Carrying the message ‘you are not alone’
Being a hospital chaplain at Canberra Hospital has emphasised for me how precious life is, how strong the human drive to survive is and how important our connections to others are.
Although our team has been reduced to Fr Johny Abraham and myself since COVID-19 hit in March 2020, we have been able to continue ministering the sacraments and being a friendly ear.
In chaplaincy it is a great privilege to be present to others, to communicate and often to listen. It’s not to drive a conversation where we think it ought to go, but to share these times with people.
Witnessing the heartache, sense of loss as well as love of the parents at a stillbirth, or in the long struggle faced by babies and parents of very premature births bears striking similarities to what I’ve seen when aged parents sit in vigil alongside their over-60-year-old dying child.
It is the same with children sitting with a dying parent. The tears and emotions run deep as does their desire for support, love, care and assurances.
Some people hold on to life till certain family or friends are present, or until a family member is ready for them to go. Sometimes the period of struggle involving one step forward then numerous steps back has enabled their loved ones to come to a better space and strength when death occurs. For some, this means having the ability to give permission to the patient to stop their impossible fight.
Ultimately, a person’s last moments are uniquely theirs. Every illness has both physical and emotional aspects to be faced by the patient. Such situations are personal to each of us, but we don’t have to face them alone.
The current COVID-19 restrictions which exclude almost all visitors have highlighted the importance of family and friends. Today’s electronic devices are not a substitute.
Isolation continues to present one of the greatest challenges. It is into this isolation that chaplains have the beautiful privilege of bringing to people the message communicated by the visits of many family, friends, and volunteers – that they are not alone, that they are loved, there is hope!
One of the messages from the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat that has stayed with me is in the words of Joseph, imprisoned in Egypt awaiting his fate: “Close every door to me, keep those I love from me. Children of Israel are never alone.”