Today I was greeted by a referral in my mailbox. It told me the attending physician thought a visit by the chaplain would be helpful for the woman who had been admitted to the psychiatric unit. She was experiencing grief over the loss of a child. As I sat with this young woman she shared with me years of grief that had never been expressed. She began to shed tears of relief and release as she finally mourned the loss of her mother and the recent loss of her young child. In our conversation, I learned that somewhere along her life’s journey the message had been sent that crying and grief were signs of weakness. Oh, the joy that emerged from this woman to feel the bondage of grief being lifted from her soul. She cried on that day and will cry for many days, weeks, and years to come, freeing herself from the shackles of weakness as she gains strength in her expressions of grief.

Word was out; “the chaplain is in the unit.” Soon there was a line outside the door with patients who needed a word with me. The middle-aged man who entered the room and sat across from me was kind and gentle with his words. He was trying to care for family members while he himself was receiving care for his mental condition. The story was heart breaking; he was a veteran, had a college degree and a good job; but one day his mental health began to deteriorate. It did not take long for him to lose his job, house, and family. But in all of his loss, his concern was for his brother, who was physically disabled and homeless.

The embodiment of Christ was sitting before me; disheveled, stooped in stature, limited in his capabilities, yet troubled about his loved one who was in crisis. When he asked for prayer I replied, “What would you like for us to ask God?” He continued to remember his brother. This man was all his brother had in life, and he was not going to let his brother down. After prayers and tears, I saw in this man the kind of compassion that is reflected in the Gospel of John, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.” (John 13.34) Before he departed he said to me, “I don’t know how people get through life without the Lord.” At that very moment, truer words could not be found.

Part of my responsibility includes presentations to groups on spirituality, hope, gratitude, and topics that promote wholeness. As patients shuffle into the room, the lights are dimmed and my power point presentation begins. I realize that I am using words that have not been in the patient’s vocabulary as they have shared their sorrows and diagnosis with family and friends. Words such as hope, gratitude, darkness to light, courage, and strength. Group time is just that, group discussion, but when I said the following words the room was silent and still. “You are courageous and brave because you are here. You knew something was not right, and you asked for help, a sign of strength.” Many had never been offered encouraging words; words that could help them make it through the next day; words that would give them hope.

It is not unusual to be asked the question, “How do you visit people who are sick and in physical or mental pain?” The realization sank in as I sat and listened to stories of pain, betrayal, and grief—I could be sitting on the opposite side of the table and those words could be coming from my mouth. All of us have “been there” in some capacity or another. Perhaps we had a support group, friend, therapist, or church family to walk with us in our time of despair. Those resources are not available to everyone, and sometimes life becomes so very hard that holding on is all one can do. I see God helping the patients hold on. I see a spark of hope when a goal has been reached, when some of the anger is dispelled, when reconciliation begins to take place.

As an interfaith chaplain, I use examples that are inclusive and may be mythical in nature, which opens up a vast resource of materials. One of my favorites is Christopher Reeve. He was the Man of Steel until an accident truly made him Superman. Reeve played the role of Superman on the big screen, but when he was only forty-one years old his life changed forever. He was thrown from a horse and in an instant became a quadriplegic. He was wheelchair bound for remainder of his life but fought for the rights of the handicapped and those with spinal cord injuries through various charities, including the Christopher Reeve Foundation. Reeve’s words give inspiration to patients who feel crippled by life: “Once you choose hope, anything is possible.”

This was my day that God created, and “it was good.”

LuAnne Nickell Prevost is chaplain, Parkwest Medical Center-A Division of Covenant Health, Knoxville, Tennessee.