If you have ever spent any time in a hospital, as either a patient or the family member of a loved one who is a patient, you know what I am talking about. Hospitals have their own sense of time – a time not based on minutes or hours, but rather a time based on events – a test, medication, checking of the vitals, surgery, … the list goes on. Days blend together, and soon there is no Monday, Tuesday … Friday – there is only today – here and now.
Albert Einstein once said, “Time is relative; its only worth depends upon what we do as it is passing.” And this is never so true as when we are living in – or dealing with – hospital time. If you happen to be the person in the bed, you pass the time healing, waiting for medication to ease us of our pain – to provide comfort (whatever comfort may be found in a hospital bed), waiting for another test to be run, waiting to be discharged to home where life may hopefully return to “normal”. Nurses, CNA’s, doctors, specialists, PA’s, PT’s, OT’s, and other therapists wander in and out of the rooms at all hours of the day and night, poking and prodding, explaining and training, examining and evaluating, and providing care and comfort as best they can while you lie there, being literally at their mercy.
If you happen to be the patient’s loved one, your role is more of witness than participant. You are called to witness the pain and discomfort your loved one lying in the bed, to witness the seemingly endless parade of medical providers that come in and out of the room, and to witness the endless seconds, minutes, and hours in between, when there is nothing happening except for possibly sleep.
Whether patient or witness, it is in these moments – these times of silent nothingness – that you feel most alone - alone with your thoughts, your worries, your fears, your anxieties. It is in these times that peace and comfort may be found with those visitors who come to be present with us – present with the patient – present with the loving witness – these “pastoral care” visitors. These are the visitors who we can share our thoughts with, our fears with, and yes, even our tears with. For this is the ministry of the pastoral care visitor - a ministry of being – a ministry of presence – a ministry of prayer.
The pastoral care visitor’s “being” provides that important connection to the outside world, where time never stops, but rather continues to march on unrestrained by “hospital time.” Their calm presence provides that peace which “passes all understanding” in a world where uncertainty reigns. Their prayers lastly provide the ever-so important bridge to God, providing that necessary spiritual support needed for healing to occur – whether it is physical and emotional.
In my lifetime, I have been both patient and witness – being both in the hospital bed, and in the no-so comfortable chair beside the bed – each time getting lost in “hospital time.” And it is in these times that I have given my utmost thanks for those pastoral care visitors who have come to be present and pray with me. Their ministry is a true gift and a blessing from God – a living grace bestowed upon us who are sick and us who are witnesses to the hurts and pains of our loved ones.
Time is indeed relative; and it is most serendipitous that next Saturday, September 9, from 8:30 am to noon, Holy Comforter will be offering Pastoral Care training for those interested in becoming a pastoral care minister in our Church. If you wish to learn more, or feel called to this incredible ministry, please contact Linda Piper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 906-221-9657.
Blessings to you all, Fr. Bill