The World Health Association foresees coming pandemics of depression among the young and dementia among the elderly.
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Dr. Suzette Brémault-Phillips urged pastoral care workers to support people in what matters most deeply in their lives.
Each of us is a pilgrim on a journey. Sometimes on our individual journeys, we share a path with others, other times we walk alone and sometimes our paths veer off. The basic human gift is the right to choose which path to take.
"But what do we do when faced with life transitions, challenges, choice and illness? Those are crucible moments, and sometimes they are also moments that are pivotal," said Dr. Suzette Brémault-Phillips, an occupational therapist and assistant professor at the University of Alberta.
"At whatever age, we should aim for thriving, in illness or in health, and not merely existing.
"We have many people right now who just exist, trying to get by, trying to pay the bills. We have reached a sandwich generation now, a generation of people trying to raise a family while at the same time trying to care for their aging parents," said Brémault-Phillips.
She was the keynote speaker at the Alberta Pastoral Care Association
annual conference, April 28-29 at Days Inn Edmonton.
Her education and research expertise include the areas of mental health, spirituality and health, and human growth and transformation.
The conference was worthwhile for Wilma Clark, who does ministry with seniors in her church. She is also a hospital visitor for the United Church of Canada, visiting Calgary hospitals weekly.
Clark said the conference is a chance for people of like mind and belief – not necessarily religiously – to share ideas about pastoral care.
"We're able to come together with a really good speaker and learn things that maybe we couldn't learn in a smaller setting," said Clark.
Brémault-Phillips said one of the greatest challenges of our day is loneliness, especially for those who are institutionalized or shut-in. The remedy for loneliness, of course, is the presence of another person.
"Every time you and I go to work with an individual, we have the opportunity to become the face of Christ, become the living Scripture, become the Living Word," she said.
As people live longer, dementia lurks. She advised people to research Rising Tide, a document released by the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
Rising Tide alerts the public and politicians of the need for policies to address the looming dementia crisis. The number of people across the globe with dementia is climbing, and as baby boomers age, dementia will become even more of a health issue.
As well, the World Health Organization says the world is on the verge of pandemics in both dementia and depression.
"The ones who are in need are more stricken with depression and anxiety. We have lots more chronic depression in the younger population," Brémault-Phillips said.
In Canada, churches were the first providers of education and health care. With more people to treat for various medical conditions, more overworked hospital staff and reduced funding, Brémault-Phillips speculates that people will again turn to the churches to provide health care.
People sick in the hospital may be struggling with existential questions, the meaning of life and end-of-life questions. They may be dealing with a shift in identity because they can no longer be the parent or caregiver they once were.
Brémault-Phillips spoke of spirituality in non-theological terms. In the health care world, spirituality is all about connection, the achievement of purpose and goals, uniqueness and diversity, altruism, caring and compassion.
She advised caregivers to be deeply connected with somebody, be a loving presence, be with someone in his pain, listen to his words and validate his path.
"I'm going to suggest that what you give people and support people in is what matters most in life. It's about the heart, and it's about truth and existence," she said.
"We have the privilege of going into the depths of people's hearts where others fear to go."
Today, Brémault-Phillips said many people seem stricken with the false idea that they have no right to be here.
Those people, she said, should turn to Psalm 139 where the central message is that even if no one else wanted us, God knows every component of us and he wants us here.
Beth Blachford volunteers at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary, meeting with seniors and those who are hospitalized, perhaps dying. She said she feels honoured to have the privilege of spending time with the people there.
"I find that when I talk to people, it's all about how many grandchildren do you have, what you do for a living and that sort of stuff. I would like to be able to bring more spirituality to the conversation," said Blachford.
By attending the conference, she learned more practical approaches to providing a spiritual presence.