A Word From Chaplaincy
by Chaplain Bonnie Nash
Thirty-eight years ago in the middle of February, Frances and I were sitting on top of a lush green hill overlooking the Buddhist monastery of Lantau Island off the coast of Hong Kong. I was a teacher in Hong Kong at the time and Frances was the 12 year old daughter of a Swiss couple who were my friends. That day her parents had not wanted to hike up the hill, so Frances and I took off and up we went for a better view of our beautiful surroundings. I loved being with Frances. In my opinion, she was a little mystic who knew how to be still in the majesty of nature. She loved pink flowers and bunnies and could easily paint them.
As we quietly sat there, Frances said to me, “When Buddhists die, do they go to heaven?” Treasuring her thoughts, I asked, “What do you think, Frances?” Her reply, “I think they do. God loves all people.” Two weeks later on February 28, 1981, I received the worst phone call of my life. It was Frances’ mother. She was sobbing uncontrollably. “Frances just died,” she cried. My initial response was disbelief and shock. Unfortunately, unbeknown to them, a faulty hot water heater had leaked carbon monoxide into the bathroom when Frances was taking a bath.
For a long time afterward, I felt as if I were living in a nightmare of sadness, anxiety, and depression. And I was bewildered about God? Why would God allow such a perfect child to die? Later, when I read A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, I felt an odd comfort in knowing someone else had experienced similar feelings in grief. After his wife died, Lewis described God this way, “Go to Him when your need is desperate...and what do you find? A door slammed in your face...After that, silence.”
I went to seminary because of Frances. I was on a quest to discover who God really is. I studied the phenomena of loss and grief because of Frances. And because of Frances, I was reminded that “God loves all people” especially, I might add, people who are grieving. In hospice, almost daily, I am reminded that even tears can reflect the light which comes through the open door of heaven. Still, every February 28, my heart aches from missing a little girl who was such a precious gift to this world.
Bonnie Nash is a chaplain with Grace Hospice, a faith-based nonprofit agency.