2018-05-04 / Chaplain's News

Communication that needs no interpretation

Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Kyle L. Welch
Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center

Henri Nouwen, a Dutch professor, Catholic priest, writer and theologian, penned these powerful words concerning empathy: “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

The capacity toward friendship or brotherly love of this kind is what every person needs in a battle buddy. This is certainly true in our hour of need when life or battlefield trauma occurs and one’s life is forever changed in profound ways.

The hospital halls give witness to care of this kind as providers, friends and loved ones stay the course to offer support to the healing process or bring comfort through palliative care.

A facet of holistic care assumes this action of empathetic response as part of pastoral care. But it is certainly not exclusive to the chaplain’s provision of care.

From injury to the path of recovery, interventions of many battle buddy caregivers support the holistic healing process of the physical, psychological and spiritual wounds associated with life.

Recently, I observed firsthand the “ tender hand of empathy” as demonstrated by a member of the nursing staff. She responded quickly and attentively to the pain heard echoing throughout the ward.

I, too, witnessed the excruciating pain as evident by the cries and cringing facial features worn by the patient suffering in pain.

This response required an interpreter on hand to facilitate the communication process supporting treatment. However, I observed another response.

The nurse leaned closer to the patient hearing his cries and placed her tender hand on his arm and began gently caressing his arm; that seemed to bring immediate relief.

From her empathetic reflexes flowed genuine compassionate care.

This response needed no interpretation for this action conveyed what words could never communicate.

Be that friend with empathy and lend a divine, tender hand. Therein healing begins.

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