Sarah Hall
Sarah Hall is a Spiritual Care Intern with the University Health Network. (Photo: Courtesy Sarah Hall)

Spiritual Care Awareness Week is Nov. 28 – Dec. 2. To celebrate the important role of Spiritual Care in a healthcare setting, Sarah Hall, former paediatric nurse, describes the events that led her to a Spiritual Care Internship at UHN.

The sound of crying meets my ears from down the crowded hallway at Toronto General Hospital.

My response is to move towards the sound, to begin the journey of uncovering the story behind the tears.

I follow the weeping and arrive at the door of a patient room: grief-stricken family members flood out from behind the grey curtain. I stand in this moment fully aware of what I carry with me: no medication, no lab results, no stethoscope and no word of cure.

I bring only myself.

Treating the whole person – clinically and spiritually

My journey to Spiritual Care at the University Health Network began as a new nurse in the department of Haematology/Oncology at the Hospital for Sick Children.

Through my experience as a paediatric nurse, I recognized the valuable opportunity healthcare professionals are given in being granted access into the most delicate moments of an individual's life.

Spiritual Care facts: Did you know?

  • UHN Spiritual Care Practitioners are regulated health professionals with The College of Registered Psychotherapists in Ontario(CRPO)
  • All the staff in the Department of Spiritual Care have a Master's Degree followed by one year of supervised clinical education
  • Spiritual Care Practitioners at UHN are assigned to particular clinical units within programs across all hospitals​

My eyes were opened to the privilege I held as a nurse to hold fragile moments and offer a presence of compassion to grieving families. I witnessed the absolute need for spiritual care in the clinical setting, a place where the wounded are waiting, grief lingers, loneliness gnaws, cancer grows, tests fail and mothers weep.

It was in those moments that I began to understand that my care of the bodies of patients simply could not negate the care of the spirit: the two are intertwined. While watching a sweet one-year old boy sleep one night shift, his mother and I stroked his soft head together and she whispered out loud her wonderings of heaven.

I did not have the answers for her, but I listened as she wrestled through the meaning of suffering and grasped for hope beyond what she could see immediately before her.

I myself was left wondering: is this not the quest for all people confronted with sickness and life's brokenness. Where is hope in suffering?

What can I offer as a nurse, between listening to lungs fill, watching morphine drip and drawing blood samples, to resolve such dilemmas of the heart? These reflections led me to Clinical Pastoral Education, the educational program through the University of Toronto at UHN.

A shift from 'fixing' to 'being' – the road to Spiritual Care

In my role as Spiritual Care Intern at UHN, I am learning to set aside my preoccupation with "fixing" patients and move towards a more intentional act of "being" with the patients.

The Spiritual Care Department displays this care approach beautifully in their ability to walk alongside a patient and family in their time of illness, trauma and loss. Spiritual Care Practitioners function as recognized and registered health professionals within the circle of care.​​

It has been a delight to witness how the presence of a Spiritual Care Practitioner is welcomed throughout UHN, the mutual respect created between disciplines and the careful collaboration of mind, body and spirit.

Spiritual Care Practitioners exercise the gift of facilitating intentional conversations, with particular attention being drawn to: "what does this experience mean to you?" Posing this question is not only vital for patients and families, but is integral for hospital teams. Recently, the heart of a middle-aged man stopped suddenly, with no medical reason or clues. I lingered outside the room as loved ones crowded around the small bed reeling in shock.

The family cried out in despair: pleading for understanding. I noticed my hesitancy to walk forward.

What is the place of the healthcare professional in the midst of the mystery: in the inexplicable, the moments that simply do not make sense? There is no right thing to say.

Spiritual Care is teaching me that our greatest tool is empathy: entering into the darkness of an individual. The act of courageously choosing to show up, be present, and say, "I will be with you in this."

I walked into the room,  where tears spilled and brokenness ached, as Spiritual Care Intern, Nurse, and above all – as human, reaching out for a connection.

I offered a moment: a moment to remember life, to rest in silence, to hold grief and to offer company in sorrow.​

I am enough, you are enough – this season of learning in the Clinical Pastoral Education program is teaching me to rest in the power of a compassionate presence.​​

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