Occasionally when I go into the hospital (Glan Clwyd) to visit some parishioners, I bump into Sheila Johnson. She is the R.C. Chaplain to the hospital, and is a parishioner at St. Mary’s, Rhyl. I am extremely grateful for her dedicated service to the ill and indeed the dying in the hospital. Trying to negotiate the frequent blockages on the A55 can be a nightmare, but knowing Sheila is in attendance is a relief. One of the difficulties we experience is how to tell who is a Catholic, and who is not. It’s very hard to pick them out – they don’t seem to wear halos any more! So, if you are going into hospital be sure to let the staff know that you are a Catholic and would like a visit from the Chaplain.
But Shelia also carries out funeral services when there is no priest available. I asked her to share what that experience was like and the following is what she wrote.
Back in 2010, after losing my 95yr old mother – I was asked if I would like to join the Chaplaincy team at Glan Clwyd. Hospital visiting has always been very close to my heart – as a teenager I visited the T.B. patients in Abergele hospital as part of my Legion of Mary work – so I jumped at this opportunity. Encouraged by Fr. Charles Ramsay, my Parish Priest, I applied to the then lead Chaplain, and after much form filling, interviews and checks, I was accepted to join the team. That team now consists of two – myself for the Catholics and a Vicar for the non Catholics, although I am available for all patients no matter what their denomination.
My role has changed enormously – from a couple of hours on a weekday morning initially – to being on call for the Catholics. I am in Glan Clwyd most days, either by being called in to the dying, or because of my concern for a patient.
I feel very privileged to be a part of people’s lives when they are most vulnerable – the words from the Hail Mary…..’pray for us, now and at the hour of our death’… become very poignant, having been at the bedside of very many people when they have been at their ‘hour’.
Having said all that, I am under no illusion that had we enough Priests in our Diocese I would not be in this role . I am here by default, but feel very blessed that I have been given this opportunity and that I am able to carry out the duties of a hospital Chaplain. I have built up a good relationship with the staff, the patients and their families, and this is how my first undertaking of a funeral came about.
Having been at the bedside of a dying lady for three weeks, and having got to know her four daughters somewhat, when the time came for this patient to leave this world, her daughters asked me to officiate at her funeral. I said that I wasn’t sure that this would be possible as I wasn’t ordained, but that I would speak to my Parish Priest. I was granted permission for this to happen and so came about my first funeral.
The funerals that I undertake vary greatly, from stillborn babies to people who haven’t been to church for years to Catholics whose families aren’t at all religious. I spend a great deal of time preparing for these services, talking through things with the families of the bereaved and getting to know a little of the character of the deceased. No two funerals are the same, as no two people are, and although tribute is paid to the deceased, the service is primarily for those who are gathered out of love and to pay respect to their loved one. In almost all cases, a simple loving presence showing compassion is greatly appreciated.