Entry #7: RETREAT or retreat!
Updated: Jul 12
Experiencing the hope of the Cross for some patients can come from a place of desperation. Whereas, the cross for others it is a badge of honor, or an intimate reminder of the price the Lord paid for you. The Cross defined as: “on which Jesus was crucified,” and “an affliction that tries one's virtue, steadfastness, or patience.” (MERRIAM-WEBSTER, 2020). A scriptural reference of the cross states:
“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy
that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is
set down at the right hand of the throne of God,” (Hebrews 12:2, KJV).
As a hospital chaplain, I also wear my Cross as a nonverbal method of identification for the deaf, non-English speaking patients, or patient that may be very sick, incoherent, delusional, dying and/or mentally ill, interesting fact they all seem to recognized the Cross. I’ve had many encounters with patients that have been so desperate for spiritual help that they have grabbed and broken my Cross off my neck while screaming, yet there were absolutely know words that were being exchanged between us.
I remember one time a patient who was on comfort care, which means that they are being medicated to be kept comfortable until they pass. I received a patient consult, it was an African American female in her late 70’s. I came in her room stood by her bed to introduce myself. She grabbed my Cross and my arm screaming for me to help her like a football player (no exaggeration). Two nurses tried to get her off me, but it caused her to panic even more and she started pulling me into the bed on her, so I told them to stop, it was OK for her to hold me. The two nurses stood at the door for a few minutes to watch to see if I was going to be alright and then they left me with the patient. I reached with my foot for a chair to pull it bedside as she continued to tightly hold my Cross and arm. I let her hold the Cross and my arm and I started to softly sing/pray to settle her down, this song:
"Think About His Love"
Think about His grace that's brought us through For as high as the heavens above So great is the measure of our Father's love Great is the measure of our Father's love So great is the measure of our Father's love How could I forget His love And how could I forget His mercies
He satisfies, He satisfies, He satisfies my desires Think about His love, think about His goodness Think about His grace that's brought us through
For as high as the heavens above
So great is the measure of our Father's love Great is the measure of our Father's love Great is the measure Great is the measure Great is the measure Great is the measure of our Father's love Great is the measure of our Father's love
Moen, D. (1998). "Think About His Love" Lyrics  from the album God for Us. Retrieved on June 14, 2020 from https://www.newreleasetoday.com/lyricsdetail.php?lyrics_id=6626
I could feel her trembling as she held on to both my Cross and arm, she stopped screaming with tears streaming down her face. This moment was comforting her and providing her with a sense of desperate hope and relief. She never said a mumbling word other than, “help me.” What do you do with that? I stayed with her until she fell peacefully to sleep and I was able to slip her hands off my Cross and release my arm from her clutches. She didn’t pass that evening, so I quietly left.
I’m going to keep it really real right here, I am fulfilling a God given calling and carrying a gifting as a hospital chaplain, but I am also human. In that moment, I was more interested in comforting and providing her with spiritual care, even if it meant allowing her to tightly hold my Cross and arm. She had me tightly gripped, so I just allowed this to be her spiritual care. But what took me a little longer for me to get over and shake off was her heart wrenching cry for me to help her. She was afraid to die and sadly she was dying alone. This patient didn’t pull off nor did she break my Cross that evening. I have had three other patients that have pulled my Cross off and broken it throughout my past seven years of pastoral care service. For those other three patients, for them holding the Cross seemed to provide them with a calming comforting hope.
Moments like these discussed in my Diary of a Hospital Chaplain blogs and book are the reason why, during our clinical pastoral care education units we have required weekly group counseling, private counseling with our supervisor/instructor bi-weekly, and one departmental retreat. All of these opportunities are created to provide us with spiritual and emotional support, training on other faith traditions, trauma stewardship, and self-care. I titled this blog, “Retreat or retreat!” The word, “RETREAT,” can have two completely different meanings: (1) “a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax. (2) “an act of moving back or withdrawing,” or “military withdraw from enemy forces as a result of their superior power or after a defeat,” (Oxford, (2020). Pastoral care is providing spiritual care, but for the server if you are not careful you can become mentally, emotionally, and spiritually drained if you don’t retreat. And I’m talking about the retreat where one renews and replenishes themselves. If you don’t retreat regularly, you will retreat, as in withdraw from service, burnout, and/or become spiritually exhausted. This can cause one to serve patients spiritually detached, without compassion and/or empathy because you are on trauma stewardship overload:
Seeing this patient and being grabbed by her didn’t frighten me at all, I knew that she was dying and was so desperately afraid. It was my prayer that she would receive healing, comfort, and His peace. If one wants to spiritually transform the world by making a difference, it starts with transforming oneself!
The Process of Self-transformation:
1. The most important technique is learning to stay fully present in our experiences, no matter how difficult.
2. When faced with a frightening place, no matter how difficult. Slow down enough to be curious and examine what is happening within yourself.
3. Be present, mindful, and pay close attention without judgement.
4. Provide and maintain compassion for yourself and others. This step will help combat and cancel out the risk of depression and/or feeling a since of hopelessness/helplessness.
5. Maintain and increase prayer life during seasons of increased trauma and tough patient visits.
6. When things settle down examine from all angles and process the usable learning gained from the experience. Our required clinical verbatim presentations help with debriefing some of the emotional vulnerable moments.
7. The more personal our connection to our work the greater the gifts we bring to it because it is serving from a place of God given purpose and passion.
8. For us to truly know joy, we can’t afford to shut down our experiences of pain. They are valuable hidden treasure to be used and to fuel VICTORY!
9. Don’t be afraid to be spiritually human because we are spiritual beings.
Remember the spiritual significance: To be used to participate in the stewardship of other’s trauma, remember the privilege & sacredness of the calling of presence and managing spiritual care. In every season and ministering opportunity, ask the Lord to make you fruitful and give you away to comfort or care for a soul! That’s real Kingdom work, the ministry of His presence from every FAITH tradition. Each one, reach one!
Please feel free to share your comments, question, and/or your own experiences, they are very much welcomed here.
Here’s a sneak preview, “Memories as Memorials!” Until next time.
For the sake of the Chaplain’s healing Call!
Chaplain Jacqueline M. Pressey, Ed.D.,
"Every job is a self-portrait of the person who does it. Autograph your
work with becoming extraordinary, through pursuing EXCELLENCE!"