When I set out to become a chaplain, I knew it was important for me to experience working with individuals in a variety of ways so I could know if this work was something I could really do.  What I quickly learned after visits in nursing homes and private homes was how holding a hand, or offering a hug was equally as comforting as any words I could give. Through a gesture of touch, I have been honored to join with a person or family as a surrogate of comfort when maybe that comfort was not available, or an abundance was sorely needed. In this way, chaplains have made a profession of doing what you most likely do every day and quite possibly have not even noticed until recently; you offer comfort through touch.

How then, do we reflect on the impact of mandated social distancing? How do we recover in the years ahead from the trauma of being told not to offer hugs in greeting, joy, and sadness, not to hold hands to show empathy with our friends and family? Before we even realized what was happening, that which we might have taken for granted was suddenly shrouded in fear. Even if you do not particularly like hugs or hand holding, your body has a presence around others when you stand near them to talk, you can communicate compassion and care. But how do we do this at six-feet away? I suggest for now, a balance of creativity and patience.

Patience in knowing that soon enough we will inch our way back towards one another, to embrace our friend, to comfort a stranger. This will come in time. Let’s not use this time away to build up a fear of one another, to extend this distancing years beyond what is necessary. Let’s use this time to learn more about one other and ourselves. Locally speaking, let’s use this time to reach out in other ways, to really take a moment to see what gaps in needs have been uncovered with this pandemic.

As someone who has lived in this area for just over a year, this is where I look to others for guidance on how this community reaches out. I can say, the embrace of this community is felt, deeply. Certainly times like this can cause us to begin to mentally reduce, to cut away at things not deemed “necessary,” but I want to encourage you to not reduce your impact on comforting one another. Comfort is not as finite a resource as toilet paper!

Kindness, care, compassion, these are not luxuries, they are necessities. Hospices such as Hospice House & Support Care Williamsburg are not a luxury.  We are that extension of the family in this community to offer comfort in circumstances when we must reach beyond our homes, to think creatively. Before I retire as a chaplain, I wish to see more facilities such our community’s Hospice House in more communities across the country.  I believe they are truly the greatest human achievement, a place of comfort in the hardest of times, a human expression of love for one another – now more than ever!

In the meantime, I want to share one opportunity to extend your comfort virtually and beyond Williamsburg! Nursing home residents are having an incredibly difficult time right now. Visitors are severely restricted, if not prohibited right now in some facilities. Senior Advocate is an organization in Virginia Beach that is working to gather encouraging, stories, or jokes to share with these communities, so that residents know people are thinking about them. One in particular has been identified in Norfolk at this time where 150 residents are feeling anxious, bored, and depressed. Many of them do not have access to get in touch with their family over the internet. If you would like to email a message to be offered to these residents by their staff, please follow the instructions below:

Please include your first name and the town where you live. Your other contact information will not be shared unless you include it in the content of the email. You can send the email to Steph@SeniorAdvocate.Live

At Hospice House, I am working hard to find creative ways to reach out to you, to offer my bereavement services virtually, at no charge. Stay tuned for more information about this, or email me at bereavement@williamsburghospice.org if you’d like to be included in emails with more information. Going forward over the next few months, I will be posting a new blog every Monday with reflections and guidance from my experience working with the bereaved. This is a time of grief, in so many ways, we can persist through this together.

Abby Embry

Chaplaincy Director



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