For 25 years, the Rev. Noel Hickie, 74, and Marcia Hilton, 70, helped families during their most trying moments.
Hickie was working as a hospital chaplain and Hilton as a bereavement counselor when the two met at a hospital in Eugene, Ore. The pair often worked together on hospice teams, helping patients and their families through illness and death. They spent decades of their lives doing this work, but in the beginning, neither was sure they were cut out for it.
“I thought that I would never want to be around sick people,” Hickie says.
Hilton, who hadn’t spent much time in hospitals before this work, says she had the same doubt at the beginning.
“I had never seen blood hanging on an IV pole,” Hilton says. “Just the hubbub of a hospital was really frightening to me … and I can remember thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’ ”
But eventually they both found their place, though Hickie recalls that his role was misunderstood at times.
“I remember years ago, one of the nurses asked me to go out and talk to a patient,” he says. “I said, ‘What am I supposed to talk to her about?’ ”
Hickie says the nurse told him that the patient was afraid, so maybe he could “take her fear away.”
“I said, ‘You know if I could do that I wouldn’t be working here, [I] would be the richest man in the world,” Hickie says with a chuckle.
Similarly, Hilton remembers one of her first counseling situations: She had gone to the intensive care unit, where a young man died from a gunshot wound after his best friend accidentally shot him.
“I remember getting on that elevator, my knees were just knocking,” Hilton says. “I walk into this room where the family is gathered and there must have been 25 people in there. The mother was in the corner, rocking back and forth and moaning, and siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, the young man who had shot his friend. I remember sitting there having absolutely no idea what I had to offer.”
Hilton says she sat with the family in the room for at least half an hour before finally asking, “I didn’t know Jim. Could you tell me about him?” (The patient’s name has been changed to protect the privacy of the family.)
“The whole conversation started around the room of people sharing reminiscences about this young man,” Hilton says. “It was just a miraculous transformation, what happened in that room. I was OK. They were OK. They would be OK. And I think that was part of when things happened for me and my realization that maybe I could do this work.”
Audio produced for Morning Edition by John White.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.