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Peace at last

Peace at last

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Peace at last

May 12, 2006    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0486}

An e-Review Commentary
By the Rev. Glenn Galtere**

Wally (not his real name) was deteriorating very fast. He looked me in the eye and said, “Chaplain Glenn, maybe I’ll find some peace at last.”

Wally could no longer get out of bed or even raise himself to a sitting position. His cancer had spread rapidly. We both knew the end was perhaps only hours away. His extremities were turning purple, and he was beginning to fish breath.

For the past three months we had been on a journey together. He was kind enough to allow me to walk it with him. He had come on to hospice, at that time, and he was well aware of his prognosis.

I remember the first visit. He struck me as being rather closed and isolated. I got the impression of someone who had a self-inflicted, cut-off-ness about him. I spoke with his wife before the visit and was able to ascertain Wally did come from a warm, loving family as a child. His wife had experienced him as aloof and a loner much of the time. I also discovered he was a combat veteran in Korea in the ’50s. He served in the First Marine Division. That was the outfit I was in.

Because many of us experienced significant combat we had a set of after-the-event experiences that decades later were labeled Post Combat Stress Syndrome (PCSS). I had traveled that road so as I talked to Wally little red flags were raised for me.

We were able to identify with each other. Later, his wife told me he had never spoken to any of them about his experiences. Wally had, for most of his life, dealt with the re-experiencing of so many traumatic events. These were not bad memories, but being back in the midst of what happened: seeing, smelling, even tasting what had happened so long ago. For years he hated to go to sleep because he knew what would happen. He had dealt with this like so many veterans of extensive combat; he tried burying those remembrances by repression or suppression. He felt distant and cut off from people. Much of his life he was emotionally numb. Denial was a strong operating mechanism.

He was “jumpy” most of his adult life, felt on guard, had sleeping problems, difficulty concentrating and hyper-aroused.

Perhaps because he knew he was dying, knew I had experienced the same things and knew I was a Chaplain, he felt free to start sharing. We spoke together, often sharing “stories,” the fears we had, the complicated grief from so many dead and dying, the guilt for not having died, and the shame we felt for the things we had to do. He would not share these secrets with his wife, but felt free for us to share them together.

He was full of questions about my journey and how I learned to live with it all. He would share his feelings, emotions and thoughts that he had held in the vault of his heart for so many years.

He cried a lot, and I cried with him. His wife could hear him from the other room. After Wally and I would meet she would say, “I never saw or heard Wally cry.” I would use that time with her to try and give her an understanding of the burden Wally had carried these past five and a half decades. Then she would cry.

I only had three months with Wally. He wasn’t cured of his PCSS. I’m not sure anyone ever is “cured.”

I was so grateful to God, and so was he, that we could walk together these past few months.

I will cherish his words, the last few hours of his life, as he referred to his coming death: “Chaplain Glenn, maybe I’ll find peace at last.”

Out of context, but with appropriate words my heart rejoiced with these verses: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble(pain filled) state of his servant.”

Rest in peace, Wally.


This article relates to Outreach.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Galtere is a full-time chaplain at Vitas Hospice in Jupiter. He served in the Alabama-West Florida and Georgia conferences and as a missionary with the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas. He also served for two years as a retired supply pastor in the former Miami District. As a teenager he spent five years in the Marine Corps, fought in the Korean War, was wounded, was one of seven marines out of 250 in Baker Company who survived the Battle of Chosin Reservoir and struggled with PCSS for many years.