shaking with anger. For the good of my family, and for the sake of not making the nurse feel physically threatened, I contained my anger, but it took everything I had. I wanted to point out to them that they would be in my position, had a Muslim nurse asked us if we were servants of Allah. I am thankful that I had my chosen family to talk to, and my dogs to calm me down so I could return to my wife after about an hour.
I’m not the first to point out that grief is something with which the secular world has a unique struggle. We don’t have a ready, “We’ll all meet again someday” answer to comfort each other. Having grown up religious, and remaining surrounded by the religious, the platitude of people living in their family’s memory rings hollow. This is especially true the more we learn about fluid how memory is, and how each time we reflect on a memory we change it. The best I could come up with was to talk about how my father-in-law influenced me, and that I was grateful for him accepting me into his family. While that means a lot to me, to the fervent religious folk it lacks the key ingredient of the Lord Almighty placing carrying them across the sand. It leaves me wondering what to do next.
I was encouraged by friends to make the nurse a pariah, which would have suited my initial rage. However, I think it was better that they are able to be educated and given the chance to correct their behavior without a public backlash. I don’t write this to tell you how to handle things if you find yourself in such a situation, but rather to share my experience in hopes that people who proselytize to grieving families will realize how harmful it can be.
Postscript: I sent a complaint in to the corporate offices of the hospice provider, and I am satisfied with how they resolved the issue. I have also offered to give input for their company-wide education for this matter, which is part of the resolution. In my complaint, I assured the company that I realized that the nurse thought they was doing a good thing, and the fact that it wasn’t needed to be clarified to them. Discounting their evangelical activity, they were very kind, thoughtful and good at their job. They even switched to poorly coded language for their Jesus-speak when I eventually went back in the house.
I love you all, take care.
Mr. Bible Pants is one of the hosts of the Country Fried Freethought Podcast, found on Spreaker, iTunes, Facebook and at countryfriedfreethought.com. If you would like to contact him, just email firstname.lastname@example.org.”