“GOD’S grace is incredible” – that’s one of the truths Pam Hayes has witnessed time and again during 15 years of hospital ministry.
“When people really need it, (God’s grace) comes through,” Pam said on reflection earlier this month, one week after retiring as a chaplain at Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.
“I think everyone needs to remember that … Things do happen in our lives – sufferings and troubles – but God will always meet us there.
“The graces are always there …”
Pam cherishes the time she spent on the wards, grateful that she responded to a notice in a church bulletin calling for “hospital chaplains”.
Taking time in the first week after retirement to write her reflections during morning prayer, she could see the hand of God in the call to respond to that notice.
“I saw (the notice) on two consecutive weeks and felt it speaking to me,” she wrote.
“My last child (of six), Tim, was in Grade 3 and I was open to doing something different with my life.
“Up until that point, I was a ‘stay at home’ mum.
“Michael (my husband) was the ‘bread winner’ and we managed to bring up our six children on one income, which was quite a feat.
“I know God blessed us abundantly over those years and He still does.
“So, at that time I was searching for something.”
In chaplaincy, she found a perfect answer.
“Because I loved praying for people either with them or through intercession, it was a natural thing for me to be called by God into this ministry,” she wrote in her reflection.
“Also I am, by nature, a ‘listener’ and this is a gift that is most important when considering pastoral care work.”
Explaining why the role worked out so well for her, Pam said “I think just because I had a background of prayer. I’d prayed a lot myself over the years, and I think it was just, really, God calling.”
“I think with some jobs you just know God is calling you into it,” she said.
“It’s just like when I got married and I just loved being a mother and being at home with the children but then it came to that stage where I thought, ‘I would like to do something for others outside of here’.
“And so God just found me (the chaplaincy role).
“I just believe that was God-ordained, to do that work.
“And with the time I gave to the patients, equally I got a lot out of it myself – the blessings.
“You don’t always know exactly what happens with the patients when they leave.
“Occasionally you get a bit of feedback but mostly you don’t; you just know that God will bless them through you.”
Pastoral care in the hospital fitted her “like a glove”.
“I loved it,” she said.
In her reflection, she wrote that her fondest memories were of visiting mothers with babies.
“It was a joy for me to visit a new mum and dad and pray a blessing for their baby,” she wrote.
“Often there were tears of joy.
“I also visited wards where people were very sick and needed a listening ear and maybe prayer or Holy Communion.
“One other memory I have was a young woman who had difficulty falling pregnant and was in hospital for a procedure.
“Unfortunately this woman found out she had cancer which was terminal.
“I walked with her through months of treatment in hospital.
“She was in and out of hospital for some months before she passed away.”
The woman’s husband asked Pam to conduct his wife’s funeral, something she’d never done before.
She was hesitant and it was a difficult task but she counted it as a privilege.
In her reflection, she said it was “a privilege to walk with the sick and the dying”.
“Being a spiritual presence at the bedside of someone in a time of uncertainty is a comfort for the patient,” she wrote.
Pam was at the hospital visiting Catholic patients as part of a team, with each chaplain having on average 10 to 15 patients to see over five hours on the days they were there.
“The work is very rewarding.
I always looked forward to my Tuesdays and Thursdays at the RBWH,” she wrote in her reflection.
Over the 15 years, Pam’s noticed a dwindling number of church-going Catholics among the patients but that didn’t necessarily mean they didn’t want a visit from a chaplain.
Some who had ticked “Catholic” on a form would wonder how the chaplain had found them and why they were being visited.
“And (those patients) would say: ‘Oh, I’ve never been to church for years …’,” Pam said.
“But, then they were still keen to talk about it.
“Some were definitely not interested but others were.
“Some had had things happen to them through the Church and had been disappointed and left the Church for various reasons.
“But when they’re sick sometimes they’ve got more time to think about it, and some used to say, ‘Oh, well, I probably need to go back to church …’ “We could often talk about that or I could give them little prayers to use or just things to think about.
“… A lot of the time I’d come in and one week I’d see them and by the time I’d got back there the next week they’d often be gone.
“We go out onto the wards with the power of the Holy Spirit knowing Jesus is with us and he will guide us in what to say and do.”
Pam trusted that “God was always there because I did believe that God was with me every time I went out”.
“You can only do this ministry if you’ve got God with you and the Holy Spirit moving in you because mostly it’s just listening, listening to where (the patient) is at and then trying to draw on something that they might’ve said that can get you a little deeper,” she said.
And she relied on the Holy Spirit guiding her through every encounter.
“I knew I couldn’t do it on my own strength and if I had to pray with someone I always asked the Holy Spirit to guide me, even in the prayers that I prayed for the person … because you do have to be careful,” she said.
“Sometimes you might say something that might upset them.
“You just have to be very sensitive when you’re visiting people that you don’t know and you don’t know (why they’re in hospital).
“Sometimes it comes up in conversation, what is wrong with them but it’s not our job to go probing around.
“In this ministry, we mostly don’t know the patient’s outcome when they leave hospital but I have always believed I made a small difference to them by my presence and prayers.”
As she retires, Pam said she was grateful to her fellow chaplain friends.
“I will miss seeing them on a week-toweek basis,” she said.
“I am also grateful for the guidance and input I have had from various people at Centacare where I have been employed for the past 15 years.”
She said she was also “grateful for the whole opportunity of serving God in chaplaincy, and wherever he takes me now I’m looking forward to seeing where I’m going to go from now, because I do believe that God has something in store for me”.
“What it is, I’m not quite sure …,” she said