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From the desk of Helen Odell, M.S.
Unit Staff Chaplain – Calvary Hospital

Helen Odell and sistersDear Calvary Friends,

Your connection to Calvary is important to us, and we are grateful for every penny you donate.

My sister Mary Lou died at Calvary last spring. Now, when I write to you, I’m not just a Calvary chaplain. I’m also a grateful sibling who has personally experienced the care and comfort your gifts make possible.

Mary Lou came to Calvary at the height of the health crisis. She was 59 years old and intellectually disabled and suffered from chronic respiratory issues.

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Her health was also declining for a while. When she got sick, she was sent to the emergency room of a very large hospital close to her group residence – and they basically lost her. Everyone at that hospital was overwhelmed. There was no communication at all. My family was frantic.

When I finally got a hold of a social worker, she told me Mary Lou had pneumonia, bronchitis, and was critically debilitated. She could go home with an oxygen tank.

I said, “No, she’s coming to Calvary.”

I am one of eight siblings and we’re all very close. Most of my family couldn’t travel from other states where they lived. They were grateful that I worked at Calvary and could be with her.

At first, when Mary Lou came to Calvary, she rallied. She had her own phone and could do her own FaceTime. She came in with a “don’t worry about me” attitude. She was getting better, eating everything, and watching television. She seemed to be happy.

And then her condition turned and she never recovered. I am so grateful she wasn’t alone. I was there to hold her hand.

When it was over, I went to Kathleen Lynch, the Administrator of Admitting, Intake & Outreach Services to express my gratitude. There were tears on my face and I held her hand.

She said, “Helen, this is Calvary, this is what we do.”

In that moment, I realized this is what I say when grieving family members hold my hand and tell me how grateful they are.

And now I want to say to you – this is what you do. For Mary Lou, for me and all the patients and families, we help together.

As a Pastoral Care chaplain, I’ve always been deeply involved in supporting patients and families through their own journeys. Our primary mission at Calvary is non-abandonment and no one should ever face the end of their life all alone.

Bringing families together isn’t as easy as you might think. Families are made up of many last names and live all over the globe. Contact information needs to be gathered and organized, and medical status is constantly in flux.

Many patients and family members are not familiar with Zoom, FaceTime and WhatsApp, and feel awkward. We help them overcome those inhibitions and facilitate the calls and meetings. The calls can be heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Some patients can speak; some are too sick. One family member asked me to hold the phone up to her mother’s face just so she could hear her breathe.

Whatever a person needs, it’s my privilege to help make it happen with love, respect, and kindness. Chaplains, counselors, social workers – we each do our part, and working closely with one another, we form a lifeline for our patients and families.

Families can trust us to be present for those they love, even at times of crisis.

That was the case with my sister.

You are truly the heartbeat of this wonderful place. Together we can make sure no one ever feels alone and abandoned in their final days.

Bless you,
Helen Odell, M.S.
Unit Staff Chaplain – Calvary Hospital