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Category Archives: Ministry

Guest post: “What a hospital chaplain learned about ICU waiting when his own father died”

Copyright 2016 by Brian Williamson

hospitalwaiting

(NOTE: Brian Williamson is an experienced hospital chaplain, but recently he experienced the other side of ministry, spending many hours in the waiting room of the Intensive Care Unit –ICU– as his own father died. In this post, he shares his observations, in hopes that it can help those of us who visit the sick and their families, especially those in ICU.)

These are some notes I prepared from my experiences in the ICU waiting room as a family member when my father was dying. Since I work extensively in this area as a hospital chaplain, the new experience from a personal perspective has given me insights into how I can better minister to folks going through something like this. Since my observations are filled with my own feelings, they could be negatively or positively impacted by what I’m feeling and/or experiencing. I’ve offered them to my friend and co-worker, Bob Rogers to share with others. My hope is that they will be insightful and helpful to others. So, take them for what you think they’re worth.
1. ICU family members (yes, I was guilty!)  are pivoting/hinging on every little idea of their loved one getting better. You want your loved one to “be” better, so if something is “a little better” (such as a lab result, an O2 sat, blood gas, etc.) then you accentuate that and project it to everything else. This may not be the case… (“He squeezed my hand, so I know he’s getting better!” “The kidneys are looking good.” Some nurses might say, “the numbers are a little better today,” or “We turned the O2 down to 60%, so that’s a little better…” {never mind the tea-colored urine, the 9 medicines in the IV bags, the ventilator set on “C-full control” and the doctor is just hoping that you won’t have to turn it back up, etc., etc.})

2. People in the waiting room—family members, staff, pastors, etc.—tell you what to believe and what to say; and you’re usually polite enough to not slap them when they do; or to argue with them, because you know they won’t understand.

3. There is no shortage of people who want to tell you what it’s like for them. They ask you what’s going on with your loved one, but then they interrupt you to tell you “their story.” When they finish, they usually have forgotten that they haven’t heard your story.

4. Very few people really want to hear your story or talk about your memories; or what’s important to you. Fallacious clichés such as, “I know how you feel” and “I know what that’s like” are the status quo. The reality is that people in the ICU waiting room have their own pain and struggles to deal with. You feel connected to them; but, when your story starts to “go south,” they distance from you as if what you’re experiencing is contagious. If you’re loved one begins to worsen, they leave you alone and whisper to other waiting room people about what’s happening with your patient.

5. Many preachers, ministers, etc., form circles with families that block traffic in the middle of the aisles, then pray loudly—and pray, and pray and pray. Most of them leave after the prayer, and then it’s very interesting what people talk about after the minister leaves.

6. When someone is on the ventilator they have to be sedated (usually). The sedation helps keep the person relaxed so the machine can be beneficial. BUT…what I didn’t know is that every 12 hrs, the sedation has to be turned off in order to “let the person wake up a little bit.” This test helps the hospital be aware of mental changes. During the time the sedation is off, the nurse assesses the patient’s ability to respond to instructions like “squeeze my fingers,” “blink your eyes,” “wiggle your toes,” etc. In other words, you awake every 12 hrs to a tube down your throat that makes you cough and gag, you become just awake enough to know you’re not able to breathe. This can be quite punishing to the patient.

7. Silence is golden. Nurses work hard at saying the right thing and “keeping you company,” which is very special and sometimes greatly appreciated; but, I think that being quiet while being with someone is usually more valuable as their loved one is dying. One of the best questions I heard a nurse ask was, “Would you like some privacy or would you like me to stay with you a little longer?” The worst question I heard was asked by a nurse as I sat in a chair in the pod outside my dad’s room, just after his death… “Uh, you’re the chaplain, right? Well, I was wondering, “How do you feel about monogamy in marriage?”

8. Always visiting during visiting hours may not be the best idea for clergy members. Families get precious few minutes every few hours that could end up being the last minutes they have with their loved one alive. Experiment with waiting room visits followed by in-room visits. I suggest taking someone for a walk around the building, to the canteen, to the coffee shop or somewhere outside. If they ask you to “go back” with them, then go. If not, don’t.

9. There’s lots of praying going on, even though you can’t hear it.

(This is Bob again. From reading Brian’s observations, five lessons come to mind for ministry to families in ICU waiting rooms: 1. Be quiet and really listen, 2. Don’t offer pat answers, 3. Keep vocal prayers soft and short,  4. Don’t be afraid of silence, and 5. Don’t abandon them when they hurt the most. What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment below.)

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Guest blog post: Expressing Sympathy During the Holidays

Suzie_Kolber_Obits (Below is a guest blog by Suzie Kolber on the subject of how to express sympathy during the holidays, which can be a difficult time for those who have recently lost a loved one. Suzie is a writer at ObituariesHelp.org. The site is a complete guide for someone seeking help for writing words of condolences, sympathy messages, condolence letters and funeral planning resources.)

The holidays can be such a fun, exciting time for most people. However, for those who have recently lost a family member or close friend, it can be a difficult, painful time. Everywhere they look, something reminds them of prior holidays spent with that person.

Depression is a common problem during this season for people who have lost their loved ones. If the anniversary of the death or the person’s birthday falls during this time, it can make the brightest days seem dark.

Avoidance

Many bereaved people tend to avoid others during this time. They don’t socialize or go out because they see the festivities as another painful reminder of their loss. On the other hand, friends and family members may tend to avoid the bereaved person because they don’t know what to say. It feels awkward to be around them and try to hide their natural excitement for the season.

While it is natural to want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the isolation only contributes more to the feelings of depression and loneliness. Family members and friends need to be aware of this and continue interacting with their grieving loved one.

What To Say

It’s normal to want to avoid someone when you don’t know what to say to them. However, your support and sympathy is needed, especially when someone suffers such a loss around the holiday season. The following tips will help you offer the comfort that is needed.

  • Offer assistance for the person who still has to organize the holiday celebration even though they are grieving. For instance, someone may have lost a spouse but has children who want to celebrate. They may need help with cleaning, cooking or even shopping.
  • Invite someone to your home for the holidays, especially if you are having a low-key celebration. This allows them to get out without being overwhelmed by the activities.
  • Invite the loved one to volunteer with you. Doing something like creating gift baskets for soldiers can help a person feel useful and remind them that they are not alone. Others may be missing loved ones for different reasons.
  • Be willing to talk about the deceased. Your job may be as simple as listening as the person relives fond memories. While you may think it would bring sadness to talk about the person who is gone, it can actually be helpful. The person is thinking about them anyway; talking provides healing.

If the person lives far away and you can’t visit during the holiday season, it is appropriate to send a flower or gift basket. You don’t need to wish them “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Instead, include a card that says that you are thinking of them. Just this reminder and a few lovely flowers can brighten their day.

Anytime is a bad time to lose a loved one. Suffering the loss during the holidays makes the pain even more severe for many. Reach out to those people and they will appreciate the comfort that you provide.