A few days ago I visited with one of my non-verbal palliative residents. During that visit, she interacted with me in a way she’d never done before. Typically she would just look at me, look around, seem totally distant in thought, far away in her own mind. On this occasion, however, she reached out and cupped my chin, held my hands, touched her nose to mine, and her forehead to mine. This visit was different because, I realized, in her eyes that morning I was her granddaughter. When she looked at me, the person she thought she was seeing was a granddaughter, not a chaplain, so I thought, maybe I should sing some Christian hymns to her — but that was where I missed the boat.
In my being with her, and her seeing me as her granddaughter, I was to let her keep viewing me in this manner. Why? Because that was her agenda. Trying to sing her hymns in my capacity as her chaplain was what I thought I should do, but I was so wrong. She was non-verbally showing me in her physical interaction with me what she needed. Whether she viewed me as her chaplain or granddaughter was irrelevant.
It was a case of mistaken identity that taught me that I don’t always need to put on my chaplaincy hat to provide pastoral comfort. I just have to bring myself into the room and “be” with my residents the way they need me to be. If in that “being,” my identity is mistaken, then so be it — because, after all, I’m there for them, and if that is what my resident is wordlessly telling me they need, then that is the comfort I shall provide.