Hospital volunteers give the gift of deep listening

Clare was on life support in the Intensive Care Unit after suffering a heart attack. Her 81-year-old mother could not accept her daughter’s prognosis and refused to speak to doctors, knowing their advice was to discontinue treatment.

A volunteer pastoral carer spent time with Clare’s mother and family and eventually, Clare’s mother was able to allow her daughter to pass, with peace in her heart.

This National Volunteer Week (15-21 May) Centacare is celebrating its 170 volunteers, who generously give their skills, talents and time to ensure that people are not just cared for but cared about in the ways that matter to them.

Hospital pastoral carers are one such group of people. Across 12 hospitals in the Archdiocese of Brisbane, these special people are on hand to provide a supportive pastoral presence to those who are ill and their loved ones.

Judi has volunteered as a pastoral carer at the Princess Alexandra Hospital for seven years. She’s had patients tell her things that they haven’t shared with anyone else.

“Just to be listened to and have the opportunity to talk about their experience on a personal level is what’s important for patients,” said Judi. “We’re walking with them.”

Prior to retirement, Judi worked in aged care, coordinating activities and outings for older people.

“It struck me that as much as the clients enjoyed the activities, what they really wanted was to be listened to,” said Judi. “They wanted a relationship, someone to spend time with. This is the gift a pastoral carer can give.”

Karren is on her way to becoming an accredited hospital pastoral carer. She is part way through the 12 month training program provided by Centacare and the Institute of Faith Education and is undertaking supervised practical work.

Karren retired from paid work with the Archdiocese of Brisbane 12 months ago and decided that she didn’t want to slow down completely.

“I felt that it was time to give back and that my skills would be suited to pastoral care,” said Karren.

“People can be frightened and anxious when in hospital. They are often worried about everyone else at home and all the responsibilities that they can’t fulfil. We can bring them a little bit of ease, a little bit of comfort and, where we can, an opportunity to explore their vulnerability and to recognise and acknowledge the pain that they’re experiencing.

“Every day is different as a pastoral carer,” said Karren. “We start our shift with about 10 people on our list to visit. Some people might be sleeping, and some might not want a visit. Sometimes people just want to say hello and ask what it’s like outside – it depends on what they need at that time.”

Pastoral carer Madeleine said she’s never met a pastoral carer that doesn’t love what they do.

“By being with people in their vulnerability and being present to one another we are responding to God’s call,” said Madeleine. “My advice to people who are considering pastoral care as a vocation is prayer, discernment, ask questions and follow your heart.”

If you have a passion or drive to make a difference in the lives of others and our communities more broadly, volunteering with Centacare could be for you. Talk to us about hospital pastoral care and becoming a volunteer.