‘There is a lot of grief’: Hospital chaplains busier as delta variant surge continues

State - Regional

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WBTW) — While they’re working, the nurses power through it. But when that shift ends, they tell Rev. Janet Edwards they sit in their car and cry.

“There is just a lot of grief they are bearing, a lot of it,” said Rev. Janet Edwards, a United Methodist Church minister and hospital chaplain in the Trident Health System. “It is just a very sad time for them, and for everyone here. We are seeing a lot of tragedy and it is sort of unrelenting here. It’s hard. It makes it really hard.”

Edwards, the president of the South Carolina Hospital Association Society of Chaplains, is a board-certified chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains, an intensive professional recognition that requires a master of divinity degree, ordination (with the exception of Catholics), pastoral education, 50 hours a year of continued education and supervised coursework in a hospital. 

Hospital policies vary on whether chaplains have to obtain board certification, however, Edwards said they are all required to have some education. 

As a chaplain, Edwards responds to all emergency cases, offers assistance for trauma cases, offers proactive care and checks in on patients. She’ll sometimes get referrals from family members, and patients themselves will ask for a chaplain. If there’s a death, she’s there to support the grieving family.

“We serve people where they are, and do a lot of emotional support, a lot of empathetic listening, reflective listening, provide them with the sources they need to cope with their hospitalizations and keep their spirits up, and feed them spiritually while they are here,” Edwards said. “A lot of it is just being with people and being that calming presence in a crisis situation.”

Some people ask for prayer. Some want a Bible. Some want her to call their own faith leader.

She also supports hospital staff, checking in and making visits. During orientation, she lets them know that she’s there. Staff will come to her if there’s a death, or if they’re struggling.

“Of course, during the pandemic, there has been a lot more of that, because this has been extremely hard on the staff,” she said. 

Lately, it’s been worse than ever.

“I think it is even harder for them this time because they know there is a vaccine that would prevent that death, and the people who are dying are not vaccinated, so that is hard for them, as well,” she said. 

And now, staff are witnessing people their own age, or the age of their children, die.

“There is a lot of grief,” she said. “People are bearing a lot of grief because we are seeing a lot of people die, and with the delta variant, we are seeing a lot of young people die.”

She gets called into COVID-19 patients’ rooms daily, entering wearing protective equipment and doing the best she can to be expressive while behind a face mask and shield. She’s also done pastoral care over the phone, praying, and passing on messages from family members.

“I can do that, and I think that means a lot to people, especially if they are people of faith, because their own pastor can’t come and do that,” she said. 

With patients isolated, she said it’s more important than ever to have chaplains available. 

But the chaplains are also struggling through the seemingly never-ending tide. Edwards urges other chaplains to be attentive to their own self-care since the amount of grief they’re seeing daily can be overwhelming.

At the end of the day, she said chaplains strive to be empathetic, guide with prayer and leave those they help with God. 

She said chaplains are always available if a family wants to call, and can offer spiritual support over the phone. She also applauds health care workers for being dedicated throughout the pandemic, and urges the public to get vaccinated and wear a mask. 

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