Empathy: Non-judgmental, non-anxious presence
Active listening builds the foundation of a client/chaplain relationship, but plumbing the depths is not possible unless there is genuine caring and the ability to “step into the other’s moccasins and walk a while” with them.
This non-judgmental presence has a remarkably healing effect: it enables self-exploration and acceptance—a step that energizes the journey into new territory. When we are consciously or unconsciously fettered by defensiveness or shame, forward movement and exploration in our lives remains wishful thinking as we are simply far too caught up in the re-living and re-gret of past actions.
We’ve all now seen the Hollywood versions of spirits with unfinished business. But we don’t have to die to get stuck and unable to move on toward the light of vital, engaged living. Moving on, moving forward is a choice that is so often hampered by our own focus and re-engagement with the past.
There are sound reasons why forgiveness and self-forgiveness (the natural kick-back from the forgiveness of others) are liberating. But knowing about and doing are night and day. The presence of another incubates what comes next…
Reassurance: the action of removing someone’s doubts or fears
… so they can live!
This may be one of the oddest things that chaplains do, but we reassure people… and their families that they will be all right, even when faced with unchangeable realities or even death.
Once we turn the attention of our thoughts and feelings from the past and what was, toward the future—whatever that may be, while accepting the reality of what is, this elusive thing called, closure “happens.” Strangely, it is the little things that allow us to live in this “bridging moment” that matter. When we “live” with the humor (dare we find it) in our current situation, with the joy in small things in that transitional moment, in relationships, connection, a touch, a song— these release us, allowing us to move on.
Through empathy and reassurance, we are able to re-engage with what is personally meaningful, regaining our vitality and hope for the future rather then stuck, cynical and devoid of hope.