Today's meditation was written by Cathy Self, Senior Vice President for the Baptist Healing Trust.
Dr. Rachel Remen tells a poignant story from her practice as a compassionate caregiver for those who live and die with cancer. One of her patients, a young mother of thirty-seven, had died of breast cancer. Dr. Remen had arranged to meet with the grieving husband and his young four-year-old daughter Kimmie. These are Dr. Remen's words:
"We sat in silence watching Kimmie as she gently patted my cat. Feeling herself watched, she looked up. With a smile, she abandoned the cat and climbed into my lap. Reaching into her tiny pocket, she took something out and put it into my hand. It was a small stuffed velvet heart, obviously handmade. I looked at her father. 'It's a feelie heart,' he said. 'She never goes anywhere without it.' A friend had sent it from Bridges, a bereavement center in Tacoma, Washington, that serves children who have been touched by death. Small enough to put into a little pocket and take to school to hold and rub, these soft little hearts give children permission to hold their own hearts tenderly and to grieve. To remember that they were loved and know that they can love. Children carry them for as long as they need to, finding comfort in the softness when thoughts of their loss might otherwise overwhelm them."
Dr. Remen continues..."Deeply moved, I held the little heart out to Kimmie. She took it and held it against her cheek for a long moment. Her mother had loved her fiercely. Perhaps that love could be a place of refuge for Kimmie now." Thousands of little hearts have been made by a group of volunteers who sew them by hand. No two hearts are exactly alike, and as Dr. Remen writes "each has a life of its own."
Dr. Remen has a deeply loving heart for her fellow caregivers. She has written often about the burden many caregivers carry in their work, taken on in the earliest days of training. In her words, "We do not hold our own hearts tenderly. Many of us repress our losses and carry our own pain ungrieved, often for years. We have become numb, not because we don't care but because we don't grieve. Grief is the way that loss heals [italics added]. Dr. Remen has helped create communities of physicians and medical students across the country to help professional peers grieve together and give each other the permission and the courage to feel again. Perhaps this journal is a place where we can be such a community to one another.
I suppose all of us carry a "feelie heart" of some type as we move through out the day. For some it may be a tangible reminder of hope and compassion. For others it may be a thought repeated silently or a visual reminder that stands ready to assuage the hurt or bolster the help. The practice of touch cards offers that moment of respite and renewal at the doorways of many Healing Hospitals across America. As Dr. Remen so beautifully writes, "no two hearts are exactly alike" whether made from velvet or beating in the chests of compassionate caregivers moving quietly, feeling deeply. What "feelie heart" do you carry, what gives you comfort in the midst of your giving care?