As covid patients are denied visits from their families, these hospital chaplains provide vital comfort

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I’ve probably written about it before, but I grew up in Macao, right across the water from Hong Kong. My parents were missionaries, and when I was barely 4 years old, they moved me and my two older sisters and younger brother to the former Portuguese colony around 1978. There are many things that made indelible impressions on my mind growing up, but one of the most lasting was my mother’s fierce determination and drive to help others.

My mother graduated from nursing school in St. Louis about five decades ago. I remember, when I was very young, her coming home from working at the hospital, wearing her crisp white outfit, including the heavily starched and ironed hat that nurses wore back then. When we relocated to Macao, the outfit changed, but my mom remained steadfastly committed to her work as a nurse.

Because my mom was a missionary in addition to being a nurse, she often played double duty, giving care but also giving people solace, not unlike what many hospital chaplains do. In fact, along with my childhood friend’s father who was a doctor, she created a community nursing initiative for which she would go to people’s homes to administer care. My brothers and sisters often went along with my mother.

Service to others was a huge part of our upbringing, coming directly from my mother and father. Funny enough, when I went to one of my professors in college asking for a letter of recommendation for my application to graduate school for journalism, he remarked that journalism had fundamental similarities to preaching. And it certainly can.

There is definitely a service-oriented component that is key to practicing journalism. As I’ve also mentioned before, I’ve always subscribed to the notion that journalism is around to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” I am not particularly religious, but I do recognize that my upbringing steered me in the direction I’ve been following for the past 20 years.

I tend to gravitate to stories about people who are either helping others or are being helped. So when I came across this story by Associated Press photographer Jae C. Hong about hospital chaplains giving solace to the lonely and dying in Los Angeles, I wanted to share it here.

We keep setting grim milestones in the United States, with steadily increasing coronavirus cases and deaths. As of Sunday, Johns Hopkins University reports that we’ve had over 25 million cases and more than 415,000 deaths. Those are staggering numbers. And we know that, although there are now vaccines available, those numbers will continue to climb for the foreseeable future.

We are collectively stressed, fractured and exhausted by the pandemic’s toll. But the stress is particularly hard on the people who are in direct contact with those being treated for or, unfortunately, dying of covid-19. Hong gives us a look into the vitally important jobs that hospital chaplains are doing at the Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Los Angeles. Hong says, “As families are barred from visiting loved ones to curb the disease’s spread, chaplains often are there to act as surrogates, holding the hands of the dying, praying with them and carrying iPads into hospital rooms to provide a real-time connection with grieving families.”

These photos hit home for me more than ever. My mom is still working as a nurse. She is the administrator of a private retirement facility in St. Louis. And over the past few months, she’s been working nonstop taking care of patients during this pandemic. Like so many on the front lines, she has not been immune to the virus. Some months ago, she tested positive. Thankfully, her symptoms were mild. When she recovered, she went right back to work. Luckily, she just got her second dose of one of the approved vaccines. And she’s still there, providing care and comfort. I see her when I look at these pictures.

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff members and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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