The stillness of the night was suddenly shattered – pierced by a screaming pager that summoned Father John Courage, an Anglican clergyman, from his sleep. Before the morning would dawn, that stillness would be broken by groans, by heart-rending cries of anguish and pain. “There’s been a horrible accident – an only child – the parents are on their way to the hospital – the child died!”
That night, at an Eastern Health emergency department, unimaginable anguish was met with all-encompassing compassion as a family’s future was suddenly changed forever.
“Being a parent of an only child, my heart went out as the mom and dad who came into the room,” said Father John. “I was hurting in their hurt but that wasn’t what they needed. They just needed someone to share in the most devastating journey any parent could experience.”
Father Courage is just one of an entire team of Eastern Health chaplains and pastoral care clinicians who enter this realm and serve as agents of hope. Pastoral care workers provide pastoral care and spiritual support for clients, patients and residents in a variety of ways:
- regular visitation,
- gathering for prayer and worship, and
- supportive care for emergencies, individual requests and crisis situations.
Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist who wrote of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote: “[People are] not destroyed by suffering; [they are] destroyed by suffering without meaning.” One of the challenges health care providers face is to help people find meaning and acceptance in the midst of suffering and chronic illness.
Patients may be asking questions such as the following: “Why is this happening to me now? What will happen to me after I die? Will my family survive my loss? Will I be missed? Will I have time to finish my life’s work? Will I be remembered? Is there a God? If so, will He be there for me?”
Medical ethicists remind us that religion and spirituality form the basis of meaning and purpose for many people. With that in mind, the Pastoral Care team offers a variety of support services throughout the year, including:
- Grief and bereavement support
- Perinatal loss support
- START Clinic (Short Term Assessment Referral and Treatment) which provides rapid access to mental health services
- Radical forgiveness program
- Geriatric Psychiatry Education Day
- Support group for recovering addicts and alcoholics at the Recovery Centre in Pleasantville
- U-Turn Centre – a drop-in centre for addicts, alcoholics and their families in the Trinity-Conception area.
Whether it’s an emergency call in the middle of the night – or support along the journey of grief, addiction or physical/mental illness – the men and women of Eastern Health’s Pastoral Care Service are there to help. Compassion, a listening ear, spiritual encouragement and professional counseling: the goal of the pastoral care team is to ensure that the toughest journeys ultimately lead the person to a place of hope.
Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey towards it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us … It lends promise to the future and purpose to the past. It turns discouragement to determination.
Samuel Smiles (Scottish author)
For additional detail on the service listed above, visit the Pastoral Care Services web site or call (709) 777—6959. ■
This story was written by Paul Grimes, a Pastoral Care Clinician with Eastern Health in St. John’s.