Spiritual Health Care Week: Where the Heart Matters

Oct 17, 2019 | News

Our Spiritual Health Practitioners at Holy Family were very much at the heart of arranging & supporting a visit for Buddhist residents this year to the local Buddhist temple. The event included receiving a welcome song as the residents disembarked from the bus, joining in Buddhist chant with the monk and then enjoying a ten course vegetarian lunch before taking a stroll in the garden! The monks encouraged the residents to pick some fruits and each went home laden with bags of fresh vegetables & goodies!Our Spiritual Health Practitioners at Holy Family were very much at the heart of arranging & supporting a visit for Buddhist residents this year to the local Buddhist temple. The event included receiving a welcome song as the residents disembarked from the bus, joining in Buddhist chant with the monk and then enjoying a ten course vegetarian lunch before taking a stroll in the garden! The monks encouraged the residents to pick some fruits and each went home laden with bags of fresh vegetables & goodies!

Across Canada during the week of October 20 through to 26, 2019 we celebrate Spiritual Health Awareness Week. The Canadian Multi-Faith Federation this year has named the theme as “Multi-faith Leadership Where the Heart Matters."

In line with the mission, vision and values of Providence Health Care, we all know that the heart greatly matters, guided as we are by compassion and social justice.

Our team of dedicated Spiritual Health Practitioners can be found across all our Providence locations, providing spiritual care in our acute settings, mental health care, downtown clinics, long-term care facilities, rehab and hospice care. At St. Paul’s Hospital, a team of four permanent staff plus one part-time research fellow is complemented throughout the course of the year by an additional four student-residents and interns.  This team of residents and interns also provides 24/7 night time and weekend coverage to urgent needs across our Providence sites. 

Spiritual Health and Pastoral Care is a ministry of compassion, providing professional spiritual, emotional and religious support to our diverse populations of patients, residents and their loved ones, as well as to leaders, staff and volunteers right across Providence Health Care. It is a ministry of listening and care that recognizes just how much the heart matters!

Coming alongside people as they struggle to cope with illness, loss, grief, transitions and questions of meaning and hope may seem daunting for many, for the work of the Spiritual Health Practitioner certainly requires great attentiveness and compassion during some of life’s most unexpected and challenging transitions and events. Patients and residents often need to unpack very painful emotions - emotions such as hurt, anxiety, sadness, fear, disorientation, etc. And while these are challenging moments to navigate, our team of Spiritual Health Practitioners would not wish to exchange these moments for anything – for it is these moments that are also filled with profound moments of humanity, resilience and hope.

This week we’re excited to share some of the firsthand experiences that we, as Spiritual health Practitioners, experience alongside those we serve.

The Importance of Validating One’s Experience  

One Spiritual Health Practitioner speaks to his work, caring for elder residents where communication through words is not always possible, many of whom reside in long term care and, on a day to day basis, deal with loneliness.

He says: “Not always, but on many occasions you walk into the dining room of a unit and a handful of residents are sitting alone, many sitting at a distance from others that is both physical and emotional. When the anguish of loneliness cuts deep, I’m always struck by the power of presence.

On one occasion, a resident was calling out angrily to other folks in the dining room -hurling insults, screeching heavily, and even spitting. I gently approached, being aware of risks, and simply sat beside this person, talking calmly and compassionately. I knew that since this resident suffered from more advanced dementia, trying to reason would be futile.

So I attended to this resident’s non-verbals, employing my own non-verbals as best I could, acknowledging “this is really hard. I’m here with you. You’re trying your best.” And it wasn’t long after some very important moments of silence that her indignation turned to tears. We sat together as she started to breathe more deeply and her energy-consuming anguish dissipated. Her loneliness was asking those around her ‘Do you hear me? Do I matter? Do I belong?’

Validation of one’s experience, even if it looks like “acting out behaviour”, is so central.

Spiritual Health isn’t always a psycho-analytical process. Sometimes it happens through the eyes, a smile, the stillness. Some folks carry the scars from huge amounts of trauma and they need to be cared for sensitively, in a trauma-informed way, and on a deeply emotional level.

Connection is key to spirituality.

Each day I try to help residents, families, and staff connect to their selves, others and their higher power. Dementia beckons a more fundamental form of connection than rationalized conversation: compassionate presence.”

Finding Care and Comfort in Unexpected Places

Another Spiritual Health Practitioner tells the story of taking a wheelchair-bound resident out for some fresh air. As they strolled and rolled together a group of children playing in a local playground decided to stop and watch.  “What are you doing in that thing?” one child yelled, referring to the resident’s wheelchair.

“I can’t walk” the resident responded cheerily.

The children asked a few more direct questions before then running back to their games, waving goodbyes as they did so.

The encounter between young and old allowed the Spiritual Health Practitioner to engage the resident more deeply and she was able to support the resident through their expression of feelings of loss and change, providing space and time to process these emotions. The resident’s spiritual health received care and comfort, both through the time and the healing conversation that followed the encounter with the little children. 

Celebrating Lives; Mourning Loss – Healing Through Shared Grief

As part of their work, our Spiritual Health Practitioners across Providence also facilitate and lead memorial services at various times throughout the year.

Earlier this year, a memorial service for the family and friends of patients and residents was held as it normally is, attended by those who are so very recently mourning the loss of their loved ones.  People are invited to come forward and light a candle for their loved one, sharing a word or story if they so wish. This particular part of the memorial is often very moving as people share their tears and speak of their loved one. The event typically then comes to a close and after some supportive conversation, people trickle off home.

On this occasion the group of family and friends gathered broke into joyous song for the closing and then promptly turned to hug each other, embracing complete strangers. They were still chatting and engaging in supportive conversation an hour later, telling each other their stories, sharing pictures and exchanging phone numbers.

It was a gift and a blessing for the two Spiritual Health Practitioners to witness and experience the healing that was going on through the expressions of shared grief in this supportive environment.

Connection is Key

Coming alongside clients in our downtown eastside clinics, such as Crosstown Clinic and the Foundry, Spiritual Health Practitioners also play a key role, connecting with clients who often feel isolated and stigmatized. Living in very physically and socially impoverished settings or on the street, clients’ spiritual health needs are tended to with care and compassion.

Where more ready and frequent responses to pain and distress find answers in substance use, the Providence Spiritual Health Practitioner invites opportunity to explore other ways of dealing with sadness, anger, fear, isolation, forgiveness, etc.  Also collaborating with our Indigenous Health and Wellness team, regular smudging of the spaces in our downtown clinics has begun to take place and is received very positively by all.

As with all the stories that surface, connection is key. Connection forms the basis of spiritual health: connection to self, connection to others and connection to something greater and bigger than us, whether we name this as God, Buddha, Jesus, the Holy, our Higher Power, the Universe or Chi, to name just a few expressions of the sacred and divine. It is what lies deep within the core of all of us.

Read more on how Providence people are celebrating and recognizing Spiritual Health Awareness Week at PHC.

Link: http://phcnews.ca/news/celebrating-spiritual-health-and-pastoral-care-providence

People Forward

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I am proud of being a part of this Spiritual Health Team...and passionate about my work.

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