The job of a hospital chaplain is an emotional rollercoaster that can run from hopeful highs to grieving lows with a gamut of feelings in between. Typically, it’s all in a day’s work, and chaplains like CHI Mercy’s Tim Skelly are trained and ready to help patients and staff through whatever any particular day will bring.
But nothing could have prepared Skelly for the seemingly endless days he and the entire Mercy staff endured when an already difficult 2021 turned unimaginable due to the impact of the Covid 19 Delta variant.
“It was a pretty scary couple of months,” Skelly says, “but it was also inspiring to see how incredible the Mercy staff was during that time. Seeing so many people rise up during a time like that made me realize I work with some of the most incredible people on the planet.”
As one of Mercy’s chaplains, Skelly’s role is to provide support to patients, families and staff alike. He is the only full-time member of the hospital’s pastoral care department but is supported by the part-time assistance of Father Cletus Osuji and chaplains Sabin Gautreau and Derick Anderson. During the most trying days of 2021, he and his team also received invaluable help from two bereavement chaplains from the National Guard.
“They provided important help in the hospital outside of the ICU/PCU (intensive care and progressive care units), where I was spending most of my time,” Skelly says.
Skelly and his team did their best to provide encouragement and support to patients and families, either at the bedside or over the phone, since family members often could not be present with their hospitalized loved ones. “I spent a lot of time holding my phone next to patients’ ears, talking with or praying with them and their families.”
Even though it was an extremely trying time, Skelly says there were many moments of “wonder and amazement.”
“It was a time when I got to see a lot of strength and faith and family connection,” he says.
The experience also led to Skelly and others on the Mercy staff forging their own deep connections with families, many of which he says he still maintains.
Skelly says he grew in his faith and gained an even greater appreciation for the people he works with than he had before.
“I was so impressed by the strength of the Mercy team and the leadership of our administration,” he says. “It also was a confirmation of the faith that I have, which was as powerful and helpful as I had always hoped it would be through a difficult time like this. And I learned so much about the resilience of humanity that enabled so many people to push through some dark days and still carry on and find meaning and see goodness.”