By Robert A. Poarch
“Gratitude is enormously important. It helps us pause and think about what we have, rather than what we don’t have.” — Jerene Broadway
Jerene Broadway, a Staff Chaplain in Mission Health’s Department of Spiritual Care, has been at the hospital for almost 18 years, starting at the behavioral health facility Copestone. Here, Jerene shares what it’s like as a spiritual guide at a hospital before, during and after COVID-19.
Before coming to Mission, you worked in San Francisco. How did that prepare you for what you’re doing now?
I worked as a director of a community service agency affiliated with a church. It was in an area of San Francisco that had a lot of people living on the edges, and I found myself drawn to these people. I had also done my clinical pastoral education with those who were struggling with mental health issues and suicide prevention. So, Copestone was really where I wanted to work. I feel like that’s where my gifts are, and where my passion is.
What do you do at Copestone?
Some of the work that I do at Copestone is lead spirituality groups on a number of the units, which is not talking about religion but addressing issues like hope and meaning and gratitude and how we experience awe and wonder in the midst of the things that we’re struggling with. We read poetry or read a quote, and just take the conversation from there. We look at spirituality from the focus of what hope or resilience or courage mean to us when struggling with behavioral health issues.
What do you do as a chaplain in a hospital?
There are a variety of things we do as chaplains. We’re part of the code team, so we respond to every code—traumas, heart attacks, strokes. We respond to every death. We find out how we can be supportive in those moments. How can we support the family and the people who are present? Sometimes it’s just calling the family. A lot of what we do is go to the emergency room. We stay with patients while they are being evaluated and treated in a crisis.
Sometimes people ask for a chaplain, and they want someone to sit with them when they’re in a situation they’ve never been in, like a serious illness or a diagnosis they didn’t expect. Or, they’ve been here a long time, and they haven’t had the support of their pastor who is two counties away and can’t get over here. Maybe they just want someone to talk to. Hospitals put people in a situation where they are questioning life-threatening or life-altering experiences. That’s not the kind of thing the clinical staff has time for. So, we sit with them and explore those things.
Do you pray with them?
If they ask for it, we will offer prayer for them. We provide literature for them if they want that. Anything from sacred texts to journals. Whatever we can do to support their experience here. We don’t have a religious agenda for them. We see people from all different faith traditions or none at all. We don’t guide the conversation. It’s up to them to tell us what they’re looking for for support.
We meet with families of people who are facing end of life. If they’ve withdrawn support, we get called to every death. We ask, “What can we do to be supportive here?” Sometimes we just help people fill out the paperwork for what funeral home they want. We cover a lot of territory.
How do you approach spirituality at the hospital?
I don’t define spirituality for anyone. When we walk into a room, we don’t have an agenda. I don’t know what their experience is. I don’t know what their background is. For me, what’s important is what the conversation is going to be about. They may tell me what their faith tradition is or that they don’t have a faith tradition. This is about what their spirituality is. That’s what I’m interested in exploring, finding out what’s going on with them and what they need the conversation to be about.
What kinds of things are you listening to from the staff these days?
A lot of our job is listening to staff too. It’s a stressful time in the hospital. They love their jobs and it’s harder now. We’re hearing that people are anxious and tired. They are worried and concerned about their patients and their own families during the COVID-19 pandemic. I kind of have this image of holding a bowl that I carry with me, and it holds these holy, sacred stories. And, I’m holding them with care as I go throughout my day. These stories are important, and I try to hold it with a lot of respect and honor and care, because these are important stories if it’s from a staff person or a patient or whoever.
How does gratitude fit in your role?
Gratitude is enormously important. It helps us pause and think about what we have, rather than what we don’t have. And, it helps us shift our focus from feeling needy to feeling filled up. I think no matter who we are, there’s some gift that we can acknowledge. I think it helps us shift into that space were we feel present and grateful, and that we’re not empty.
Has COVID-19 changed your role here at the hospital?
Very much so. With the visitation restrictions with COVID-19 patients, we have to call into the room, rather than go into the room. We usually spend a lot of time escorting families, but now we’re spending a lot of time on the phone and the computer tracking them down, and helping the family know where they are. We’re spending a lot of time giving them as much reassurance and information as we can get, and follow up with them. Sometimes, we’re the advocate if the appropriate family member isn’t available. It’s those little, subtle things. Sometimes, we’re the advocate for working through family dynamics. We sometimes track belongings, because family members can’t be here to do that.
How about end of life?
We spend a lot of time with end of life, and helping them with decisions because family isn’t at the bedside, and they can’t see that patient. They’ve been struggling with that decision, so we have to help them with that in ways that we didn’t before. We have iPads so families and patients can have conversations. We’ve said prayers at the family’s request if they can’t come in. With an iPad, we’ve facilitated having a priest do the sacrament of sick over a patient who is dying, so the family knows he receiving his last rites. We’ve sung hymns over a patient on the family’s behalf. We’ve used the iPad to help families see a patient so they can make decisions. It’s really difficult, because usually family would be gathered around the bedside. Now, after a patient has withdrawn care, family can come, but not before. We get questions about, how do we do memorials and rituals in the COVID-19 era.
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Where do you turn for inspiration?
I have two support groups that I’m a part of. One is a ministry support group that I’ve been a part of for twelve years. One of us shares a reflection. Then, all of us reflect together. Now that we can’t get together, we’ve chosen to meet weekly on Zoom. The other group of people, we’ve been meeting for about ten years, and we have a meal and watch a movie together. This group has been a huge source of support and very good friends. We choose a movie and watch it during the week, and we get together to talk about it on Zoom.
I also have some practices that I do that are very nurturing. I make sure that I read at least one poem a day. I find a lot of inspiration and comfort and life in poetry. I have a lot of favorite poets. My husband and I walk together. I take bubble baths. It’s a very nurturing practice for me. In addition to prayer, I do a lot of breathing and mindfulness meditation. And, I have some great coworkers. We share our stories and give each other a lot of support.
What do you hope people learn from this pandemic?
It’s something that I’ve thought about. Some of these things have been good for us, like slowing down and paying attention to relationships. We’ve had to do them differently, but we’ve done them more mindfully. I have anyway. We’ve let go of things that have been good to let go of. And, as we begin to take things back on, let’s be thoughtful about what we take back on. What can we still do to let us focus on family and relationships and continue to support each other? I’ve seen a lot of community building, like helping neighbors who couldn’t get out for groceries. I’ve seen people focusing on kindness. There are things we’re doing to take care of our community in a way that I think is astounding, and we can continue doing.
Jerene Broadway is a Staff Chaplain in Mission Health’s Department of Spiritual Care.