To borrow from Mr. Dickens – It was the best of times, it was the worst of times in West Tennessee this past week.
The worst? The Chamberlains suffered a family’s worst nightmare when their two-year-old son ran from his grandmother who was taking him and his older sister for a walk in the woods. In moments, the rambunctious boy was out of sight, lost among the trees and ravines and creek beds.
The best? Hundreds of volunteers came from all over the region to help search for the lost toddler. Enduring freezing temperatures and icy rain, they searched the rough and wooded Chester county hill country grid-by-grid for seven days and nights. Strangers became comrades at prayer vigils, interceding for a family most had never met. Searchers waited at the staging area for hours on end just in case they were needed. Human compassion and selflessness at their highest levels were on display for world to see.
In the early afternoon on Thursday, January 21, searchers found Noah’s body almost a mile and a half from where he slipped away from his grandmother. In an emotional press conference, the sheriff and other officials relayed the news to the thousands who had been waiting, looking, and praying for his safe return.
As a father, I hurt for the family.
As a crisis chaplain, I stand up for the Sheriff and other emergency responders, whose responsibilities kept them in the center of the search, who may now find it difficult to sleep at night, and who must listen to their decisions being second-guessed by every creature with an opinion.
The community is circling the family with love and compassion and prayer – and rightly so.
But who is caring for the caregivers?
The sheriff will move on to his routine duties. The volunteer fire and rescue squads will neatly stack all their equipment back at the station. Those who discovered the body will go back to their regular jobs. After the funeral, the pastor will resume his Sunday sermons and hospital visits.
But who is watching out for them? Who is taking care of the caregivers?
These men and women stand tall and talk tough, but the same emotions you and I experience flow in and out of them, too. We expect Noah’s family to mourn and express their loss, but these professional caregivers are supposed to go on with their lives as if nothing happened. The truth is – they feel the loss and pain and hurt, but we make no provision for them to express it. So, they go on with life, stifling pain upon pain, their stoic exteriors hiding the fact that many of them are hurting much more than we know.
That’s why chaplains are important. Their main job is to help first responders deal with the emotional and spiritual baggage that often comes with the job. Too often, chaplains are the only ones looking out for the welfare of the caregivers.
That’s why we are working hard to get our website, crisischaplain.us, up and running. We’ve got a couple of podcast episodes posted (we are still learning – they will get better!) and will be adding more. We are compiling resources to make available. All of this takes time, and we aren’t yet where we want to be.
If you are interested in knowing how you can provide care to caregivers, or how your church can have a crisis response ministry, please visit our site, and when given the option, sign-up to receive our newsletter. I promise that we will give you solid content that will prepare you and your church to minister with an awareness that prevents good folks from “falling through the cracks.”
If you have questions, feel free to post them in the comments below. I promise a quick response. Or if you prefer, email me at [email protected].
That’s a short version of why I do what I do. Please join us at crisischaplain.us and catch the whole story.