Annie Blampied-Radojcin is a OneSpirit Interfaith Minister, a soul midwife, Hospice Chaplain and Authentic Presence practitioner. Her gifts include accompanying those who are in the process of dying and provide training for people wishing to become Quietude Practitioners, tailor made ceremonies and spiritual counselling sessions. As a hospice chaplain, she has a unique view of the impact COVID-19 pandemic is having on patients, staff and families involved.
COVID-19 has brought inevitable changes to the hospice where I work. The day patients are at home, so are all the volunteers, and non-clinical staff. Gone are the therapy dogs, fresh flowers everywhere, and families and friends circling round their loved one on the ward. All the doors are closed. It is very quiet. No one is wearing colourful clothes. All the in-patient unit staff now wear the same uniforms, whether doctors, nurses, or support workers like cleaners, nursing assistants, catering staff and chaplains – dark green tunics and dark trousers. It takes time to add plastic aprons, gloves and goggles before entering a patient’s room. I’m already wearing a mask. By the time I sit by someone’s bed, I’m in no hurry to leave.
I have noticed that these circumstances have caused me to slow down, and be more present. I’ve become more comfortable with silence. I’ve realised that the family gathered lovingly around might have served, sometimes, as a defence for the patient. Now the patients seem more exposed, and, given time, are speaking to me more deeply, about their most intimate relationships, or matters of faith. The changing circumstances might, in some ways, be more lonely for them. However, as I sit with someone in that space, knowing I don’t have to hurry to finish before a family member returns to the room, out of the silence, unexpected things have come to the surface. It is as if the patient is able to bear witness to their soul in a deeper way.
Maybe it is simply because I am able to be more present. It has been a lesson to just sit quietly, without feeling I need to “do” anything. In that moment, perhaps, my heart is more free to be active it just the way it needs in response to the patient’s heart.
There’s been a photo doing the rounds amongst my friends online showing a winged angel standing behind a doctor, who is wearing scrubs, and sitting exhausted on a hospital bed, a hand supporting their bent head. A hand of the angel is resting on their shoulder, giving strength and comfort. The image reminds me how the spiritual world works through people of good will in hospitals and hospices. We are never alone.
It’s important for me to remember this, in relation to COVID patients dying without their family members accompanying them. Of course this can be a deep sadness and anxiety for the family, and maybe very frightening for the patient, who may feel alone. But I remind myself that their guardian angel is right with them, accompanying, guarding and guiding them every step of the way. Doctors and nurses have also reported standing in for family members, holding patients’ hands as they die. It is no idle fantasy to imagine there may even be a company of angels around them. Our love and prayers from afar can also be a very great support.