Norris Burkes | Chaplain manages risk – The Vacaville Reporter
I have presided over dozens of weddings in my 30 years as a minister, but few were as risky as the one I celebrated a few years ago in the acute care unit at Sacramento VA Medical Center.
It all started when a nurse sent me to a room reserved for our most seriously ill patients. Inside, I introduced myself to a man in his fifties, short with a worn face. Sitting next to him, a woman held his hand under the bedspread.
“Your nurse told me you wanted to get married,” I said.
The couple locked their starry eyes and nodded in affirmation.
“When?” I asked.
“Now,” they said in unison.
“I don’t know if it’s …”
“Don’t worry, chaplain,” said the woman. “I did some research online. I know it can be done. “
“Well, I’m not sure …”
“Chaplain,” interrupted the groom. “I die.”
I paused to carefully consider the risk. Before I could accept this, I had to walk past the hospital director for the risk management department. She would need answers before allowing me, as a hospital employee, to perform this ceremony on the hospital grounds.
She would ask, “Are they really in love? How long have they known each other? How long have you known them? His cynical concern would be whether this woman was right after the patient’s boarding school.
Even if the woman’s intentions were sincere, risk management would need to prove that the patient’s pain relievers were not affecting her decision-making ability.
“Why now?” I said in a barely disguised version of “Why did you delay it so long?” “
“We have planned it several times over the past two years, but her lung cancer has delayed all attempts,” said the bride-to-be. They had even managed to secure a marriage license once before, but saw it expire when medical appointments and family drama were cut short.
“We are tired of the delays. Today seems like a good time, ”she said.
The woman described a step by step process of the requirements. First, we would need the notarized signature of a doctor. Then she and I had to go to the county clerk’s office for the license. After that, we would return for the ceremony at the hospital and then go back to the clerk’s office to finalize everything.
After agreeing, the paperwork was fairly easy to accomplish on our end. The doctor signed, so the risk management department had no objection. However, the woman did not have transportation to get to the county clerk’s office.
“I’ll take you,” I said, even though I knew the risk management folks would have a coronary heart disease if they knew I was carrying a family member in my personal car.
I did it anyway.
At the end of the afternoon, I finally introduced myself to the couple as an officiant. The bedridden groom wore a rose on his chest. The bride managed to refresh her look with a little makeup and a discounted bouquet from the hospital gift shop. A dozen hospital staff testified.
A few minutes after the ceremony began, I asked the couple to repeat after me their promise to stay together “in sickness and health … until death do us part”.
Without hesitation, they echoed traditional vows. There was not a dry eye in the house.
Promising love is always risky and this couple knew this truth better than anyone. They knew what illness and health meant – and within months she would experience what it meant to be separated by death.
At the end of the day, they had appeared “before God and this company” to declare their undying love, him with his last breath.
And for me, it turned out that I avoided the biggest risk of all – the risk that comes from not doing the right thing.
Contact Chaplain Norris at [email protected] or 10556 Combie Road, Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.