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Wrestling with the Hard Questions

July 2007

"Ray" was a Genesis Medical Center patient in his early 70s who had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease for several years. Facing the end of his life and fearing death, he asked to speak to the hospital chaplain.

When Chaplain Becky David '87, '88, arrived at the door of his room, the first words out of Ray's mouth were, "I've been waiting for you."

He fixed her with an unwavering gaze. "You've got some explaining to do."

David, who manages Genesis' Spiritual Care Department, has spent countless hours, along with her staff of 10, "explaining" matters of faith, spirituality and the end-of-life process to patients and their families.

And it's hardly the spiritual care staff who do all the explaining. Instead, David emphasizes the mutuality of a chaplain's work with patients. "We wrestle with the questions together."

She realizes that also vital to the spiritual care process is self-awareness-about one's own faults and fears-and not being afraid to make mistakes. "In life, we're all just trying really hard," she says. "I try to be gentle with people."

To those qualities and skills, David says, add compassion and an understanding that each person is on his or her unique spiritual path. In a larger sense, she is passionate about justice and "making sure that people receive or have access to what is rightfully theirs"-the care and the choices they're entitled to at this time in their lives when they're at their most vulnerable, in so many ways.

Spirituality became of particular interest to David-who had declared majors in psychology and sociology at St. Ambrose-after a deeply spiritual "conversion experience" at the university. So after receiving her bachelor's degree in those majors, she continued another year at SAU to earn an additional undergraduate degree in theology.

Over the next few years David would work in youth and music ministry at Catholic parishes in Muscatine and Bettendorf, and provided interim pastoral leadership for Metropolitan Community Church of the Quad Cities in Davenport.

Yet she still yearned for spiritual knowledge and enlightenment-and a way to work more closely with people along their own spiritual journey-and so earned a master's degree in pastoral studies in 1996 from Loyola University, Chicago, the same year she became a member of Genesis' spiritual care staff. David was promoted to manager of the department in 2004 while still working on her master of divinity degree at Loyola, which she received in 2005.

"I am a perpetual student, constantly looking for ways to learn how to think differently," she admits. In fact, she is currently working toward her ordination in the United Church of Christ.

And she continues to learn from patients such as Ray, with whom David met each time he was admitted to the hospital to treat his COPD, discussing questions of theology and the afterlife. "Ray had an opportunity right in front of him and was able to take it," she says.

On the day he died, David visited with Ray as usual. She pulled up a chair and sat knee-to-knee with the man who had demanded explanations and answers the first time she entered his life. "He looked at me and said, ‘I know-and it's going to be okay.' And that was our last conversation. Ray died very peacefully."

Although it's a spiritual cycle she's bore witness to many times-we live, we love, we die-David still has questions, still wonders about its mysteries.

"How did Ray know?" she asks.

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