A heartwarming story from Rev. Al Henager
It was Easter Sunday, and my wife was in the hospital. We had brought her to the Emergency Room at St. Vincent Infirmary the previous Friday because of intense abdominal pain. The doctors had determined that she had a bowel obstruction, and admitted her, hoping that the blockage would clear “on its own.”
My twelve year old daughter Mollie Mae and I had gone by the hospital that Easter morning to see my wife before we went to church. After visiting a while, we wished her a happy Easter and kissed her goodbye.
Besides being a hospital chaplain, I was also the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of North Little Rock, and it was a short drive across the river to where the church was downtown. We were about halfway there when my cell phone rang.
It was Dr. Tedford, the surgeon from the hospital that had been following my wife’s case. “Al,” he said, “Katy’s white count is sky high, and we are going to have to operate immediately. You need to get back to the hospital a quickly as you can.”
After we had hung up, my mind began racing. What was I to do? It was Easter Sunday, and I was the pastor!
When I got to the church, I was greeted by Pam and Bill, some of our church members. I quickly explained the situation, and they graciously said, “You go on back to the hospital. Let us take Mollie Mae with us. We will treat her to Easter dinner and make sure she gets to hunt Easter eggs. Don’t worry about her.”
About that time, one of our elders walked up. Again, I explained the situation and shoved my sermon manuscript into his hands. “Here, Ross, you are in charge. Just follow the bulletin and read my sermon. That is all I know to do.”
Ross said, “I have this. You go on.”
When I got back to the hospital, they had already taken my wife to the surgery holding area. Although I had been in that area many times, I had never been there on a Sunday morning before. No one was there. No one. And it was dark.
I found my wife lying alone on a gurney. She was cold, and she was frightened.
“Come here, sweetheart,” she said softly. “Let me have your hands.” She took my hands in hers and she began to stroke them tenderly.
“Honey,” she whispered, “in case something goes wrong, I want you to know I love you. And I want you to know how much I appreciate your hands.” She continued to gently stroke them. “I want to tell you that these hands—your hands—have given me more love than I could have ever imagined having in a lifetime. And I want you to know how grateful I am … how eternally grateful I am for your love that these hands have shown me.”
Moments later, she was wheeled away into the operating suite, and I was left alone to make my way to a deserted and dark waiting room. I have never felt so alone in my life. “God,” I prayed, “thank you for Katy. Be with her now, and if it is your will, bring her through this.” Then I added, “And please send someone to be with me right now.”
As a hospital chaplain, I knew I did not need to be alone. I really needed someone to sit with me. I tried to think about whom I could call. All of my friends would be in church. Most were ministers, but even the lay people I knew were in church on Easter Sunday morning.
It was then that I heard an almost audible voice say softly, “What about your friend Will?” Yes, that was it! My friend Will. My Jewish friend Will. He would not be in church today.
I quickly called him on my cell, and he answered on the first ring. Of course he would come. He would be there right away. He lived nearby.
It never occurred to me. I just didn’t remember it. Will has a compromised immune system and is not supposed to go to a hospital because of risk of infection. I don’t believe he even thought of it either, and if he did, it didn’t matter. He was there very quickly. He stayed with me until my wife was out of surgery and back in her room.
As we waited in that dark waiting room, it occurred to me. Here I was a Presbyterian minister, married to a former Baptist who was having surgery in a Catholic hospital, while I waited with my Jewish friend Will … on Easter Sunday.
You figure it out.
All I know is that my friend Will—one of God’s Covenant People and a son of Israel—sat with me that Easter day bringing God’s light into the darkness of that cold, empty waiting room.
(The Rev. Al Henager is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Heber Springs, Arkansas. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)