Reflections on the Journey
Written by Philip Murray, Spiritual Health Leader and Educator, Spiritual Health, Professional Practice

A great day at Delta Hospital: Witnessing the valuable work of a Spiritual Health Practitioner.

I recently had the opportunity to spend the better part of a day at Delta Hospital, and found the experience to be quite moving. The reason for this is that I had the chance to witness firsthand the valuable role that the Spiritual Health Practitioner plays as a member of the inter-professional team at this site.

One of the unique aspects of the Spiritual Health Practitioner’s role is that they lead and facilitate sacred rituals, which can be powerfully healing and enable people to connect with their spiritual belief systems during trying times. In this case, a memorial service was being held in Delta Hospital’s Sacred Space for a staff member who had recently died.

As often happens in health care, we work very closely and become attached with people on our teams, grieving the loss of someone we cared for when our colleagues die or tragedy happens. Sadly, due to the nature of our work, we are often unable to attend family funerals and other services that help us process this grief. Spiritual Health Practitioners can support health care teams in these situations by leading services at our sites that staff can attend, enabling them the opportunity to reflect on the death of their colleague and friend.

The service at Delta lasted about 20 minutes and included stories and readings that the family had sent to help recall the unique and beloved presence of someone who is no longer with us. I witnessed staff members in tears, supporting one another through their loss, nodding and smiling as the stories were read, and expressing gratitude for the opportunity to pause in the midst of their day to share this moment of reflection. The manager of the staff member who was being remembered thanked me for the presence and support of their Spiritual Health Practitioner. “She was so responsive and so helpful with all of this," the manager said. "Many of the staff have struggled with [their colleague’s] death and were unable to attend his funeral. This was perfect! Just what we needed.”

During the service itself, I noticed that an older gentleman was with us in the Sacred Space who didn’t quite “fit,” given his lack of scrubs and Fraser Health ID. I sensed that he was a patient, a hunch confirmed after the service was finished when the Spiritual Health Practitioner sat with him providing spiritual care for about an hour. He had been in hospital for two weeks due to a stroke, following which he couldn’t speak and was slowly regaining capacity.

Apparently he visited the Sacred Space regularly as it was the only quiet place he could find in the hospital, and happened to be there when the service was happening. As the Practitioner reflected on her visit with him -- the significantly spiritual struggles and realizations he had been having since the stroke as he rediscovered his identity and experienced being cared for in the hospital -- what stood out most for me was how he responded to receiving spiritual care. “Thank you so much for listening to me!" he said. "Nobody else listens to me like you have. Everyone upstairs (on the unit) does really good work, but they can only be with me for two or three minutes and don’t have the time. Even my friends don’t understand what I’m going through. You really listened to me! This has meant so much to me. You have such an important job here because you listen to people.”

Spiritual Health Professionals in British Columbia are members of the inter-professional care teams who “provide comprehensive spiritual care and emotional support to patients, families and health care staff in a manner that is appropriate to belief system and cultural diversity” (BC Ministry of Health, Spiritual Health Framework, 2012 ). They are available at some Fraser Health sites to help patients and families cope with the spiritual struggles and distress that can often accompany life-altering or terminal illness or injury, and are also able to provide emotional and spiritual support to staff on the teams. I remain exceedingly grateful for the ongoing financial support of the Delta Hospital Auxiliary Society which has made it possible to have a Spiritual Health Practitioner available for the patients, families and team members at this site.

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