The day I walked in to the Martin Luther Care Center with a big purple cast on my arm, one of our residents (I’ll call her Peg) asked me what happened. “Ruptured biceps tendon,” I explained.
Peg winced for a moment, then grinned mischievously. “Now you know what it’s like for us!” she said. Well, maybe a little.
Things I can’t do easily right now: button my shirt, tie my shoes, slice a watermelon, type. Things I can’t do at all: ride my bike, mow the lawn, carry a grocery basket; tie a tie, wear long sleeved shirts, serve communion.
There’s plenty I can still do, of course. And there’s little doubt I’ll be able to use my arm again. But it’s not hard to imagine how hard it is for our residents to adjust to each “new normal.” Especially when the challenges are more permanent and mind, body, and spirit don’t heal like they used to.
Any unexpected shift in autonomy, sense of identity, connection to others, or meaning/life balance indicates a potential source of spiritual distress. As a chaplain, I have the privilege of helping residents and their families identify their distress and develop ways to cope with the challenges they face. Some have given up a home and its accompanying sense of place, a job and their role in providing for their family, responsibility for a pet, control of the kitchen, or the camaraderie of poker night with the boys. Such losses can trigger anger, shame, despair, anxiety, loneliness, or fear.
I’m not happy about my injury. It’s going to take a long time to heal. But it’s making me more aware of the spiritual distress our residents feel when moving onto campus, and as their physical conditions and relationships change over time.
Peg asks about my arm each time she sees me now. I try not to over-share. But it reminds me that some of our residents have a spiritual need to care for others, just like we care for them. We’re in this healing and wholeness business together.
Hmm, maybe that’s why we’re starting to speak about being not just care-givers but care partners. I wonder how you become a partner in care?
--David E. Cobb, BCC, Director of Spiritual Health, Martin Luther Campus