Sydnee and Alex Hyzer lived in a circle of stress.
Their baby daughter, Gracie, got whisked off to surgery after being born with a hole in her heart.
The family spent weeks at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, their patient room a seeming revolving door for cardiologists, surgeons, specialists, nurses and other caregivers.
They longed for a sense of peace, a piece of contentment, if only for a moment.
The Rev. Randy Murphy, a Spectrum Health chaplain, provided it.
Murphy, like he often does with families at the children’s hospital, stopped in to visit the Hyzers and asked how Gracie was doing.
Good news. She would be moving out of intensive care and into another room. They would be going home soon.
“That’s going to be wonderful to take her home,” Murphy said. “You have taken wonderful care of your baby. Would you like me to pray with you?”
Most of the people we deal with value prayer, but you can’t pray because your heart is broken and things are in such turmoil. They need someone to step in and voice that prayer. You have to talk to God for them when they can’t.
Alex removed his hat and he and Sydnee bowed their heads.
“Lord, we pray for continued healing,” Murphy said, as Gracie sucked on her mommy’s finger. “Let her be the little girl she needs to be. As she goes to another room, we pray you go with her.”
The prayer continued for the parents, the family, for all possible good for this little fighter.
The Hyzers said they appreciated the visit.
“It’s great to have somebody come around and talk to you,” Alex said. “It’s amazing all the people that are praying for her. People we don’t even know. It’s overwhelming, in a good way.”
Murphy then visited Nathan Wyatt on the fifth floor, a 17-year-old patient with scoliosis, and Nathan’s mom, Shawn Brown.
After chatting about the boy’s favorite video games, Murphy asked if he could pray with the family.
He prayed for patience. He prayed for peace. He prayed for understanding.
He offered the family a children’s Bible for Nathan.
Murphy said he respects if people are not religiously inclined, but he wants to offer support in any way he can.
“I’m here to be to them what they need at the moment,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just a presence. Just being there.”
In the midst of trauma, when worlds are seemingly colliding and often falling apart, sometimes people need a spiritual leader.
“Because of the intensity of the experience, sometimes people just need that reminder,” Murphy said. “Most of the people we deal with value prayer, but you can’t pray because your heart is broken and things are in such turmoil. They need someone to step in and voice that prayer. You have to talk to God for them when they can’t.”
In his five years as a Spectrum Health chaplain, Murphy has been there for births, deaths, terminal illness and miraculous recoveries.
“I am invited into the lives of patients and families at very important moments and it’s an absolute privilege to be a part of that,” he said. “Some of these are sacred moments. When a patient dies, you don’t even know his past, but you step in, you’re there, you’re part of this family that’s grieving.”
Murphy is one of 11 full-time and six part-time hospital chaplains at Spectrum Health. Most have seminary degrees. All participate in continuing pastoral education programs.
They serve patients and families 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Murphy, who served as a traditional church pastor for 27 years prior to joining the Spectrum Health team, said he felt led to the profession.
“I believe it’s a calling,” he said. “Every day there are good moments. Even the tough moments are meaningful.”
He said he always asks the family about the patient. They typically rejoice in sharing happy memories, especially when a loved one has a terminal condition.
“They just light up,” Murphy said. “They laugh and they cry and you really get a feel for the person. It’s a way of closing a door and saying goodbye.”
Final farewells are the most precious of his job.
“I think the most significant times are those sacred moments when a life is over,” Murphy said. “A couple of times, the family has asked me to pray and as I was praying, the patient died. From my perspective, it’s as if the angels are literally taking that person out of this world.”
Fellow chaplain Erika Dekker, who serves at Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital, said she’s noticed when people are physically ill, it can affect their spiritual health as well.
“We are mind-body-spirit beings,” Dekker said. “For me to be able to be there and engage with those other parts of our being I think truly contributes to the health, wellness and honesty of the experience.”
On this day, Dekker visited with patient David Lowe, who was in the hospital due to diabetes complications.
Life is so fragile and fleeting. When I am in a room with a family, God is already there. …I leave, but God stays.
She introduced herself then asked about Lowe’s faith background and hospital stay.
Lowe asked her to pray for continued and long-term healing.
“I would be honored to pray with you,” Dekker said.
Dekker has come to realize that often the role of chaplain is to be a catalyst for raw emotions.
She said it’s her job to help patients and families celebrate, grieve and everything in between.
“When there’s a traumatic car accident and the patient comes in and is declared dead on arrival or staff has worked so hard and they can’t save them, it gets in my gut, in my heart. I think life is so fragile and fleeting.”
Sometimes, after a long and painful illness, families feel at peace when their loved one passes.
“When I am in a room with a family, God is already there,” Dekker said. “After our interaction, I leave, but God stays.”
Dekker first wanted to become a hospital chaplain when she was in high school. She suffered from deep, clinical depression. She studied the Bible. It came alive for her.
“I remember thinking, I wish I had someone like a chaplain who I could talk with about my faith,” she said. “As I recovered myself and became well, I just thought that’s something I’m being called to do. My ability to be present with people who are hurting and suffering came from my own hurt.”
But there are happy moments, too.
“I have been able to hold a baby and offer a word of blessing on that child,” Dekker said. “That is such a joy, and a way of marking that faith and that significance for that family at that time.”