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GAIL WHITE For patients, a chaplain's few words speak volumes



Published: Fri, April 26, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



When my children were younger, I was involved in a mothers group. We met once week at a local church and discussed the many trials and joys of motherhood.

The group consisted of young mothers like myself -- except for one woman, Jane Melick.

Jane was a bit older than the rest of us. Her children were grown. Her grandchildren were our children's age.

As all the other young mothers and I would sit and discuss our various mothering issues, debating the good and the bad, searching for the meaning behind every child's word and action, Jane would sit quietly in her chair with a thoughtful smile on her face. I think sometimes we forgot she was there.

After hours of discussion, we young mothers would stop, look at Jane and ask her what she thought.

It never took Jane hours to share her thoughts. In fact, most often, she would speak just one sentence.

Jane's one sentence always seemed to sum up our hours of talk with the wisdom that we had been searching for. Her words always gave us a sense of peace and well-being. None of the young mothers in that group ever forgot her wonderful impact.

Continuing to share

Today, Jane is an associate chaplain for the Forum Health System. Working through the Pastoral Care Services at Forum, Jane volunteers 3 days a week at Tod Children's Hospital.

"I make my rounds on the units I have," Jane says with a smile while I laugh at the doctor terminology.

Yet, knowing Jane and the caring and wisdom within her, she is something of a doctor -- a doctor of the mind.

"These are courageous people," Jane says of the children and their families. "It's hard to watch somebody you love be sick, especially when it's a child. I want them to know they have support."

Jane shows her support in many ways.

"It's not always a lot of talking," she says. I laugh again as I remember her lack of words at our mother's group.

Little touches

Jane has created a quilt on which she puts the names of the children who must visit the hospital frequently for testing and treatment.

"I call it the courage tree," she explains. A heart with the child's name on it is placed on the tree. "It's a way of showing them I care." It also reminds Jane to pray for them.

When Jane makes her rounds in the neonatal unit, she places a card with her name on it on the isolettes. "It lets parents know I visited with their baby."

Sometimes, Jane simply makes herself available to hurting parents.

"I remember one mother," Jane recalls. "She was waiting to hear news about her child. I asked her if it would be all right if I sat with her. So I just sat -- for hours."

Jane smiles as she remembers how the mother opened up her heart about her concerns for her child and laughed about the funny things he does at home.

Providing attention

"The hospital staff can't do that -- sit for hours," Jane explains. "But I sure can."

"We help take people away from what they are experiencing in the hospital and have a moment of respite," explains Jim Melick, Jane's husband and the corporate director of Pastoral Care Services at Forum Health.

When Jim joined Forum Health two years ago, he and another reverend handled all the pastoral-care needs for Northside and Tod.

Today, Jim is in charge of the pastoral needs of the entire Forum Health System. He has enlisted the help of a team of volunteers. Jane is one of about 25 clergy and lay people currently ministering to those in the four Forum Health hospitals and 3 emergency-care centers.

"We don't go in to fix them," Jim explains. "We offer support, encouragement and hope."

As I remember the support, encouragement and hope that Jane offered our little group of searching, uncertain mothers, I can only imagine the comfort and solace her presence gives hurting families and children.

XIf you are interested in volunteering with the Forum Health Pastoral Care, call (330) 884-3171.

gwhite@vindy.com




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