Soul Care


What if we started with soul care? What if we said that it is inhuman to make a dozen people sit and listen to the same CD play repeatedly for four hours while we change their bed sheets? What if we said that it is cruel to let one person cry while you get water for another person? What if we stopped putting food ahead of kindness?

What if we hired aides on the basis of their kindness, not their muscle strength? What if we immediately fired anyone who called an elder ‘darling,’ or ‘sweetie,’ or ‘honey’ or anything except their rightful name? What if we gave back identity to those who have been turned into objects?

What if we honored the fact that these old, sick people on palliative care are suffering and we put their mental, spiritual and emotional suffering ahead of their physical needs? I am not saying ahead of their physical suffering; I am saying ahead of their physical needs.

Instead of mopping the floor, take the person outside to see the sun and feel the wind. Instead of dressing people, sit quietly beside them and sing or croon or listen. Hold hands. Of course, in the best of all possible words, both things would happen but this is America where money is what we care about most, so stop spending money on bodies and start caring for souls.

And for God’s sake, stop lying to people! You don’t tell a 98-year-old woman who is crying for her mother that you’ve called her mother and she’s on her way! You ask her what she needs her mother for and then you meet her need! Or you simply understand that she needs her mother for comfort and then you provide the comfort.

It’s called “palliative care.” These people are years from dying. They are lying in beds carefully covered with handmade quilts and they are alone. There is no one offering “comfort care.” There are aides taking care of bodies while souls are suffering.

We are not our bodies; we are our souls. We are here for a moment, lodged in a clay vessel, then we return to wherever we came from. We move on to some immortal home. Our bodies do not have souls. Our souls, for one brief moment, have bodies, so why are we investing so deeply in caring for bodies and not giving a ha’penny for soul care?

Don’t you get it? It no longer matters what you do to us physically; it matters what you do to us spiritually. Care for the invisible part of me. What people in nursing homes need more than anything else in this world is comforting touch. Like newborns in a neonatal unit, we need physical contact. We need the feel of human bodies.

When our minds are gone, when we no longer can know, then we still can feel. They move Cora and she screams in pain and they tell her to stop screaming. For the love of God, stop hurting the woman! If you can’t medicate her out of physical pain—which you can do, you certainly can do, why won’t you?

Are the aides not telling the nurse’s that she’s in pain? Are the nurses not telling the nurse manager? Do they not care? Is it not important to them? Why isn’t the nurse manager calling the doctor? Why isn’t the doctor seeing the patient? SHE IS IN PAIN: WHY AREN’T YOU RELIEVING IT?

But why are you moving her if it causes her pain? Why aren’t you letting her lay still? Do you really think that cleanliness is important enough to cause someone to scream? Think about what matters here.

She is supposed to be receiving comfort care. DO YOU KNOW WHAT COMFORT IS??? And this is about HER comfort, not yours. Learn new skills. Learn how to love. Learn how to empathize. PAY ATTENTION. Don’t zone off in your own little world, pretending this isn’t what it is.

It is the absolute degradation of the human body. Deal with it. Be honest, be present, and find the soul in the damaged body. Speak to the tormented soul in gentle touch and soft croonings and hymns. There is no reason or rationale. There is only loneliness and lack of love.

In these, the final years of the suffering human, act with loving kindness. Admit your absolute helplessness to heal the body, and instead heal the soul.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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4 Responses to Soul Care

  1. obviously like your web site however you need to take a look at the spelling on quite a few of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling problems and I in finding it very bothersome to inform the truth on the other hand I will certainly come back again.

  2. The dead remain dead, in their graves, until the day of judgement. Then, those believers whom are chosen are given eternal life, and thusly their bodies, and brains, continue to live forever. In this scheme, there are no eternal souls. Just bodies, dead or alive. In other words, the New Testament teaches the same thing as the Old Testament in this respect and the Greek concept of an immortal soul was not accepted or employed even though such ideas became increasingly common amongst Pagans and common people.

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