“Sanctify, Oh Lord, those whom you have called to the study and practice of the arts of healing, and to the prevention of disease and pain. Strengthen them by your life giving spirit, that by their ministries the health of the community may be promoted and your creation glorified, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
—Book of Common Prayer, p.460
This prayer hung on the locker of my very first nursing student. I remember fondly the years following her first clinical rotation with me. This student took a job on the same unit as a new nurse, and I continued teaching students the ins and outs of acute care nursing. Even now, years later, some of my favorite work days are coming to teach on this unit, passing out hugs and words of encouragement to former students and mentors alike.
For the past eight weeks, my home base has been designated the Special Pathogens Unit of the hospital, which delivers vital care for hospitalized patients infected with COVID-19. Last week nurses from my unit were featured on the local news for their heroic efforts on the frontlines of the pandemic.
Those are their experiences. I’ m not permitted to visit, or teach, on the unit at the current time. My encouragement now in the form of catered dessert and cards from my children. This seems completely inadequate; I cannot shake the feeling that my former students and colleagues are scared, under-equipped, and unprepared for what the pandemic brings their way.
My feelings of helplessness caused perpetual reflection. Had I prepared my students to advocate for their safety? Had we comprehensively reviewed methods of resiliency, particularly physical and spiritual protection? How, given the necessity of my physical distance, could I advocate for these providers? How can I get them what they need?
Out of necessity, at times bordering on force, my eyes are drawn back home. My thoughts are interrupted by the hustle of four children, now under our roof for many more hours than they have been in the past. I am working to translate what I learn at patients’ bedsides and teach in nursing classrooms to cultivate compassion in my daughters. A pandemic seems to offer the perfect opportunity to further my unofficial research.
However, I was surprised to find that my daughters didn’t really share my despair for our healthcare providers. They could not understand why I was tracking admission numbers and infection rates and introducing them to concepts like antibody testing over dinner. All their minds could contemplate was their own suffering: there were no more sports, no more birthday parties, no more church choir practices, and no more visits from their grandmother.
My initial reaction to their grief was immediately pointing my daughters back to their blessings. “Look, aren’t we fortunate that Mommy’s current job allows me to stay home with you? Aren’t we blessed to have ample food, and a safe home, and Netflix, for goodness sake? This could be so much worse! Why aren’t you understanding this?”
In my insistence that their worlds were just fine, I missed a vital step in their transition. I didn’t allow my children to sit with their pain. I didn’t give them the opportunity to find shared grieving space with their friends and our family. While on the grand scale, their suffering may seem minimal, but to them as individuals, their loss seemed insurmountable. By attempting to forgo their personal grief for the sake of a greater communal whole, I entered the dicey realm of comparative suffering. We can’t try to “one-up” everyone when it comes to pain.
After acknowledging and sitting with their grief for as long as they needed, I encouraged my daughters to use their feelings of loss as a catalyst for turning grief into action. Though they may feel helpless to change their circumstance, they can redirect their energy towards finding tiny ways to give back to their world. Without accepting our own pain, we cannot make this step forward.
Staring up at me on my preschooler’s worksheet this week, right under a ladybug, were these words from Galatians 5:13, “…serve one another humbly in love.” I’ve found, throughout the past few months of this pandemic, that encouraging my children to acknowledge their own hurting and supporting them in their loss created a foundation for them to then transition their energy towards giving back to their community.
We continue to offer daily prayers for our healthcare providers. My own feelings of inadequacy are still present, but I am working to use these as my own catalyst for good. Our girls have found creative ways to give back, and they seem to find purpose in their actions. Whether it’s stocking our church’s food pantry, sending cards to their great-grandmother, or participating in a birthday parade for a dear friend, their contributions to our community enact positive change.
Even the smallest acts of benevolence have the ability to profoundly impact the world around us. Just like Mr. Roger’s mother, I encourage my daughters to, “Look for the helpers.” By all means, do all you can to support them, and take their example of selflessness and apply it to your community. You never know what a difference it will make.