How Healing Came From the Nose of a Caring Clown Volunteer

Over the past several weeks, I have been reflecting on the well-known saying: “People may not remember what you did or what you said.  They will, however, remember how you made them feel.”  I think that it has been on my mind especially as I led multiple orientation sessions for new summer college and high school student volunteers because the primary message I’ve wanted to instill in them is this: “Your function (what you do) is not as important as your role/purpose (who you are and how you do what you do).”  In other words, making a compassionate, empathetic, warm, and positively meaningful human – “start with the heart” – connection creates a healing moment.  By showing appropriate interest in patients and their family members, these students have the opportunity to reduce anxiety, calm fears, assuage grief, warm hearts, nurture trust, lighten a burden, and create healing moments.

Very recently, the daughter of patient wrote the following note to one of the Caring Clown volunteers at my hospital:

 My Dad was in (the hospital) in 2001.  2 days before he passed away you came to the door (of his room).  I doubted he’d realize you were there, and felt badly thinking I was taking you away from another patient, but you came in and he woke up and LIT UP.  He loved your nose.  (He) couldn’t talk, but kept gently touching (your nose) with a HUGE smile. 

 Later you came up to me at (a local restaurant) and introduced yourself. 

 I told a friend about that while eating at (that same restaurant) this past Sunday.  I told her I have never forgotten either incident and I wish I could tell you that it still, to this very day, makes me so happy and thankful that you were there.

I am so moved by that letter!  What was it that made such an impression in this situation?  In my reading of it, the lasting impression forever in the daughter’s memory is that of her father’s smile as he gently touched the nose of a Caring Clown.  No one could have choreographed that moment; it simply happened.  Yet, it was the Caring Clown’s ability to understand her role and purpose that created the space and awareness to allow a dying man to touch her red, oversized nose!  11 years later, the daughter remembers and feels “happy and thankful!”

If your experience is like mine, we’ve experienced the loss of close loved ones.  I can only imagine how precious that memory is for that woman (daughter).  Every time she thinks of that experience, smiles, feels happy and is thankful, the effects of the healing encounter are deepened and re-lived.

As Caregivers, we find ourselves in the midst of simple and yet profoundly “sacred” moments (probably every day) – times when pained, grieving, fearful, lost, angry, helpless, confused, lonely and vulnerable patients and their families (human beings) look to us for support, guidance, safety, compassion, understanding, kindness, companionship, empathy, and a healing presence.

What a privilege we have!  What an honor it is to be invited into these moments and to serve in this way!

Whether Caring Clown volunteer, nurse, way-finder, social worker, food service worker, chaplain, physical therapist, physician, housekeeper, valet attendant, pharmacist, or one of many other Caregivers (too many to list), patients and family members may never remember what we did or said (our function/job) but they will most certainly remember how we make them feel when we make a meaningful, compassionate, and heartfelt connection!

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