Entry #21: The Perfect Stranger!
Updated: Jul 16
Chaplains can be the perfect stranger and a quick unlikely companion, because when you need us, we are there for you. But once we have provided you with your pastoral/spiritual care needs, you never have to see us, again. There are benefits in talking to us, we can provide you with an empathic listening ear, provide you with a non-judgmental confidential conversation, and ultimately be a comfort and support to you in a time of unfamiliar territory and need. Most people don’t ever consider that they may want or need a chaplain. It’s just not something that one thinks about until an illness, crisis and/or trauma has occurred. “These ephemeral (lasting for a short time) connections add variety to one’s life, and are a source of useful information and often provides needed emotional and physical support. Equally important, they nearly always leave me with a smile on my face (although now hidden under a mask!),” (Brody, 2020).
“In the course of daily life, the perfect stranger can give people a feeling that they belong to a community, which she described as “a basic human need.” Well, the chaplain prayerfully attempts to provide this basic need quickly, by being skilled at listening intently and discerning cues both verbal and non-verbal. All while in the midst of a personal crisis, emergency, and/or trauma, if you please. Most people don’t plan for illness nor hospitalization, this occurs suddenly. When involving loved ones, they can tend to be emotionally vested during the emergency situation, critical objectivity might not be possible, because the immediate crisis and/or trauma is affecting them, too. Well, this is where we come into provide spiritual support and believing healing faith. Consequential strangers “are as vital to our well-being, growth, and day-to-day existence as family and close friends. Consequential strangers anchor us in the world and give us a sense of being plugged into something larger,” (Brody, 2020).
I received a chaplain consult request while doing my 24-hour on-call for a 30 years old female Muslim patient in ICU. I called the nurses station to find out the patient’s details and needs. I told the nurse that I was the Chaplain on-call for the night, but that my faith tradition was Christian. And that I would do a referral for the Muslim chaplain to provide a morning visit to the patient. The nurse said that she would check with the patient. When the nurse returned to the telephone. She stated that the patient didn’t care and they wanted to see me that evening, so I went immediately to the unit. I had many thoughts in my mind as I prayed for guidance on how to navigate this patient visit effectively. Also, since this female patient was awake, it was important for me to be sensitive to her Muslim religious preference. I was a bit nervous and I wanted to be mindful of not being offensive by referencing and/or saying Jesus too much.
When I entered the patient’s room, she was awake with tubes down her nose. She was a bit restless due to the pain. She had tears streaming down her face. Her sister was with her. The both of them started talking to me and thanking me for coming. The lights were dim in the room. Her sister was standing on the other side of the bed by the monitors. Her sister addressed me first. I learned in our introductory conversation that the patient had donated a portion of her liver to her 10-month-old daughter. And her husband was with her daughter in the NICU, who wasn’t doing very well. We chatted a bit more about her circumstances and the reason for her daughter needing a liver transplant. I told her and her sister that it was so awesome that she had given life to her daughter twice. This simple statement made them so happy, the patient who was crying in pain, started smiling. Her sister, who was dressed in her Muslim attire with face covered asked me would I pray.
In preparing to pray, I reminded them that I was an Apostolic Christian Chaplain. Her sister stated, “that it didn’t matter about which God that I prayed to, because in the end, we might be all serving the same one.” Excited, I said you are correct. (We all held hands) which created a circle and I started praying. (The patient turned her head and smiled at me). I started thanking God for her giving her daughter life twice. I asked a special blessing upon them. And that He would ease her pain while she recovers. (Her sister, held my hand so tightly, as she cried). I ended the prayer naturally in Jesus Name, Amen! I stated quickly that I was so sorry, I was trying not to say that, but it just naturally came out. The both of them said that was just fine. I told them that I would go check on her daughter and husband in the NICU and pray for them, also. And that I will still do a referral for the Muslim Chaplain to visit them in the morning. And that if they needed me again, that I would be on-call all night.
There was such a gracious, respectful atmosphere in that room. They were very open to me ministering and praying with them. They made it so easy to be the perfect stranger. This was a great opportunity for both cultural and denominational acceptance. Nothing mattered in that room but healing for both her and her daughter. When you are suffering and in need of healing, you don’t care about all of our cultural differences. “Casual acquaintances inspire us to venture beyond our comfort zones,” (Brody, 2020). And until we do, we’ll never know what we might gain from relationships with “people who don’t seem to matter.”
My approach for this 1st visit with a Muslim patient was an interfaith style of ministering. I completely felt like I was to exercise these skills of being inclusively sensitive culturally, and be pastorally/spiritually open. I was able to give and both receive from this visit an enriched positive experience with providing spiritual care to a Muslim patient, her sister, and her husband when I visited him in the NICU with his daughter. My goal was to humbly serve the patient, and honor their faith and mine faith tradition during this encounter. I was really grateful of their willingness to be open and allowing me to minister and pray for them. It was a true privilege to be their perfect authentic pastoral stranger! A few days later, I learned from the Chaplain Resident assigned their unit during morning report that this Muslim patient and her baby were doing well as a result of a collective hospital team effort and answered prayer.
Here’s a sneak preview, “Show and Tell!” Until next time (Returning September 2021).
For the sake of the Chaplain’s healing call!
Chaplain Jacqueline M. Pressey, Ed.D.
Brody, J. E., (2020). The New York Times: The Benefits of Talking to Strangers. Retrieved on July
2, 2021 from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/03/well/family/the-benefits-of-talking-to-strangers.html