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Making Life Meaningful Through Spiritual Care rss

Posted on: January 21st, 2014

When Sheila Gabins, a nursing home resident at Jewish Home Lifecare, realized she felt lost and needed to talk with someone who had an understanding of what she was going through, she turned to Rabbi Jonathan Malamy.

Spiritual Care for Older Adults

Sheila Gabins fournd meaning through spiritual care at Jewish Home Lifecare. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Jonathan Malamy

“He took time and listened to me,” Gabins said.

That listening is a fundamental component of spiritual care, especially for older adults in long-term care residences.

“The role of religious life is to make life meaningful, and a lot of listening goes on,” says Rabbi Malamy, director of religious life at Jewish Home Lifecare, a network agency of UJA-Federation of New York. Rabbi Malamy is a chaplain trained in pastoral care to help older adults cope with life challenges. In addition to Jewish Home Lifecare, several other network agencies provide spiritual care for older adults.

“There are many professionals here, and we’re all busy,” he said. “A chaplain can listen until someone is ready to say what they’re worried about. We can’t fix it, but we can listen, support, and affirm people as they map out what they’re confronting.”

Spiritual care at Jewish Home Lifecare comes to people in two ways: through individual meetings and communal gatherings at worship services, including Shabbat. Between 25 to 65 older adults attend Shabbat services offered both Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings.

“I go every Friday and Saturday morning,” Gabins said. “It puts me in a better frame of mind.”

Older adults who come to the Jewish Home Lifecare rehab for healing, or the nursing home for extended care, receive support for more than their physical needs.

“If we don’t tend to the ways people’s lives are meaningful, we’re not really helping them,” explains Rabbi Malamy. “We try to sustain lives without denying losses we all inevitably face. But growth continues, there are opportunities for new expression.”

“We can help someone ask the question, ‘Given who I am now, what opportunities are available to me?’” he says. “Spiritual care acknowledges the pain and loss, a universal experience for everyone, and makes room for something to grow.”

Different techniques work for different people, and Rabbi Malamy says he tries to find the right resource to meet someone’s needs.

“If someone has a strong Jewish identity, I will say a mishaberach, a prayer for healing, or recite a psalm or blessing as we walk around the garden,” he says.

Sometimes the focus is less about prayer, Rabbi Malamy notes, and more a discussion helping someone to reflect on their past and how they overcame challenges earlier in life. “It’s a way to learn not just about someone’s self-doubt and despair, but also their strengths,” he says.

When someone’s intellectual capacity diminishes as with dementia or Alzheimer’s, Rabbi Malamy tries to relate to the person in other ways than verbally. He draws on sensory experiences, melodies, foods, smells, or eye contact. “I look for other ways when conversation disappears,” he says.

For people like Gabins, spiritual care can provide a deeper dimension to their lives.

“Rabbi Malamy’s personal insights were helpful and made me do a lot of thinking,” she said. “I feel like God is listening to me now.”