Editor’s Note: Chaplain Barry E. Pitegoff is a member of Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains and is a new contributor to JewishSacredAging.com.
Aging brings an increased likelihood of being in SingleDay Surgery, Hospitals, Hospices and Rehab Centers/Skilled Nursing Facilities. Many of these facilities are employing full-time professional chaplains. These chaplains are likely to be affiliated with the Association of Jewish Chaplains, the Association of Catholic Chaplains, or the Association of Professional Chaplains. All professional chaplains are trained in spiritual and emotional support for all faiths and for no faiths.
If your congregational rabbi, cantor, or caring committee visits, continue to work with the facility’s chaplain as a supplement. The chaplains are available all day, especially before and after surgery, to you and to your family. The chaplain has not heard your stories before and will be interested in them. First and foremost, the professional chaplain is trained “to bring the calm,” in active listening, and to facilitate prayer.
Jewish patients often think of prayer as specific-topic prayers, written in a formula a long time ago, such as for blessing the wine or challah, requesting a blessing for healing (mi sheibeyrach), or showing gratitude (shehecheyanu). Chaplains facilitate custom prayer, by taking what they hear from you and putting it into “G-D Language.” This might include easing estrangement from children, consideration for another family member who is ill or recently passed, concern for the anesthesia or unknown test results, perhaps strength to endure continuing treatments, and, certainly, gratitude for the doctors, nurses, staff, and volunteers.
Request prayer both before and after surgery or procedures. Of the many patients who are receptive to prayer before surgery, sadly, not that many ask for prayer after surgery, to express gratitude to G-D and to G-D’s melachim, the angels in the form of doctors, nurses, chaplains, staff, and volunteers.
Here is a tip on how to be your own chaplain before surgery or a procedure. I like to suggest to my patients and residents of all faiths, at those times, this English translation of the last verse of the Adon Olam, often sung at the end of worship services:
Into Your hand I place mine
Both when I am asleep and when I am awake.
G-D is at my side,
I will not fear.
Repeat it over and over again as a mantra before anesthesia or during a diagnostic test, if it brings you calm.
May 5779 be sweet, sacred, and special for you.
Barry Pitegoff is a Staff Chaplain at Bon Secours Community Hospital in Port Jervis, New York. Barry enjoyed thousands of hours of volunteer chaplaincy at hospitals, hospices, and prisons while he was vice president of market research for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism board. After retirement, Barry transformed into professional chaplaincy by taking a second Master’s Degree and two years’ of hospital internships. Barry was awarded the title of BCC, Board Certified Chaplain at the May 2019 conference of the NAJC (Neshama: Association of Jewish Chaplains). In 2020, Chaplain Barry was elected to the Board of NAJC, serves on Chaplain Review Committees, and facilitates a monthly national video call of Jewish hospital chaplains.