Remember the old saying that sticks and stones can hurt people? These days, some chaplains have transformed them into helpful tools to support patients, families and staff.
“We have a treasure chest of ideas we use with our patients,” says Lisa Wojna, a chaplain at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital. “Rocks and wood with messages are one of them.”
Lisa says chaplains sometimes find it beneficial to give the people they’re working with something to support the spiritual work they are doing together.
“Having something to hold onto, like a rock or a stick with a message, can be an anchor for the work we’re doing together because when we are overwhelmed by pain, it takes over everything,” says Lisa. “Having something tactile you can look at and remember can be a powerful tool in your spiritual healing.”
“It really is a God-wink kind of moment,” says Lisa. “There is always heartfelt reaction from the receiver.”
Lisa remembers one of the first patients to whom she gave a stone.
“The stone I gave this lady said ‘Courage isn’t always loud,’” says Lisa. “She is a beautiful woman who doesn’t ever want to share her pain. For her, the message gave her permission to cry and to understand that doing so doesn’t mean she isn’t strong.”
The idea for the wood and rock messages was sparked by the Edmonton Calligraphic Society. In April, society members put up weathergrams, paper messages of hope, around the hospital. They lifted staff’s spirits. At that time, the chaplains were using purchased stones with messages for patients, and they wondered if the society would consider writing messages on wood and rocks that could be given out.
“Volunteer Services reached out to us and asked if we’d be interested in making stones with words and put messages on wood for Spiritual Care to give to people,” says Jeanine Alexander, a board member of the calligraphic society. “Five of us made a commitment to take on the task.”
Chaplains and a member of Volunteer Services collected rocks, and Lisa’s husband planed, sanded and stained the sticks for the society. The chaplains suggested some words and phrases but invited society members to use their own messages.
“We wanted to give these volunteers something meaningful for them to do at a time when visitation is restricted,” says Lisa. “These handmade sticks and stones are much more personal and meaningful than the ones we purchased.”
Lisa says the volunteers did a beautiful job, and it was heart-warming to see all the sticks and stones when Jeanine delivered 150 of them.
“I like the fact that we can apply our skills in a slightly non-traditional way rather than just on paper,” says Jeanine. “It’s nice to push yourself to do something other than practice sheets. I feel very privileged to be involved in something knowing it is going to help someone else.”
The gifts are helpful, says Jayne Young, a unit manager at the hospital who received a stick that says “Keep on shining.” Jayne keeps it on her desk so it’s visible to everyone going by her office.
“Sometimes I catch a glimpse of the stick out of the corner of my eye, and it reminds me to stop, slow down and remember that I owe it to my staff and patients and families to give them the best of me at all times,” says Jayne. “I was really touched when Lisa gave it to me. It reminds me that although I can sometimes feel lost in the business of the job, there is someone who appreciates what I do.”
The Edmonton Calligraphic Society volunteers have committed to create these messages on rocks and sticks on an ongoing basis.
“Chaplains can offer support to patients whether they are religious or not,” says Lisa. “We are all spiritual, and to be whole and healthy includes providing care for our bodies, minds and spirits. Spiritual Care isn’t just there for people at end of life. We’re there whenever you’re struggling — maybe you just received a new diagnosis, maybe you’re struggling with family issues at home while you’re in the hospital or maybe you’re feeling isolated while in hospital. There are so many ways we can help.”