By Robert Lucke
Ila McClenahan has a job that most folks would hate. Yet she loves it. Not only that but it isn't really a job at all, but more a calling from God.
Pastoral Care Coordinator is the job title.
Ila is the shepherd that is there or near when people at the local care center and hospital trauma unit die. Since starting this job a little over a year ago, she is up to 59 deaths at the care center plus the ones she sees at the hospital.
How does she live with all that grief?
"Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I don't deal with it well. I talk to my husband. I talk to my minister," McClenahan said. "You know there are people who are ready to go. You can see that they are just waiting. It is like sometimes they even see a light or something like that. I see a real peace for people ready to go and real agony for those who aren't."
"There are people who aren't ready to go and families that are not ready to let that person go," McClenahan continued.
Part of McClenahan's job is to make passing as easy as possible. That is not always easy.
"I try to share something that Joe Bailey from Rocky Boy told me, Life here is wonderful. Life in heaven is wonderful. But sometimes the transition from here to an eternal life is horrible,'" McClenahan said.
Ila McClenahan tries to stay with dying people until they have gone.
"I always try to reach their ministers. I read scriptures with them and pray after the person has died," McClenahan related. "I read John 14 or the 23rd Psalm or the 121 Psalm. Raised out north that has special meaning for me because we always looked south toward the Bear Paws."
"I lift up my eyes to the hills From where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth."
McClenahan's parents and grandparents were Whaleys who homesteaded at Simpson.
"I live on the place that I was raised only we built a new house," McClenahan said. "I think it really helps, me being from here. I see how people are related to each other and I think that people trust you more if you are from here."
Husband Rob McClenahan according to Ila is the proverbial Scotchman.
"You've heard how the Grand Canyon was formed haven't you?" she asks with a wicked grin. "It was by a Scotchman looking for a nickel he had dropped. Well, that is Rod."
The McClenahans' lived for 20 years in Wyoming where Rod was a mechanical engineer. Three years ago they moved back home to farm and ranch.
"We have learned an awful lot in three and a half years," McClenahan said with a smile.
Ila McClenahan graduated from the Platte Valley Christian College in Scottsbluff, Neb. Oldest daughter Beth is attending Northern in Havre while Lynnette is a freshman at Ozark Christian College at Joplin, Missouri. Amy is a junior at Havre High and Laura is an eighth grader at the Havre Middle School. The whole family are members of the Sixth Avenue Christian Church where Rod teaches 7th and 8th grade Sunday School and Ila leads adult ladies in Sunday School.
With that firm foundation, the Pastoral Care job is easier than it might seem.
"With a firm faith at home, that helps at the care center," McClenahan said. "The girls have been in church all their lives and if I do have a ministry here, the girls feel a part of it. They sacrifice when I get called out on weekends or at night. I know my husband feels that way too and what he does enables me to do what I do."
Still though, hospital traumas are never easy.
"I respond to Code O or trauma and I work mainly with families. I would never have imagined what I would see. The accidents; babies, teenagers, young adults," McClenahan said. "But I think a part of faith is we trust God to know why He did what He did. I think that is true faith."
It is that faith that makes McClenahan so good at her calling.
"I have a lot of people who ask how I can work here because it is so depressing. I don't find it depressing at all. Each has his own story. When I go to funerals and hear their stories, I wish I had known them when they were young, but I am fortunate to know them now, in their December years" McClenahan said.
McClenahan's motto helps too.
"I tell them all at the time that if we honor the Lord, He will honor us. In our thoughts, words and deeds, He will honor us!"