Health First’s Pastoral Care Teams Turn to Technology to Deliver Spiritual Care and Compassion

By  //  August 6, 2020

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Pastoral Care Team serves the healthcare system’s four hospitals

Chaplain Woody Morrison is used to consoling families whose loved ones are terminally ill or have passed. But the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a whole new layer of anguish for mourners – the inability to traditionally grieve that beloved person due to safety measures recently thrust upon us all. (Health First image)

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Chaplain Woody Morrison is used to consoling families whose loved ones are terminally ill or have passed. But the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a whole new layer of anguish for mourners – the inability to traditionally grieve that beloved person due to safety measures recently thrust upon us all.

“I have families who will break down in tears in front of me because they can’t have that emotional closure,” said Chaplain Woody, a member of Health First’s Pastoral Care Team, which serves the healthcare system’s four hospitals.

So Chaplain Woody turned to technology – something that perhaps months ago might be unfathomable but now is welcomed by those who are self-isolated and desperate to be a part of a celebration of the life of their loved one.

With social media and other live streaming services, family and friends who are staying close to home can now take part in final goodbyes and funeral services without risking their health.

When COVID-19 first surfaced in Brevard, Chaplain Woody spoke of a man whose wife was dying. The soon-to-be widower became increasingly upset over not only the loss of his spouse but the loss of the support system people lean on during such a heartbreaking time.

“He was thinking of the funeral, and how he could not invite everyone to be there,” Chaplain Woody said.

A virtual vigil was performed at their home, as was the later graveside service.

“I have families who will break down in tears in front of me because they can’t have that emotional closure,” said Chaplain Woody, a member of Health First’s Pastoral Care Team, which serves the healthcare system’s four hospitals. (Health First image)

“When I go to a home, I can live stream it and put it on speakerphone,” Chaplain Woody said of family members who can’t be present during a loved one’s final hours.

“The family can view a final prayer. It’s the intangible closeness we want.”

Any bedside final prayer or virtual service must not only have the permission of the family but also be approved first by a social worker.

Much care is taken to ensure that this new method of mourning is desired by the family and is respectful to the deceased. Most families find comfort in virtual bedside vigils.

Back in April, a Holocaust survivor admitted to Health First’s Viera Hospital, and eventually to the William Childs Hospice House, was able to have a beautiful last call with his rabbi and several family members before he peacefully passed.

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“It’s a smaller group – usually people who are in the family unit,” Chaplain Woody said. “It’s private and limited in scope.”

Also helpful, he said, is the ability to record a service on Zoom – allowing those who aren’t able to watch the service live still partake. It helps grievers to not feel so isolated and left out.

“That means a lot that we can do that,” Chaplain Woody said. “That’s been helpful, to say the least, to get the celebration of life to a larger audience.”

Back in the spring, Chaplain Woody performed a service for a late veteran at a Palm Bay funeral home. His graveside service was live-streamed.

“Hundreds of people were able to attend virtually,” Chaplain Woody said.

As long as social distancing remains in place, “we’ll keep doing this,” he said.

“I think these little things are very cool,” Chaplain Woody said. “That makes a difference.”

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