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Asking the clergy about counseling the sick

Statistics say that everyone will either have a serious illness, or care for someone who has one. Unfortunately, many people go into the situation without knowing quite how to help themselves or the person who is suffering. Because clergy regularly spend time ministering to the sick, we asked our clergy how best to provide comfort to those in need.

Marie McNair, Baha'is of Long Island,

East Patchogue:

It is a combination of what I would do and what we would talk about. The most important thing we can do is to listen with compassion.

Baha'i teachings tell us that happiness is a great healer. We should visit the sick and show them love and kindness. Doing this can have a greater effect than the medical remedy itself.

In terms of the illness, I'd council them to seek physical and spiritual healing. Consulting a doctor and getting treatment is important, but so is prayer. There are many Baha'i prayers for healing. I would pray for and with those who are ill. I'd also assure them that illness doesn't affect the soul. I would help them understand that faith can help us find the wisdom in our suffering.

You have to remember that the person may feel alone and may need someone to reach out to. The person's faith can be shaken when he or she doesn't understand why they're suffering. You have to help them to a new level of understanding of their new physical and spiritual reality. We're in this world to develop our spiritual attributes. We don't always see the lesson that God is teaching. It may not be just for our benefit but for the benefit of those around us, as well.

Rabbi Steven Moskowitz, Jewish Congregation of Brookville, Jericho:

In Judaism, we believe in doctors. We don't ascribe to a faith that is without science and modern medicine. So, the first order of business is to make sure the person is getting the right medicine and science.

Then, we would deal with the practical. Can I help them in any way to find the right doctors? Do they need assistance with transportation to medical appointments? Do they need someone to sit with them in their home? Do they need someone to sit with them at a doctor's appointment?

Sometimes, people think going to the rabbi or other clergy is the last resort. We can be supportive throughout the person's illness, even for practical assistance. And the things I mentioned earlier can be done by any individual, not just a member of the clergy.

Yes, we can pray with them, and our hope is that prayer offers strength and comfort. Judaism certainly has prayers for the sick, but I strongly believe that every situation is unique, and we shouldn't try to find prayers or words that fit a formula. Each person is different. Each illness is different. I have to listen to the person about what he or she needs. Don't rush in thinking you can solve their problems. Don't assume you know how someone feels. Avoid the cliches, such as "I know how you feel" or "All things happen for a reason."

The Rev. Kathleen Kufs, children's minister, Gathering of Light Multifaith Spiritual Fellowship, Dix Hills:

The question brings me back to the time when I was working as a chaplain in a hospital. It is really about listening to find out where the person is in the process. You need to find out what they're feeling. Do they have any fears? Then, you can offer them compassion, love, patience and strength to deal with whatever they're feeling at the time.

I'd remind them that there's always light in the darkness, both from inside them and from God above. I'd encourage them to enjoy the simple pleasures that they still have in their life: the sun rising in the morning, the moon at night. I'd try to help them see that they still have blessings in their life.

But the most important thing I can do is to listen, to hear them in their grief. Are they feeling pain, anger, disbelief? Eventually you have to help the person take his or her mind off the dark things and stay focused on the light. Sometimes, the person isn't ready for prayers. As a clergy, I understand that prayer may not be able to penetrate because of where they are in the process. Maybe what I need to do is just to be there with them.

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