Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care

Some Patient Conversations Just Linger

Posted in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, hospital visits on September 22nd, 2009 by Jim Hughes – Comments Off

Yesterday was not normal, if there is such a thing in chaplaincy. I spent four hours making patient visits, only visiting with four people. In that time I might normally see three times that many folks.

That means I had several indepth conversations. They were each different — in substance, in emotional tone, in breadth. Each was driven by what that person wanted to talk about, though sometimes with gentle prompting.

I’ve learned that indepth conversations take me longer to post-process, and that’s true today. One in particular just keeps coming to mind. Partly it’s because he talked about the effects of his disease on so many different aspects of his life. And partly it’s because of the depth and at times rawness of his feelings.

It’s an honor to be entrusted with someone’s deepest thoughts and feelings. But sometimes they are also kind of heavy to carry around. I’m thankful for a God with infinite capacity to accept my burdens and those of the folks I minister to. Today there’s a lot to turn over.

Suicide: One Month Later (Pt. 4)

Posted in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, Grief and Grieving, suicide on September 11th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – 1 Comment

This final “One Month Later” segment has some very practical things for us not to do in reaching out to the family of a suicide victim. Thanks again to our anonymous writer for her clear words that can be so helpful to us in wanting to help people like her.

Please be mindful of the things you say or ask, when my children are present. They don’t always need to hear all of the facts. If you want me to be honest, don’t ask sensitive questions in front of my children. I may have to give you a false answer for their sake.

Please don’t share your views concerning my spouse’s final destination. You are not God. It causes even more heartache for me when you imply that he will pay for eternity for his choices. I still care about him.

Please don’t tell me that the death of my spouse has somehow made your life better in some way – by causing a positive change to occur, for example. Not yet. I’m happy that it has worked out that way for you, but I’m not ready to hear it – my life is falling apart. As wrong as it sounds, it is too early for me to hear how his death has made things better for you.

Forgive me when I seem cold ,or angry, or indifferent. My emotions change quickly. I can’t always identify them myself or understand them either. All I know is that sometimes I feel hurt, anger, sadness, confusion or nothing at all.

I feel hurt that we weren’t enough to keep him here. I feel hurt because I can’t erase the pain that my children feel.

I don’t expect you to have the “right” words to say. I don’t know the right words to say either. I am thankful for your effort and your willingness to try. Try not to avoid us. It’s noticeable… even when you don’t realize it.

If you have a good memory or a funny story about something he did, share it with us. If you have a picture of him, we’d love to see it. We still talk about him. Add to our memory bank.

We are just trying to survive suicide. We are going through the motions right now. We are surviving day by day. Sometimes hour by hour, moment by moment. Be patient with us.

Suicide: One Month Later (Pt. 3)

Posted in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, Grief and Grieving, suicide on September 10th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – Comments Off

The third portion of information written by the wife of a man who took his own life one month ago appears below.  These paragraphs give some very practical, positive things we can do to help people who are grieving.  (Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.)

Give me a hug. I need human touch. Tell me things will be okay someday in the distant future. I need to hear that there is hope. Remind me that God is near. Remind me that God does care about my family and me. I want to believe it.

Write me a letter to share your thoughts/experiences with me. I can read letters again and again until I understand. Don’t be offended if I screen my phone calls. I don’t always feel like talking. If you know I’m having a hard day, show up at my house. Just sit with me. We don’t have to talk. Just sit with me and remind me that you are there for support. Don’t ask me to tell you what I need you to do. Just find something, and do it. Take my children out for the day. Mow my yard. Help me clean out a closet or sort through his things.

Give me a call just to let me know you are still thinking about and praying for our family. Or send me an email. I think and can respond on my own time.

Send a card. At first, there were so many cards. Now, not so many. But…the cards I receive now mean that people still care. People are still praying for our family. I have a difficult time with prayer right now. It’s nice to know someone out there is praying for us.

Feel free to invite me to an activity. I will probably go – and be glad not to have to worry about planning/arranging it. It will allow me to forget for awhile. If I really don’t feel up to it, I’ll tell you.

Just be around. Be around, not to find out information – just to be a friend. If I share something personal, don’t share it with others. Don’t betray my trust or I will never share again.


Continued tomorrow

Suicide: One Month Later (Pt. 2)

Posted in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, Grief and Grieving, suicide on September 9th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – 3 Comments

The words below come from the wife of a man who took his own life, and who is sharing her thoughts and feelings to help others of us understand what her grief journey is like.  I’m thankful to her for sharing.  I know that many of you join me in praying for God’s blessings in her journey, and for the healing that only He can provide.  (Here’s part 1 if you missed it.)

I feel guilty all the time. I think about what I should have done differently all. the. time. It’s like a movie that plays again and again. I keep trying to re-write the ending. Don’t add to my guilt and ask me why I didn’t (fill in the blank)? I don’t know why I didn’t do things differently. I wish I had done things differently. I wish I had been able to. I wish I could have stopped him. I think about the what ifs all the time. I constantly wish for a do-over. But wishes don’t bring him back. I can’t have a do-over. Don’t add to my guilt please. Hindsight is 20/20.

I know my husband wasn’t perfect. I know you may have heard about some of the things that happened before he died. I am torn. You can tell me how it makes you feel, that’s fine. I’ve felt just as angry, believe me. But, he was a human being, with a life, a soul. I loved him. I plan to emphasize the positive aspects of my husband’s life to my children. It does them no good to hear the negative. They are a part of him too. I don’t want them to think that a part of each one of them is “bad”. So keep the comments about my deceased spouse positive in front of my children. They only have memories now. Let’s make the memories good ones. (Sometimes, I might want to share some of the difficult memories with you privately. Don’t act shocked. Don’t judge me for the things I say or the way I feel.)

I am fearful about the future. Can I do it alone? What if I try and I fall on my face? Who will help me then? My whole future changed in one instant. I mourn the life I once imagined. The advice that I need to “get on with my life” usually comes from people who are still married to their spouse of 30+ years. I resent that advice. Don’t tell me to “move on” or “get over it”. Don’t tell me how I should feel. Tell me that you will be willing to listen to me when things are tough. Make no judgements.


Continued tomorrow.

Sometimes My Assignment is Just to Listen

Posted in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care, hospital visits on August 25th, 2009 by Jim Hughes – Comments Off

Sometimes my assignment is just to listen.

The patient has something they want to say, something he has been working through for some time.  He needs someone who will appreciate what he has to say to sit and listen, to help make it real.

Interestingly, what he has to say is often something I need to hear for where I am in life.

Yesterday one of those times happened.  I walked into a room, introduced myself, and the patient just started in.  It was quickly obvious that he was delivering a well thought out philosophy about his life.  Sprinkled in were facts about his life, good stuff and bad.  But mostly he was telling me about attitudes and deeply held beliefs that he had developed to help him navigate life, especially in those times of great uncertainty such as he is currently facing.

One of his life principles is to live with the anticipation that each day is going to be a great day.  He told me that when he did, that it was amazing how often it was a great day, no matter what might be happening.  He said that it made tomorrow so much easier, like rolling on a round tire, rather than a square one.

He talked about the abundance of blessings in his life, physical and relational.  He also talked about rock-bottom times.  He said that if he wanted to accept the good things, he also needed to be able to accept the difficult.

He and his wife both exuded joy, in abundance.

What he had to say was important to him.  It turns out that it was really good stuff, helpful to me.  But even if it hadn’t been, even if I hadn’t agreed with what he had to say, it would have been important to listen just as intently to validate him as a person, to be an appreciative audience as he rehearsed his strongest inner beliefs and feelings.

That’s how important listening is.  I was again taught that talking is a highly over-rated ministry tool, and that listening is highly under-rated.