Reflections on Vocation from the Morgue

Letter from Mary Farnand

Photo by Julie Lai

Dear Sisters,

Have you ever experienced a mixture of emotions that lend themselves to a near impossible description? I mean seemingly contradicting emotions, like nervousness and confidence or, sadness and joy? It was merely a few minutes after I had received report from the nurse I would be shadowing, as I was frantically writing down everything I could think would be helpful as I started my shift, that I experienced that particular mix of emotions.

It was my second ever shift in a hospital as a nursing student, in the first year of my nursing program, and I was trying to appear confident, despite looming feelings of inadequacy and nervous excitement. I felt ready to face the shift in my new navy blue scrubs, despite the pants being three inches too short. My instructor came into the nursing station as I took my last swig of lukewarm coffee.

She approached me and asked, “Mary, don’t feel obligated, but do you want to help me shroud a body?”

“Um yes of course! But what is that?” I eagerly responded. My first placement was on a Palliative Care unit and I probably should have understood what that meant by now, but I didn’t.

My instructor explained that a patient had died that morning and his family had left and now it was time to prepare the body for the morgue. I didn’t initially have a deeply emotional reaction to this proposition. I knew this was a floor in the hospital where many people died and to be quite honest, I first began thinking in practical terms about the steps I would need to take to properly prepare the body. My nerves about the situation came mostly from not remembering whether we had discussed shrouding a body in a lecture, but I was nervous nonetheless. I was there to learn and to help though, so of course I would give it a go. I was lead into his room, told his name, and then my instructor said she’d be back in a few minutes with the supplies.

This was my second shift as an eager nursing student but I was still not terribly confident that this was the career choice for me. You see, I have always felt that God wanted me to be a light in the darkness, to change the World for the better.

As Catholics, we hear so often, to be “a light for others.”

But when I first thought of this call, I didn’t understand how to respond. I felt a tremendous weight and an expectation that whichever way I’m called to serve, if its “as a light” for the world, that must mean it has got to be something so bright and visible that it is seen by many.

I began to discern religious life because, how obvious would my intentions be if I were wearing a habit? Or I thought that life as a missionary would offer an example that everyone I meet could witness. Both wonderful opportunities to fulfilling a life of service, but both options that came from myself and not from the Lord’s plan for me. It confused me because I didn’t understand how I could live as a light for the world in the monotony of a “normal” job. My decision to begin nursing school was made from a prompting to just make a choice about a career path and stick with it for a while. With the help of a wise spiritual advisor and parents that seem to always be right, I finally made the decision based on a fit with my natural gifts and temperament rather than my emotional response. I felt at the time that it was a stepping-stone towards an exciting and much more appealing vocation, whatever that might be.

So, there I was, alone in a room with a stranger who had died only hours before. Maybe I should have been freaked out at the sight of a dead body, but in that moment, I felt the inspiration of the Holy Spirit like I never had before.

I heard, “pray for his soul, you may be the only one who ever does.”

I did not know this man’s background. For all I know he could have been a holy man with a large family offering prayers for his soul. But he also could have been a man of no faith with family who would never know to pray for him. As I said every prayer I could think of, and prayed to the Lord that this man would see the Light of His Face, I was filled with a peace unlike any I could have imagined. I experienced a profound realization, that perhaps this moment is the reason I chose nursing. Perhaps it’s the most important act of my life, to pray that this man receives the grace he needs to accept Jesus as His Saviour at the most important moment of his life, so to be welcomed home by Our merciful God. What an honour that would be and, oh, the sense of fulfillment it brought (and brings when I recall it today). And how worth it, that one soul might be saved. I won’t know what fruits came from that prayer until Heaven, but I know I was in the exact place where God my Father wanted me to be. This secret act was one that brought a profound sense of meaning to my life. I had been open to being a vessel of the Lord, to share the light of grace to another, and wildly enough, it was not a visible or public act of service. 

This experience has transformed the way in which I try to live.

The light we are told to share with the world, sisters, and the desire we feel to change lives and transform hearts does not require celebrity status or an audience of any kind.

It comes from a God who respects us so much that He asks us to cooperate in the spreading of His Light. The smallest act of love, the smallest sharing of light, can have eternal consequences for those we encounter.

Handwritten quote from the writer

Handwritten quote from the writer

There may be a grand and public ministry in which the Lord is calling you to share His presence, and if there is, we need you for it! But He might be asking you to be open to being a vessel of His love in everyday, seemingly small acts.

As a nurse, a mother, a missionary, a religious sister, as a businesswoman, or whatever role you find yourself in- you are the only one who can embrace your unique call to share His Light one moment at a time.

For myself, it’s my work as a nurse that allows me to encounter people and try to share the Light of Christ in a dark and dingy hospital. Remember that our natural gifts and talents, which come from God Himself, are real indicators of how He can most radiantly shine through us. How exciting that this sharing of the Light of the World can take just about any form. It must, since everyone we encounter will receive Him differently, but also because we, as women, are unique and creative and have an openness to Jesus that allows us to share His Light brightly. 

Have hope, sisters, that the Light that God shares through you, no matter how invisible it may seem, will contribute to the brilliance we will one day encounter in Heaven!

I am praying for you, that the God of Light warms your hearts and illuminates your minds. Continue shining in every corner of society!

Love, Mary

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About the Writer: Mary Farnand

Mary Farnand is an adventure seeking, fashion admiring, glass half-full type, 25 year old Catholic woman from Ottawa, Canada. She loves her family, her friends, and her arbitrary pursuit of new hobbies, like amateur makeup-artistry and meandering hand lettering. Mary is passionate about her work as a Registered Nurse and seeks to serve her community with compassion and gentleness. She spends much of her free time pursuing her Masters in Nursing and volunteering for the New Evangelization Summit (<- check out this much needed, wonderful and global conference!)

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