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SF Chaplain Uses Faith To Combat Fear



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Did you ever grow up wanting to be a doctor or a lawyer and then end up doing something completely different?

Charlie DeRidder wanted to be an architectural designer, but realized he was best suited as a minister more than three decades ago. Four years ago, he changed his path once again from pastor, to a chaplain for the VA. But it's the subject matter that Charlie deals with daily that makes him someone you should know.

Charlie's warm smile and name have made him a staple of the VA.

"I come into the room I say, 'hi, I'm Charlie, one of the chaplains here.' and one of the first things they do is they'll laugh! That has gained me more entrances into the room than you would believe,"said Chaplain Charlie DeRidder.

A little brevity, as a transition into a subject most don't want to talk about.

Everyday, Charlie the Chaplain meets with those nearing the end of their life. Charlie keeps his mouth mostly closed and his ears and heart wide open.

"You learn how to listen well, not just hear, but listen. I listen like crazy. It's an incredible privilege to be able to listen to somebody tell that and say, 'my goodness...you're sharing that with me?,"said DeRidder.

In his four years at the VA, Charlie has helped close to 400 patients and their families find peace in their finals moments. He considers every meeting a new friendship, and as each passes he feels a deep sense of loss.

"We'll walk through the last days with them...all the way down to when they breathe their last and I'll tell you when some of those guys and gals go it's like losing family,"said DeRidder.

While Charlie considers the hospital his congregation, he also has three other members of his team who are affectionately referred to as "Charlie's Angels."

"We have laughed and we have cried together,"said DeRidder.

Amidst the tears and the loss, Charlie say's there's a lesson in it all.

"I forgive you, you forgive me, I love you and good bye. There are so few in their life that get the chance to do that. Everything that went on before matters, but it doesn't matter as much as it does right now-when I can still look you in the eye, and still hear your voice and I can still hold your hand...those are incredibly precious moments,"said DeRidder.

Precious moments lived to the fullest with the help of open ear, warm smile and novel name.

"Do I ever get used to it?-no,  I never get used to it.  I would not want to spend my career doing anything else than what I'm doing right now,"said DeRidder.
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