As the various parts come out of their packaging, Sam and I fall into the easy rhythm of two people working on a shared hands-on project—handing each other parts and pieces, anticipating which tool will be needed next, figuring out which parts go where, backtracking and redoing things that didn’t go together quite the way they should. Sam’s dad worked in the sawmills, did odd jobs, and was a landscaper, he tells me. I imagine that Sam often helped his dad repair a mower or clear a drain.
When the little red wagon is assembled, we test drive it around the housing complex. Sam is pleased with it, and says that he will paint “Radio Flyer” on the side, like the wagon he had as a kid. He talks about cancer and chemo, understanding that at some point the trade off of fatigue and neuropathy caused by the medicine might not be worth it. His father died of an aggressive colon cancer, and Sam helped care for him.
Sam’s love of history and genealogy puts the “ama” in amateur, and he wants help with his cremation and final arrangements, in part so that future students of genealogy will know where to find him. He has no close family, though I suspect that his housing complex family will populate his funeral. I let him know that I’ll perform whatever memorial he wants, make sure that his cremains are placed where he wants them. We make an appointment with the funeral home. Sam seems very satisfied with having this settled and paid for with money he had set aside from social security and recycling revenue. We haul some recycling back to his apartment and sort it in a companionable silence.
As I’ve said, it’s hard to quantify what I do on any given day, even for me. There’s a movement in medicine towards “outcome based spiritual care” with measurable results. There can be a dynamic tension between this linear, Cartesian conceptualization and the nebulous “ministry of presence” that chaplains practice. For my part, I hope that the charts, graphs, and legume inventory never succeed in getting spiritual support “down to a science.” If they do, I hope they add a dropdown checkbox in the electronic medical record for “Chaplain Helps Assemble Radio Flyer.”