This month, we are honored to host an interview with Katy Claussen, one of the excellent chaplains at Women's Hospital. Interacting with both patients and medical professionals, Katy provides a unique look into the interaction between these two groups after the loss of a child.
Heartstrings: How did you become a chaplain at Women’s Hospital?
Claussen: Chaplains, in addition to theological training, go through an intense clinical training in a setting with peer support and close supervision. I did my training in New York City as well as at the University of Virginia medical system. I have always felt drawn to helping people find healing, and I love being part of a hospital team that works with patients and families to help them move toward healing on all levels--physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.
What do you consider to be the most difficult aspect of interacting with families who have experienced the loss of a child?
For me, the most difficult aspect of interacting with families is that I usually only see families in the early stages of grief. I do not have the opportunity to see how they heal over time and how they find ways to memorialize and carry their baby in their hearts. That is why I appreciate all the work that Heartstrings does. Women’s Hospital staff and Heartstrings truly work as part of the same team to provide our patients and families emotional and spiritual support; and when I talk with a family about the support that Heartstrings provides, I feel as if I am part of that on-going healing that I hope will take place for the family.
As a chaplain, you have a unique perspective to the patient-caregiver interaction when dealing with loss. What do you think patients should know about their caregiver in that situation? What do you think caregivers should know about their patients?
I hope that patients will know and experience the care and love that we feel for them. I hope that they know that we honor the life that they have carried, no matter the length of time that their baby was with them. I hope that they know that our only agenda is to support them in their grief and healing. I hope that they know that even in painful moments, there is space for something sacred—whatever that might mean for each individual.
I hope that caregivers know that grief is a rollercoaster and that the beginning stage when families are in the hospital is often filled with shock and disbelief. I hope that caregivers know that grief does not follow one particular path and that each individual will respond differently to loss. I hope that caregivers know that patients may not always be able to take in the care and love that we show them while they are here in the hospital, but that it still makes a difference in how they move forward in their healing.
Heroes Helping Heartstrings
Heartstrings is a dedicated community of support for grieving parents. Many families who go through our programs come back to share hope with those new to Heartstrings. However, as the proverb goes, "It takes a village." We are not the lone travelers on the grief journey after a child dies, and there are very special people who are committed to helping along the way.
Medical professionals have become an amazing part of the Heartstrings community, stepping forward to support parents mourning the loss of a child. In addition to becoming Heartstrings Heroes, medical staff have volunteered for the annual Walk for Remembrance & Hope, our largest memorial event held the second Saturday in October. In 2013, quite a few medical professionals were involved in making the 9th Annual Walk for Remembrance & Hope the most successful to date.
Sue Pedaline, VP of Nursing at Cone Health and Board Chair of Heartstrings, served as keynote speaker and lead the Walk itself. Janice Mullis of Wendover OB contributed to the Walk again as she has for multiple years, Jen Mathay of Forsyth Medical Center created a lovely art project for Heartstrings parents, and Emily Howes of Cone Health lead the winning fundraising team competition!
There are many opportunities throughout the year to become involved with Heartstrings beyond the Heroes program. Interested in helping out further? Here are some suggestions:
- Share your volunteer hours with Heartstrings. Many hospitals and offices require staff to participate in a minimum number of service hours. Heartstrings can always use a helping hand. Fill out our volunteer form here.
- Events. Heartstrings hosts multiple events throughout the year, and every one depends on volunteers to ensure they go smoothly. There are large and small roles offered depending on your interests and availability.
- Fundraising. Medical practices have come up with creative ways to generate donations to Heartstrings. Jeans days, Walk teams, bake sales--every penny raised goes to ensuring the continuation of programs that support bereaved parents. Our Raising Hope section of the website lists existing opportunities, but we would love to hear any new ideas you have as well.
- Join us! It means so much to parents to see that medical professionals continue to care and think about their children. Register to walk beside them at a memorial event or perhaps join the team of a family that deeply touched you. No matter how you connect with the families of Heartstrings, know that your support brings an amazing amount of solace during their journey of grief. You truly are Heroes.