By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
part 2 of 2
Doug entered the Washington Hospital Center program for pastoral care in September 1987. For his field training he was sent across the street to the National Rehabilitation Hospital. He got off to a rocky start, though, when he was told to put together a Sunday service for the chapel.
"Our first hymn," Doug announced that morning, "will be `Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus.'"
Then he looked up and realized his mistake. He was in a rehabilitation hospital, and the room was full of people in wheelchairs. Stand up for Jesus? What had he been thinking?
Doug stammered an apology to the amused gathering. "When I think of standing up for Jesus," he said, relieved by their apparent good humor, "I don't think of it as a physical thing, but standing up for my faith and my beliefs."
From then on, he resolved to read the text of every song, every scripture that he used. It forced him to reexamine the words on which his faith was based. If he cited certain biblical verses, he wanted to believe what he was reading. If he introduced songs, he wanted to believe what he was singing.
Even an old favorite like "Amazing Grace," with its refrain of "save a wretch like me," carried a message he didn't want to send to suffering patients. So he began asking them to pick the music. Usually someone asked to sing "The Old Rugged Cross."
So I'll cherish the old rugged cross,
'til my trophies at last I lay down.
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it some day for a crown.
The song seemed to have a special appeal for patients who were seen by others, and often by themselves, as physically handicapped. Their ailments were the cross they bore, and they looked forward to the day when they could lay it down for a new life, new bodies, new legs.
In the meantime, though, what Doug heard over and over again was, "I can deal with it." Most patients didn't waste time asking why bad things happened--they were too busy getting on with the business of living.
At the rehabilitation hospital, Doug didn't often deal with patients facing death. But it was a dying man who taught him the most about life.
Daniel Yoshida was a Japanese-American in his mid-thirties who had been admitted to the hospital with a tumor on his spinal cord. The tumor was inoperable and prevented Daniel from being in any position other than on his stomach. He was in constant pain as the cancer wrapped itself around his spinal cord, slowly paralyzing him. Within a matter of months it would cut the cord in two and he would die.
As Daniel's torment increased, his wife abandoned him and even refused to bring their child for a visit. His friends and the rest of his family fell by the wayside, too. Besides the pain, the only constant in his life was Doug Overall, who usually visited once a day. And when he couldn't visit, he called.
They were both Redskins fans, and Doug spent every Sunday afternoon in Daniel's room cheering the television set. In January Doug arranged for superstar lineman Dexter Manley to visit.
At his worst moments, Daniel complained that life had been unfair. Doug helped him work through the anger. "Yes, it is unfair," he agreed. "No one should have to suffer like you have." Bad things happen to good people. Somehow, that acknowledgment was comforting to them both. Asking why would have been a waste of time; accepting it allowed them to move on.
Doug and Daniel talked about life. They recalled their childhoods and their dreams...and how those dreams had changed. They talked about the legacies they wanted to leave behind: Daniel said he wanted to be remembered in his eulogy, which he asked Doug to deliver, as a compassionate man who loved life.
They didn't always talk. Sometimes it was enough for Doug to sit at Daniel's bedside while he rested, or they'd play a quiet game of checkers. Daniel often wanted Doug to read from a book of Japanese death poems:
To depart while seated or standing is all one
All I shall leave behind me is a heap of bones.
In empty space, I twist and soar
and come down with a roar of thunder to the sea.
As the poem suggested, an honorable death for a Japanese was to be met seated or standing. Daniel said he was troubled that when death came for him, it would find him on his stomach.
Doug assured Daniel that he was as brave and honorable a man as any. Despite his moments of anger and regret, he had remained life-affirming and was always more concerned with how Doug and other staff members were dealing with the horror of his disease than he was with his own suffering. Standing up for Jesus or standing to meet death were just metaphors for having the courage to live one's convictions.
Doug's supervisor in the pastoral training program, Jan Humphries, had been trying to get him to deal with patient concerns on an emotional level rather than a clinical one. During their weekly meetings, she was always less interested in what he had said to a patient than how he felt about being involved with that patient. She emphasized the difference between doing a pastoral task and actually being with people. As a friend. As a guide out of the darkness. As a fellow human. But it was a difficult transition for Doug.