Chaplain Residency: #1 Coincidence

Chaplain Residency: #1 Coincidence

Chaplain Residency: #1 Coincidence

The chaplain residency journey begins and what a beginning it has been! Orientations, trainings, tours, first on-call rotation, meeting new colleagues, hospital staff, units, morning/evening commute—it has been a whirlwind of activity—and I think I have loved virtually every moment AND been more physically tired than I thought possible!!!

It is rather miraculous to me that I enjoy being in the hospital setting. I could not even handle candy stripers when I was in middle school—too many sick people and all those medical people running around! I just remembered something that I had completely forgotten until now. Memory is such an interesting thing…

The summer of my thirteenth year, I decided to volunteer as a candy striper at St Alexius hospital in Bismarck. My mom and grandma were both registered nurses and I thought maybe I might enjoy nursing too. Candy stripers could be a trial run.

I completed the volunteer training, got my certificate, official pin and the cute red and white striped apron! I was going to be a friendly presence in this hospital and I think I lasted one day.

The only memory I have of this entire candy striping experience is a visit to one young woman.

Candy stripers were responsible for the mail and flowers. There was a beautiful bouquet of flowers to be delivered to the children’s floor and I remember walking into this room to find Vicki, a young woman of 16. We began to talk and I learned about her story.

She was from Tuttle, a small town outside of Bismarck, and was in the hospital for a bone marrow test which she told me was very painful. She had leukemia. I don’t think I delivered any more flowers or the mail that day but Vicki and I became friends during that visit. We exchanged addresses and decided to be pen pals.

After she left the hospital, we wrote back and forth for several years. I thought she was really cool because she was older and seemed very wise. I was also intrigued with her level of courage in the face of such painful procedures and treatment. After all, she had leukemia!! I had not heard from her for a while but as a busy teenager, I didn’t think about it again until our summer vacation.

She crossed my mind as we drove by her small town of Tuttle as our trip began, and I wondered how she was doing and made a plan to write her when I got back. But the greater surprise came on the return trip home.

My parents bought the Bismarck Tribune Sunday paper to read on the car ride back to Bismarck. I was paging through the paper after my mom finished each section, and for some reason, I glanced at the obituaries and was stunned: I saw her name. I remember being shocked; very aware that it was mere “coincidence” that I “happened” to read the obituaries, something I never did and then feeling very sad but also grateful.

I now view “coincidence” as those moments when God remains anonymous…

I was grateful to have read the paper that day but even more thankful to have delivered the flowers to her room. I was sad that she was dead, at age nineteen.

When we arrived back home, I cut out the obituary for my scrapbook and sent her mom a sympathy note. She replied with kind words, informing me that Vicki did graduate from high school but her leukemia won in the end. She thanked me for being a friend to Vicki.

I don’t recall anything else about candy striping but I remember the bravery Vicki demonstrated throughout her treatments and her zest for life! She wrote to me stories about her friends, living life to the fullest despite her illness. She truly modeled someone who really lived into her diagnosis and didn’t let it stop her from enjoying her life. 

Vicki’s story has not been a part of my conscious memory for years until this morning. As I began to type the opening paragraphs for this blog post, this all came back to me.


Vicki was my first awareness that even young people get serious illnesses, and some go on to die young. The fragility of it seemed beyond my ability to grasp at the time but I knew then and am reminded now of the blessing of that encounter and friendship with Vicki—and how fragile life can be. Some live and some die. It is a great mystery.

Chaplain residency.  I would never have imagined that almost thirty-five years later, I would be back in the hospital setting—by choice. It is such an incredible gift to journey with people through their illness. Some will journey toward wellness but many others will create new stories as they live into a new way of being with a diagnosis that may end with death.

My prayer is that I can be a supportive presence as people live into their diagnoses, that I may be blessed to share in their journey as a companion on their care team.

Thank you Vicki for the gentle memory of your life and the gift of our short friendship. You truly modeled someone who lived life in the face of a tragic illness and I am forever grateful to have known you…

My candy stripers apron is safe in my cedar chest now and your memory Vicki lives in my heart.  

Thank you God for coincidence.

2 comments (Add your own)

1. Lucie Johnson wrote:
Have a restful week-end, and best wishes for your next week too! So glad you enjoy your chaplancy!

Sat, September 10, 2011 @ 11:45

2. Crystal Inkumsah wrote:
Such a beautiful story! Be blessed!

Tue, September 27, 2011 @ 11:45

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def. Bliss: -noun Supreme Happiness, Utter Joy/Contentment; the Joy of Paradise!