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Visiting the sick

Compassion begins with companionship
by Suzanne Marn, MA
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are hearing a lot about the importance of the corporal works of mercy. Pope Francis has invited us to step forward in faith and to take action on behalf of our brothers and sisters who are sick, suffering, grieving or lonely.
Unlike with the merciful acts of feeding, sheltering and clothing the poor – works we can fulfill simply by making a donation – visiting the sick (or elderly) often requires more thoughtful
planning and direct involvement. Visiting the sick allows us to continue the healing ministry of Jesus through the gift of companionship. In effect, it is a work of being with someone more than doing something for someone.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are each called to embrace the opportunities for showing mercy that God places in our paths. We are called to be compassionate, as our Father is compassionate, whether we are visiting a person in a skilled nursing facility, a private home, a hospital or hospice care.
As written in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus began his ministry of compassion by first going to the desert to pray, listen and discern the Father's will. We, too, are called to first pray and listen to God's direction as he presents occasions for us to visit the sick.
Aging, sickness, disease and death are topics we would rather avoid – and that is a normal reaction. Since 1999, I have been involved in bereavement ministry and spiritual caregiving. I don't like to think about these things, either, but they are part of our lives.
When people hesitate to visit the sick, fear is usually holding them back. For many people, such a visit reminds them of their own aging process, health issues and mortality. For others, the sights, sounds and odors in medical facilities are unsettling. Unresolved personal grief can cause fear, as can uncertainty
about what to expect during a visit. Some people fear that they are intruding during a difficult time. It is also common for people to put off a visit because they are afraid they will do or say the wrong thing.
The good news is: Visiting the sick or elderly does not require you to be a theologian, an entertainer, a social worker or an expert on anything. You do not have to quote Scripture or discuss the meaning of life. And it is best if you refrain from using platitudes, such as, "God doesn't give you anything you can't  handle." Why? Because the person you are spending time with is experiencing some kind of loss or limitation, and, sooner or later, each of us becomes an expert on loss. You already have that in common with the person you are visiting. It is part of our shared humanity.
Suzanne Marn, MA is a spiritual care coordinator for Mercy Health Saint Mary's.