‘If people need you to listen, you listen. If people need you to cry with them, you cry with them.’
Rev. Sonia Wisdom, Mineola
“I’m a third-generation preacher. I follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather. I did church planting and parish work for years, but in 2010, I felt I needed to get back into chaplaincy, come out of the four walls of the church and re-connect to society. I connected with Northwell in Westchester and transferred here to South Shore University Hospital on Feb. 10, 2020, just before COVID-19 happened. I hadn’t even gotten a proper office yet when everything broke loose. We went from ordinary to ‘What in the world is going on?’
You began to see the rewards of being there; people began to feel supported. If we’re not alone, maybe we can make it.
“The fact that there were so many unknowns and death was coming so quickly was a big alarm. My spiritual adrenaline kicked in, so it was a matter of ‘Let’s get to work.’ At first, it was to support the staff because so many were afraid. I didn’t have time to be afraid. I had to be supportive, put on PPE and go. I’d walk down the hallway, and someone would say, ‘Reverend, I need a blessing,’ so I’d say ‘Bless you’ or pray for them. The entire hospital at one time was COVID. We had ICUs on four different floors. Seeing rows of people on life support and not being able to move was a jaw-dropping experience. You didn’t have time to stop and gaze. The needs were so dire and so imminent. Prayer and support became the apparatus of the day.
“You began to see the rewards of being there; people began to feel supported. If we’re not alone, maybe we can make it. We had 100-plus people showing up for prayer vigils. It encouraged people to pray together and draw strength from each other. We had people from Catholic, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Jewish faiths coming together. It was so tough for the patients being isolated. It was terrifying for them. They needed someone to come spend a few minutes, sometimes shed tears if they needed to.
“For the family, not being able to be there with their loved one, that tore them apart so much, the helplessness they felt. But we stayed together, and we came through it together. It’s about living out one’s faith in practical and effective terms. It’s being where people need you. If people need you to listen, you listen. If people need you to cry with them, you cry with them.”