Everything I’ve Seen Is Almost Too Much


This is my face near the end of a chaplain shift at the hospital.

I entered chaplaincy almost six years ago. I have loved every second of it. And every second of it has been brutally, insanely, impossibly hard.

I’ve sat with thousands of patients now. So many who told me their final words, secrets, regrets, confessions. At their deathbeds, watching their heart rate dwindle down to single digits. Their last breath on earth.

I have seen terrible things. There are sounds a human can make which no human ever should. Pure agony. Sometimes grief. Other times relief.

Something I haven’t talked about much is that during my year long residency, I lost my faith. I reverted back to atheism for a long while. I’ve shared before that my faith has always been skeptical, cautious, doubting every single day. I’m like one of those Israelites who probably ran screaming through the Red Sea, not sure if the walls of water would hold up all the way. In the hospital, I had seen too much. The waters crashed down. All this suffering, I couldn’t comprehend a god who cared about this random, haphazard, utterly chaotic madness. No pattern. No reason. Babies born to die? An entire family burned down in their sleep? A roof can just fall on a child’s head? I found it hard to believe in a god at beside. I also found it hard not to believe, either.

Eventually I did come back around. But different than before. The walls of my faith had broken, rebuilt, expanded. I found out miracles were not just healing, but a story finally being told, a family staying night after night, a covid patient rolled to a balcony above their family to say one last goodbye, a baby after weeks in a box being able to breathe on her own.

Today I am one year older. And I feel I have lived a thousand lifetimes. I have died a thousand lifetimes. I’m glad to do so. To be in the shadow of my patients, to be their cheerleader and sidekick, a tiny lighthouse in the dark of the sea: there is no higher honor than for me to cheer on my patients, who are the hero of their stories. I am but a footnote. I am grateful to be one.

I wrote a book to honor my patients, and I can only hope I did some justice to their voices.

— J.S.