A Young, Springfield Chaplain Adapts To A Pandemic, Comforting The Grieving And Dying
In this segment of our Sense of Community series, "On The Front Lines," we hear the story of a young chaplain who comforts the grieving and dying in Cox South hospital in Springfield.
As a chaplain, Landon Loftin provides emotional and spiritual support to patients, families, and now, also to co-workers struggling through a historic pandemic.
Listen to the audio feature below.
“So on a typical day, I arrive at the hospital with a list of people to visit, Names get on the list for all kinds of reasons. Some are there because they specifically requested pastoral support, others because they were referred to our department by co-workers or nurses who identified some kind of emotional or spiritual need that we might need some help in addressing,” Loftin said.
He visits people before major surgeries, after difficult diagnoses, and more often these days, to provide end-of-life support to patients who have begun the dying process.
One of the places he works is in the COVID unit at Cox South hospital.
“As you would guess, we are very often having to make judgments about what risks are appropriate given the needs and what risks are unnecessary. But when a person dies at our hospital, one of the chaplains will attend. If I'm on shift, I will go and meet with the family. I'll give them an opportunity to talk to me about their grief, help them with practical things or answer questions they might have, for example, about making arrangements, funeral homes. And during the dying process, when a person is on what we call ‘comfort measures,’ sometimes we're able to provide some support to the patient,” Loftin said.
He says chaplains have to mitigate risks of getting COVID and weigh that with the important work of meeting the emotional and spiritual needs of patients and their families.
“We're careful and we go in and out of the designated COVID units. We try not to go into the rooms, and if we needed to, there would be PPE available to us. But we're often there outside the rooms to be of a support to families when they're able to visit due to the fact that a patient is entering the dying process. That's usually when the families are invited into the unit,” Loftin said.
He hesitates to share any specific stories of working with patients in the COVID unit, because he said there’s an understanding of confidentiality between patient and comforter, especially when someone is near the end of their life. But he says visiting COVID patients and their families is very different in several ways.
“Because in all other situations, I'm able to facilitate meaningful contact between the patients and their families—and to be a sort of secondary support to a person's primary support, whether that be their family or friends or people that they know. But a lot more is put onto us now when a family member can't come and be with someone who has a disease, especially one that can do very scary things to a person, short of breath, a lot of uncertainty about what's going to happen,”
Sometimes he will get the family member connected on the phone and sit in the patient’s room to facilitate that phone call.
“They may not be able to share much because they're having difficulty breathing. But when they can get out a few words very often. ‘Thank you for calling. I can’t talk. Thank you for calling.’ And so we—even if it means sitting silently on the phone for a few minutes—it means something to people,” Loftin said.
In addition to that, Loftin and other chaplains respond to all emergencies. That role, he said, has also changed since the pandemic because family members are often not allowed in the hospital.
“And that role’s become a lot more important because the families can no longer just come straight into the emergency room and hear straight from the medical team what's going on. And they're very often in their car, in the parking lot outside the hospital. So I do a lot of walking around from car to car out there these days,” Loftin said.
One Bible verse he holds close during these changing times is Galatians 6:2: Bear each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
“I learned very early on as a chaplain that I can rarely fix the problems that people bring with them to the hospital. But what I can do is sit with them, be with them as they struggle to cope with whatever it is that that is ailing them. And in so doing, I think I can share in their burden. And for me, that neatly sums up what I try to do each day.”