Danny Tomlinson is a chaplain at Scott & White Healthcare and helps families to cope and find comfort in their distress by offering spiritual care.
“I consider it an enormous privilege to be with families in times of crisis. These are the times when the family is most tender and vulnerable, so I am careful to honor and respect who they are and what they are experiencing,” says Tomlinson.
How a Chaplain Can Help
Chaplains work with people of all religious faiths during hard times.
- Help facilitate rituals
- Make contact with local clergy
- Provide supportive, non-judgmental companionship
- Can officiate at religious ceremonies for the family
- Facilitate the emotional and spiritual responses to loss
- Use one-on-one, written, or phone communication to help individuals and families cope
- Support the connection with your faith community, not replace it
- Share in prayer, scripture reading, or meditation, if desired
- Work with people who don’t associate with a religious group to find healthy ways to deal with grief
- Listen to people who wish to express feelings of pain, sadness and regret
- Observe nonverbal clues and anticipate needs sometimes before they are brought up
- May remain totally silent and simply offer a quiet presence of support and care
“We seek to provide only those interactions which are helpful to and desired by the family,” says Tomlinson. “Absolute respect for and of the people we serve is a key aspect of providing hospitality.”
No Right Way to Grieve
Immediately following a loss, it is important to provide a safe, open environment for people to express their grief in their own manner. Tomlinson says each person experiences the pain of loss in a unique way which is directly influenced by the relationship the person attaches to the loss.
“Letting people know that there are different ways to grieve, even within the same family, is important,” says Tomlinson. “There is no right or wrong way to grieve.”
Rather than trying to ease the pain of their loss, a chaplain will attempt to move the focus from crisis to resilience – helping the person understand that they will be able to move through this pain. The pain may never go away, but a person can learn how to carry that pain and use it in meaningful ways.
Holding onto Hope
Distress is a time of intensified pain or struggle and often brings about a clarification of hope and faith.
Tomlinson relates hope to a handrail on a set of stairs: you may easily go up and down the stairs in normal situations, but if you begin to slip and fall, you grab the handrail and it helps you regain your balance. “Hope is the ability to look beyond the immediate circumstance and hold on to something that will help stabilize you as you walk through the grief and pain,” he says.
Hope is a lifeline that lets you know you can stay afloat even though circumstances may be very discouraging.
How to Move Forward
Chaplain Tomlinson provides ten things to remember as you move through your grief:
- Stay in the moment. Do not go too far into the future, because no one knows what that will be.
- Deal with what you know, not what you are afraid of. For example, a person may be critically ill and may be progressing toward death, but be with the person the best way possible for you while they are alive. You will deal with their death when and if that happens.
- Affirm the positive aspects of the relationship and what you will carry with you throughout the rest of your life.
- Affirm that you will make it through – you just do not know how yet. The how will come! You will make it through.
- Prepare for the future, but live in the present.
- Connect with people of your faith who encourage and support you. Those who judge and criticize will only make your journey that much more difficult.
- Be aware that everyone responds to and processes loss and grief differently. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
- Express your grief in safe ways. Do not hurt yourself or others, etc.
- Be respectful of others as you grieve.
- Be kind to yourself, give yourself space and time, and try to continue your normal religious practices.
A Chaplain is a Supportive Presence
Each loss carries peculiar dynamics that occur as a result of many situations. You may be suffering as a result from criminal acts, suicide, natural death or an unexpected loss. Each crisis situation is unique and is handled with sensitively and respect.
“When with a family in crisis, it is often amazing at how much a calm, supportive presence means to the family,” says Tomlinson. “People seldom find comfort in words, although some might, rather, they find comfort in someone being there to help them navigate through the emotional upheaval and sense of helplessness that often accompanies crisis and loss.”
Whether it’s offering a tissue or helping you talk through your grief, a chaplain will be there as a strong presence of support and hope at Scott & White.