Tommy Deal, Chaplain, Hamilton Health Care System Hospice, Dalton Georgia
For over thirty-five years I have attempted to offer pastoral care to those whom God placed before me through church, community, compassion ministry, disaster response and now hospice. I have learned and am continuing to learn that the strongest message spoken in times of care are not words, but presence.
Recently I had just finished a week offering pastoral presence to nineteen hospice patients and their caregivers. The first half of the following week I saw nine more. Through this ministry of end of life care I am honored to be present with people who truly are “walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.” I find each one of these are Holy moments. When it comes to the door this side of eternity most everyone contemplates where he or she is headed. God is ever-present and in most all of these times there is a sincere seeking His divine love and grace.
Then, I found myself on a table in the Cardiac Cath Lab of our hospital. Apparently what I had surmised as “out of shape old guy syndrome” was just a little more serious. Over the next fifty-six or more hours I became the recipient of pastoral care. Susan, who lovingly and patiently waited on me, soon found she was needing answers. The hospital Chaplain and caring fellow hospital associates brokered the securing of information to calm her concerns.
Many, many friends from our church, First Baptist Church of Dalton, Georgia, showed up to check on us, pray with us, offer their presence and love. Some sat with me while others went with Susan to the Cafeteria for something to eat. Many came by and shared their deep concern and love for me. My co-workers wonderfully expressed their love, appreciation and prayers. The pastoral staff at our church (minus the Minister of Music, of course!) were present offering prayers, presence and encouragement.
The end result of my time in the hospital resulted in two now unblocked arteries thanks to three stents and a balloon, a heart attack or worse averted and a “New Lease on Life!” The new insight I have gained is how powerful and wonderful pastoral care is. Most everyone of these dear friends near and far are not “professional clergy.” Yet, they earnestly live their lives with an understanding that they ARE the presence of Christ; that they are called to be a blessing; that “because they have been given much, they, too, must give.”
“Thank you!” seems to be inadequate to express how blessed I am to have experienced each of their (and your) expressions of love and concern for me. The ol’ ticker is much better now. However, I am still an “out of shape old guy.” I guess I need to work on that!