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?
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Thank you for sharing such a story with us. It is great for us as nursing students to be able to read others experiences. It is a truly heart felt story of healing and reminds us that the whole family is involved in the healing process not just the patient. Change effects all those around us. When one thing changes everyone else has to adapt to the situation and take on new roles. In this case it was the father who now had to come to terms with the fact that he was going to be taken care of my his children rather than the other way around.
A similar story happen to my family. About 6 years ago my father underwent surgery. He had always been strong and full of energy. He provided for the family and was always a step ahead of all our needs. He works a physical job as an electrician. For a number of months following his surgery he was not able to move none the less work and provide for us. It took him a while before he came to terms with the situation and felt comfortable asking for help especially from us kids.
The strength of a support system of family and friends is very important when healing. This man was truly blessed to have had this support!
Thank you for sharing this story! It was very touching!
There are amazing people in this world; destined to do great things and I do agree with you that nurses play a very important part in healing.
It is so nice to hear that these nursing students had devoted their efforts to this man and his family. I believe it is important that whole family was a part of the healing process by being their and offering any support that they could.
For those nursing students this must have been a real eye-opener to what healing is all about. It isn’t just giving a patient medications and boom they get better. It takes time. You need to establish a relationship with the patient and provide care & support. The family should also be involved as for the patient who is ill as they need the encouragement and love of their family.
It is truly amazing how the grandmother had been taking care of her son. My grandmother takes care of my aunt as she is a quadraplegic, and although my grandmother knows she can never heal her daughter physically, emotionally she has. My aunt is able to communicate through a device, she has a wheelchair, and is always in great spirits.
I do believe, as you stated, that the term of a healer holds a very heavy meaning. As a fellow third year nursing student, I do hope that some day I could participate in the act of healing and have such a significant impact on one person’s life and healing process. To be able to be welcomed into a family’s home and work with each member of the family in order to promote healing in one family member is truly a gift. It is evident that although the father of the family was the one with the physical healing needs, the nurses who worked with the family went about healing each member of the family and helping them establish their new roles in the family.The healing process involved the whole family in my view by how the children needed help knowing how to contribute to healing their father and the wife needed to be assured that her husband didn’t do anything to deserve his illness but needed her support. Also, the nurses helped to heal the husband’s parents by allowing the mother to finally voice her concerns and receive some answers. The whole family underwent healing and the process takes time but in the end, the family appeared to be more unified in trying to achieve health and wellness for their father, husband and son.
Reading this posting really got me thinking about the family healing as a whole. As a third year nursing student, we are learning in one of our courses that even though there may only be one person in the family with a disability or illness, the entire family is affected by what they are experiencing. When reading about how the husband/father is only able to speak one word and has right-sided paralysis, my immediate thoughts went to how he was coping and his process of suffering. Not only did his physical and verbal abilities change after the brain tumour, but his roles as a father were significantly altered. The healing process for him, I believe, had to begin by him accepting a new role in the family. He was no longer the caregiver, but rather the care-receiver.
I had a similar situation of family role changing occur in one of my really good friend’s families. Her mother was always having very bad back pain, which eventually led to her having back surgery. After having the surgery, she was no longer the caregiver in the household, but was the care-receiver. It was very difficult for her to ask for help when it was needed, and my friend became very impatient with her mother, as she was not accepting her new role of caring for her mother. Seeing that her mom needed someone to talk to, I decided that maybe I could be that person. By allowing myself into her life and being a supportive listener, I think I may have been a helper in her healing process by helping her understand what her daughter was going through, while being able to explain to my friend what her mother was going through. Bridging the relationship and communication gap greatly helped my friend and her mom, whose relationship has improved so much over the past few years.
By comparing these two stories, it just goes to show how by making such a small effort, people can make such a big difference in people’s lives. I’m sure the Master’s Nurses and Dr. Wright together with every visit helped the husband/father cope more and more with his abilities and change in the family, while my willingness to step in a lend a listening ear helped my friend’s mother cope with her disability and bring their relationship back to terms.
Wow, that was an incredibly story that really allowed me to reflect on the concept of healing. As a young nursing student, reflecting on this concept of becoming a healer is important to allow it to come through in practice. And as a member of the larger human race, it is important to consider in everyday life. I witnessed an incredible period of healing when I was 14 years old, and in fact was a large part of why I decided to study nursing.
Several years ago, one of my older brothers was diagnosed with familial adenomatous polyposis. This meant that he would need to have emergency surgery to get his large intestine removed as he had been developing the disease for over 13 years and was one stage from becoming colon cancer. This was a hard pill for my 17 year old brother to swallow, and well to put it nicely, my parents were a collective wreck. This meant my brother would be in the hospital for about 3 weeks post surgery, and would have an ostomy bag for 6 months before the second surgery was completed.
During those three weeks, we all essentially lived in the hospital as my brother slowly recovered. But my family was not the only frequent visitors. He had many friends come and visit, and most importantly, my dad’s best friend came to visit for several hours almost every afternoon when my parents would take a few hours to rest. He would come and simply sit in the silence with my brother. As a yoga instructor and strong believer in the natural healing movement, he seemed to understand that this silence was a large factor on my brother’s healing.
When my brother was discharged from the hospital, he began the long road to rehabilitation and living for a brief time as a teenager with an ostomy bag. Sure enough, while my parents were at work, and I was at school, my dad’s best friend would come over for long afternoons to keep my brother company before he was well enough to return to the school. It was amazing to watch. And now, as my brother is fully well and without an ostomy bag, he fondly looks back to those times he spent with Trevor and wishes to thank him for the tremendous impact he had on his healing process… and the friendship that they truly developed. Trevor passed away four years ago, and my brother often regrets never really getting to thank him for the large part he played in such a devastating part of his life, however, I think Trevor knew the impact he played and can only hope he knew he was a healer for my brother and my family. Trevor’s devotion to healing has been an inspiration to me, and I hope to be able to play such a large role in someone’s life as a nurse, family member, or friend.
I am a third year undergraduate nursing student and I do believe everyone has the potential to heal. Some people choose to be healers, while others choose not to. I understand why you never have called yourself a healer until recently, it is quite the title, but I believe that any one could take on the title that cares and supports people who are in suffering. One word that grabbed my eye in your blog was “devotion.” I believe this is a great word to identify healers. I believe that all healers must be devoted to the person of suffering, and must truly care.
In some circumstances all sufferers want is for someone to talk to them. Others need people to work with them all the time in constant care and understand them from the inside out. In a clinical rotation I was in last year, I had a patient who just wanted someone to talk to. He had no family left in his life, and the majority of his friends and old colleagues had passed away. I had the great privilege of caring for this patient for a few weeks. I learned so much about him, and his life and how he was suffering. I believe I truly contributed to his healing journey; just by listening to him for the few weeks I spent caring for this patient. All he wanted was someone to care for and comfort him in his time of suffering.
There are millions of people suffering in this world and there are millions of people out there that are available to “heal and make the world a better place” – will you?
I was touched to read the story of your home visit. Last month, I was privileged to join Hospice Calgary as a Community Hospice Counselor. I make home visits to families who are experiencing life-limiting illnesses. I am humbled and in awe of the healing that can begin, when the family gathers to speak and listen to each other. This week, one family told me "It doesn't change the illness, but it does help to talk". Inviting and listening to the stories of suffering is healing.
I look forward to following your blog!
Kathy Bach Paterson