by Chaplain Brigette Kemink

I started as a Chaplain Resident with Michigan Medicine in September of 2019. I was anxious, excited and nervous. This is the largest healthcare provider I have worked at and one with an impressive reputation. In fact, some of my friends and family members have received care here. I knew I would be facing situations I wouldn’t find anywhere else.

One of the things I was most excited about was supporting staff. My previous jobs hadn’t really provided that opportunity. When it came time to find out what unit I was going to be working on, I was given the opportunity to choose. As a person of faith, I believe that my choice was intentionally guided. I believe that in any situation there is an opportunity for God to use it for good and for growth. It’s been six months since I started at Michigan Medicine and it’s been six months that I’ve had the opportunity to meet incredible people who give of themselves everyday for the betterment of others. Sadly, the unit I chose experiences loss on a routine basis – not daily, but monthly. Often these deaths occur around the fall and winter holidays. These deaths were even more intense because the patients are those with critical illnesses that require frequent visits to the hospital. Often they are children. Often the nurses, doctors, and support staff feel like they are part of the family and the families feel the same way about them. Considering this, I wanted to find a way to encourage these caregivers, these people who go way beyond what is required of them as professionals, to honor their work. So, I wrote this reflection on “What is honor?” and its message is needed now, just as it was the first time I shared it. Read this, share this, and offer it up to those who are working the front line at care facilities all across our world fighting not only COVID-19, but every other illness, disease, complication, and condition that was present before the pandemic.

What is honor?

Honor is defined as: to regard or treat someone with admiration and respect; to give special recognition to; to live up to or fulfill the terms of

In our moments of care-giving – whether it be through direct care, emotional support, moments of joy and laughter, or companionship – we are honoring the time we have with others in their need. It can be difficult when these moments come to an end in any form.

A patient could die.

A patient could no longer need treatment.

A patient could leave to be cared for at home.

In any case, in any situation, we, as caregivers, feel the loss of the patient, even if the outcome is good. We’ve spent days, weeks, months, and sometimes years being part of a patient’s life. Sometimes that extends to family members, significant others, and friends. The moments where we were so integral to their daily lives pass away and we are left with only memories and sometimes worry.

We worry about our patients.

We wonder if they are healing or getting worse.

We worry about parents and others who have been left behind.

Sometimes the only communication we receive is a funeral notice or a phone call that they have died. Other times, we don’t hear anything and we can only wonder at what is happening now. This is the complicated nature of the work that we do every day. We are involved to a point and then we have to step back, step away, and allow for other things to happen and other people to come into their lives.

We get a new patient, a new family, and new people to care for, but the memories are still with us. Sometimes we wonder if we’ve done enough.

Did we care enough?

Did we meet their needs?

Sometimes we wonder if we’ve done too much.

Did I get too attached?

Did I spend too much time?

This is how we know we care. This is how we know we are human. This is how we know that our work matters. Sometimes the work feels routine. Sometimes the work is tedious, but it is our attention to detail, our calming presence in the midst of chaos, our ability to laugh and cry with families that set us apart.

For however long our patients and their family and friends are with us, our impact lasts longer than we can imagine and so does their impact on us. So, we honor our work.

We honor the moments we have had with the people who have come and gone from our unit.

We honor that we were the people who were able to be there in their moments of need.

We honor that deep within us in a call to this work and it is unique.

We are specially equipped to be here. We are gifted for the work that is set before us. We have something special that draws us to this work. We don’t have to be heroes, we just need to be ourselves and know that it’s more than a job, it’s a calling.

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