Reflection on a Year of Service – Helen Padden

It’s a difficult thing – trying to sum up a year in just a few paragraphs (6 actually) – sorry – this might take a little while. I’ve learned so much this year: things that cannot be easily quantified, tallied, or listed on a résumé, but I’ll do my best to talk about them today. I’ve learned about work, about faith, about friendship, about truth, about happiness, about illness, about suffering, about death, about love, and about life.

Looking back at my RMC mission statement, I can’t believe how, despite the fact that I had no idea what this year had in store for me, what I wrote actually happened. I wrote:

This year as an RMC, I hope to be a caring, comforting, and healing presence to all I serve. I hope to witness the value of redemptive suffering by caring for those who are experiencing the pain and limitations of sickness and aging.  I hope to deepen my faith by regularly reflecting and praying both by myself and with my community.  And, I hope that by practicing simple living, I will more fully appreciate the gifts and talents I have been given and learn how to best share them with my community.

Of course, none of this happened the way I expected, but the “mission” was fulfilled anyhow.

I can tell you that the words Care, Comfort, and Heal have a much deeper meaning for me now than they did before I lived them through ministry. Working as a pastoral care visitor in the ER, I learned the role of presence, of just being with people, and just how caring, comforting, and healing it was. My scientific side was sometimes frustrated that I was not providing a something tangible – I was not doing something great, but I was learning how to do small things with great love. In time, I learned that by doing those small things in a loving way, I got so much love in return.

The value of redemptive suffering is something that I am still working on understanding– I’ll probably work on understanding it my entire life. Working with the residents of Harmony Square in St. Joseph’s Manor helped me appreciate the worth of the journey of suffering, and the redemption it can bring. Over the past months, I’ve met and gotten to know many great people there. I’ve witnessed many journeys to the end, but one stands out. I took care of one woman (a nun, in fact) nearly every morning that I worked there. I helped with the basic dressing, bathing, etc., but I also helped her when she was confused about where she was, or who I was, or what time she was in. I must have done something right because after a few months, she would always greet me with the biggest smile – even when she was in pain, or when I woke her up out of a pretty deep sleep. She would even ask for me when she needed help, calling for Helen, or quite frequently Catherine (good name, right?), or my favorite –my friend. Needless to say, I grew quite attached to her. She suffered from a disease that caused great discomfort and pain, but I was blessed to see that in the past few weeks, as she made her final journey, she no longer suffered from uncertainty –she knew where she was going. She passed away just last week, in the company of her family and community members – many of whom just so happened to be here for meetings. She found peace, and I cannot express how blessed I feel to have seen her reach that peace. Witnessing her journey is something that will stay with me forever, and, I suspect, it will shape how I practice certain parts of medicine.

This year certainly changed my faith, but it didn’t happen how I expected. Praying with the RMCs, with my community, and in my own time certainly added to my faith life, but I think what will stay with me the most is the faith I saw in action in the everyday lives and stories of the people I encountered this year. I’ve been so inspired and moved by what so many residents, patients, coworkers, sisters, RMCs, and other community-members have both shared with me and done for me.

Overall, I think the greatest thing I learned is to appreciate the simple things in life. I learned how great it is to share my time with others. It’s the gift I shared all year. I gave my self and my time, and it was good. It wasn’t perfect; it wasn’t grand or important; I can’t get an A for it; but it was good. The process of saying goodbye this past week has helped me see that it’s not what I did, but how I did it that will be missed. Will the residents of the manor miss having an extra person available to take them to the bathroom in emergencies – of course. But, from what the residents and staff shared with me, they’ll miss the things that I did without thinking– like my silly dance moves during “Move and Groove” chair exercise or during happy hour.

Likewise, what I’ll miss about all of you is not what you’ve done, but how you did it. You’ve shared so many great gifts with me – from your wii-bowling skills and your hidden acting talents, to your simple gifts of joy, laughter, and faith. I’ve also been lucky to become friends with my fellow RMCs. I first saw some your gifts during orientation– gifts of humor, compassion, and of course all of our great artistic abilities – then I learned more about them at the Strengths Finder retreat, but it’s been even better, and infinitely more fun, discovering your gifts through our RMC dinners, our movie nights, our nights out, and our adventures in Philly. I’m leaving with great stories about what we have done together, but what I’ll miss most will be you – your wonderful and varied personalities, gifts and talents.

Thank you all for having shared your time, your faith, your love, your gifts with me over the past year. This has been a wonderful, life-changing year, and I will certainly miss you all, but I will always carry what I learned with me.

RMC Closing Mass 034

Helen served as a Pastoral Care Visitor and as a C.N.A. in St. Joseph’s Manor.  She will be attending medical school in the fall.