Ever since Michael Jackson’s untimely death in June 2009, I often find myself singing one of his signature songs, ‘Heal the World’. I sing of course when I’m alone so as not to pierce the ears of others. The opening lyrics to the song are: “Heal the world, make it a better place. For you and for me, and the entire human race”.
But who are the healers? All of us, some of us? The lyrics to ‘Heal the World’ imply that we are all potentially healers. Hopefully, health professionals are at the front of the line. But do we health professionals think of ourselves as healers? And what specifically do we offer and do if we are healers?
Of the many, many individuals, couples and families that I have counseled, some have touched my heart and reminded me of the privilege of not only being a health professional, but also a healer. One such family I met in Thailand. I had been a nurse educator/therapist for some 25 years before I could think of myself as a healer, let alone call myself one. Somehow it just seemed too presumptuous and arrogant to assume this title. It seemed more appropriate for spiritual leaders to embrace this title. As I came closer to understanding illness suffering, I realized I was in the middle of suffering with individuals and families and the only way out was through the journey of hope and healing.
I was visiting a family’s home with some Masters of Nursing students from Burapha University. The home visits were part of their clinical practicum in the specialization of family nursing. The family had suffered terribly because of the young father having experienced a brain tumor and now encumbered with right-sided paralysis. The family consisted of Husband/Father, 40 years old, Wife/Mother age 38, and their 2 sons, age 12 and 7. The 74 years old paternal grandmother also lived with the family. She was the primary caregiver for her son.
While providing a brief consultation to the family, I learned that the Father was also dysphasic and could only speak one word. Of all the hundreds of words that he could speak, I was very curious what was the translation of this one Thai word. Amazingly, the word was “healing”. Yes, he desired and craved healing for himself, and perhaps for his family too.
These wonderful Thai graduate nursing students had offered marvelous care to this family and were certainly healers as well as young nursing students. The students’ collaborative efforts could be evidenced in the progress of this family: the children helped their father practice his walking and raised him from his ‘couch of suffering’ where he had laid for many months; the young wife no longer questioned what was the bad Karma that her husband had done but rather simply wanted to give him the best care possible and prayed for his recovery; and the elderly Mother had found comfort in being able to express her concerns. Healing in all family members was evident and palpable through the family interventions of listening to and acknowledging illness suffering, offering commendations, challenging constraining beliefs and offering compassion and hope.
At the conclusion of my meeting with this family, I offered them a commendation of how impressed I was about their caring and devotion to each other during this very, very difficult time. I invited feedback from them about what the nursing students had done that they found helpful/not helpful. I also felt confident in saying that further healing would occur because of the love that was so evident between family members.
As we ended our time together, the family permitted the taking of a group picture (see above). As I sat down beside the elderly mother, she took my hand in hers. I could not speak a word of Thai, nor she English. The Father graciously walked me to the door of his home which was a great effort for him. Even though we had a translator, I believe the family and I had experienced the unspoken language of love. In some small way, I believe I also contributed to their healing journey that day. And the family touched me deeply.
Yes, health care professionals, especially nurses, are in a very privileged and honored role of inviting healing and being “healers”. Sometimes it is in our encouraging words of professional advice and knowledge, other times listening with our heart, and other times a simple gaze of compassion that can invite hope and healing. Yes, nurses and all of us have the potential to “heal the world and make it a better place”.
Is there a relationship that you need to heal by listening more and talking less? If you are a health professional, is there a family/couple/individual who could benefit from your healing efforts?