COVID and the Chaplain’s Perspective

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Whatever your faith or beliefs, the need to take care of ourselves, including acknowledging our spiritual needs, has been something that we have become keenly aware of this past year. For Pioneer Network, Pastor Gary has been there for us through the years, and we are grateful that in this virtual world, he is still there for us.

We hope you find peace in the message he shares, and yes, it is longer than our usual article, but as Gary shared, “I went over a few words on your requirement…imagine that!” It’s what happens when you give a preacher a stage!

Pastor Gary A. Gibson

Pastor Gary A. Gibson 
Chaplain & Director of Spiritual Life, Presbyterian Senior Care
Washington Campus, Washington. PA

Chaplain & Hospice Spiritual Counselor, The Washington Health System ,
Washington, PA

Retired Presbyterian Pastor

If the whole Covid experience has taught us anything, it’s given us a new appreciation for family and friends and the opportunity to spend time together.

Prior to March of 2020, we took for granted the events of an average day. It may have been going to the office, the grocery story, post office, getting a haircut or going to our favorite restaurant. In just a few days’ time, the average became a luxury. For children, the idea of going to school suddenly changed from the classroom desk to the kitchen table.

This indeed changed the family dynamic in a way that we had never dreamed of or could possibly happen. In as much as we truly love our homes they became somewhat of a prison from which we could not escape. For the first few weeks it was fun and became a family adventure that we had to conquer. Well, it’s safe to say that the fun quickly changed to frustration.

The adventure became an avalanche that covered every aspects of our lives with a blanket of things we could not do. In our minds, we were thinking, oh, it cannot last long. Spring will come, we can be outside and we will be able to return to some kind of normalcy. Well, in theory that sounded great but unfortunately it was not the reality we had to accept. There was no Easter Sunday service in church or a family dinner. The trend continued as the Memorial Day celebration and picnic had to be cancelled and the summer family vacation had to be put on the shelf for a later date. And the highlight of summer, the 4th of July fireworks, family and community get-togethers could not happen.

Then the word came that all of this would probably continue until we had a vaccine and everyone would have to be inoculated. School would not resume, folks would continue to work at home, and we would learn the importance of words like: “remote,” “social distance,” “quarantine,” “mask,” “Zoom,” and “PPE.” And not to mention: “if one more person tells me to wash my hands or put my mask on, I’m going to scream.” Now before you accuse me of not being a team player, please don’t. I’ve played by the rules for these past fourteen months but like many of you……I am so over it!!

Gary and residents

Taking into consideration what I have shared with you to this point, let’s look at another part of the population. Imagine for a moment that you are living in a continuous care community with independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing care. Covid hits and your whole life as you know it changes in ways you can’t begin to imagine.

The community in which you live is locked down and under quarantine. You are not permitted to leave your apartment/villa or room (and in the case of a room, it is about fourteen by fourteen feet). Your family cannot come to visit you in person. You can no longer go to the dining room to eat your meals and socialize with other residents. The days of having various activities and being with other residents are no more. Religious services are cancelled as are bingo, chair exercises, trivia, news and views, book club, bible study and birthday parties.

The beauty shop is closed indefinitely which means weekly hair appointments and manicures are a thing of the past. Your best friend becomes the television which constantly reports how bad the Covid epidemic is and how it is affecting the world around you.

With all this unfolding, you would have to admit that your spiritual well-being would be of the highest importance and it is. As a Chaplain, I spent countless hours doing one on one visits donning all my PPE equipment. Have you ever tried reading scripture or leading a prayer wearing a plastic helmet that covers seventy percent of your face and makes you look like some kind of alien? What I wanted more than anything else was to hug each of the residents and be able to share the love of God, but I could not; I had to keep my distance.

Over the past several months, I’ve seen more depression and physical decline because of loneliness and isolation than at any other time in my life or my ministry. One of the greatest gifts we have is fellowship, a sense of companionship, friendship, and camaraderie. This epidemic has taken from us the chords of love and communion that tie us together.

Many of our residents not only lived through the great depression, it became their badge of honor to move forward and they did it with great patience, pride and perseverance. We are blessed with a generation of elders that have tremendous life experience. That same group of individuals is also willing to share how their knowledge and know-how has sustained them over the years.

On days that I was depressed, they gave me hope through a faith and understanding of the situation that will inspire me for years to come. I owe each of them a tremendous debt of gratitude for their courage, character and unbelievable cheerfulness through some uncertain times. The same could be said for nurses, CNAs, and life engagement members who accepted the challenge that regardless of the epidemic and its effect on our communities, we would do our level best to maintain normalcy of daily life.

I believe with God’s help and a great team we have done just that.

The truth be known, the real heroes here are the residents and their families. Their willingness and incredible patience to work with us and walk with us on this journey of uncertain times has been a great lesson in togetherness and faith for each of us. Heaven forbid we ever have to endure another epidemic but if we do, we have a template to follow.

4 comments on “COVID and the Chaplain’s Perspective

  1. Carmen Bowman on

    Thank you Pastor Gary. Elders first. They know the answers. Emi Kiyota says that The future is like walking backwards and when elders walk backwards, they have more life to see. All the more reason to include them and ask them for their advice and words of wisdom. I’ve been collecting it over the years and have a Wisdom Book! Maybe we could create a Persevering a Pandemic Wisdom Book. Thank you for these words of wisdom from your heart Pastor Gary. May God bless you and all of us.

  2. Brad Norris on

    Thanks Pastor Gary for such an eloquent summarization of our reality for these pas 14 (or is it 18, 27? I’ve lost count) months. It’s been grueling on everyone involved and as I’ve submitted in the past, let’s all emerge better versions of ourselves in all realms but especially in addressing the needs of the elders who reside in our communities. If we don’t, we’ve missed the point of the exercise. Godspeed!!

  3. Eileen Bennett on

    Pastor Gary,
    You have so eloquently captured the essence of it all…an put it into perspective. It should always have been about the residents, and hopefully lessons learned will lead us into the future. Thank you for being you!


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