I was reaching the end of my hospital shift one winter day in 2007 when I decided to make one more round of visits to our pediatric ICU.
At the sight of people clustered outside the entry door, I gave my forehead a frustrated tap, remembering that the ICU was closed for its 20-minute shift change.
Just as I was thinking about returning to my office, I spotted a man resting his head on the ICU door, like a safecracker listening for lock tumblers to click.
With a nod in my direction, he asked, "Doctor, when are we allowed inside?" His words were packaged in a thick Indian accent, but his desperation translated well.
"Sorry," I said. "I'm a chaplain, not a doctor."
He cinched his eyebrows in quizzical confusion.
"Religious man, shaman, priest," I said, looking for a culturally equivalent term for "chaplain."
He must have recognized one of my terms because he slumped with the fear I sometimes see when people interpret "chaplain" as the Grim Reaper.
"Will you pray for my daughter?" he asked.
"Sure," I said, "Let's go inside."
I pulled open the ICU door and motioned him through while raising an arm to restrain the waiting gaggle. We hurried past a busy staff and into the room of the man's 14-year-old daughter. She had a breathing tube down her throat and a glassy-eyed stare that told me she wasn't really there.
We stood for a few silent moments, the man shouldering a bigger load of grief than was natural for his slight frame. Finally, he began to tell his daughter's story.
Just yesterday, his wife had been preparing dinner, and he was paying the bills on his laptop. Their son was playing video games in the living room, while their daughter was in her room working on what she described as a frustrating homework assignment. Nothing out of the ordinary.
When the mother announced dinner, the father came quickly and the son came reluctantly. The daughter failed to answer, so the father dashed upstairs to corral what he thought was a distracted teenager.
The room was empty, but the closet door was ajar. Inside he found that his daughter had done an almost complete job of hanging herself.
"Now," the man said, "the doctors say she's brain dead, and it's time to disconnect life support and plan her funeral."
We stood in silence, lamenting the decision that no father should ever have to make. And then he asked, "Can't the doctors take my brain and give it to her?"
The thickness of his accent tempted me to feign misunderstanding, but I understood. He wanted to give his brain to his daughter.
I shook my head, holding back my desire to mask my own shock with a technical explanation as to why brain transplants were the stuff of science fiction.
"Please pray," he said, the tears spilling down his cheeks.
I asked him about his religion so that I might pray from his tradition, but he insisted that it didn't matter. "Just pray," he said.
Within a few minutes the doctors returned, the family gathered and the girl was welcomed into the presence of her heavenly father.
At that moment, there was no longer any cultural divide between us. We were just a couple of devoted dads willing to give our lives in exchange for our daughters'. We were loving fathers who sought guidance from a heavenly father, a father-god who knows better than any of us the grief of losing a child.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of "No Small Miracles." He is an Air National Guard chaplain. You may leave recorded comments at 843-608-9715, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send comments to P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759.