Heart-felt confessions of a caring chaplain working at St Catherine’s Hospice during the coronavirus crisis
Lisa Rainier is Chaplain and Lead for Spiritual Support at St Catherine’s Hospice. Here she shares what it’s been like working on the front line supporting local terminally ill people and their families.
Early on, I joined my local neighbourhood isolation support group, purchased seed to grow my own vegetables, thought I would read the Hilary Mantel novels on my bookshelves, get fitter with Joe Wicks, run further, rescue a few people and generally be a cross between a hero and an angel.
Later on, any kind of hero status or angelic ambition was seriously compromised by the reality: I was unable to concentrate for long enough to read anything, physically hauling my increasingly heavy body out of bed for a short run round the park took Herculean effort and I wrestled with run-rage (why is it always me who has to give way on the path and go into the undergrowth?).
I also had to accept that I couldn’t do much extra for my neighbours because it took me so long to shop for me and mine.
There have been too many male humans in my house and the churlish chore-wars are getting me down.
I sorely miss my alone time on retreat and my going out time with girlfriends, and I’m sad that my mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s will no longer recognise me if, or when, I do see her again.
Being ‘only human’ at St Catherine’s Hospice has got to me too: I have felt my own anxieties in caring for people with Covid-19, and wearied at the challenges of communication: with patients through plastic PPE, with relatives whilst maintaining social distance, with colleagues internally and externally, variously and vicariously via Zoom, Teams, WhatsApp, Vsee and Lifesize.
And oh, how I have missed the support of many of my in-the-flesh colleague-friends who are currently furloughed or working from home.
But, being human at the hospice in this time has also been precious; with less meetings to attend and less time taken up with travelling and training, I have had longer to listen; to hear and honour life stories, and more opportunities to stand in the gap when a patient’s own priest or minster has not been able to be present; special moments have been the sharing of communion and the privilege of planning and conducting intimate and meaningful committals with the closest family of those who have died.
In and through all of this has come the realisation that even when a mask muffles some of your words, the hand you offer is clothed in a glove, and the calm in your voice is only heard over the phone, compassion can still be communicated, and what we are still able to do is to remind and reassure our fellow humans that we are still here for them: they are not alone.
Lisa Rainer, chaplain at St Catherine’s Hospice in Crawley