Chava Redonnet’s first day in the office as a St. John’s Chaplain was 13 years ago this coming St. Patrick’s Day and it’s a day she will never forget. Chava chuckles as she recalls the memory of one of her fellow chaplains, Patrick, playing a practical joke on her that day by leaving a very tiny statue of St. Teresa inside a coffee mug on her desk. According to Chava, Patrick was always playing jokes like that. “We had such a wonderful team at that time,” reminisces Chava. And, although some of her original colleagues are no longer working at St. John’s, Chava says that they are still very much friends and part of her inner circle of support.
There is a “different energy here” according to Chava, but this is what makes St. John’s unique. Joining St. John’s after a year-long chaplaincy residency program at Strong Memorial Hospital, where she worked as critical care chaplain, was a bit of a culture change. “Coming here after working at Strong is kind of like you were in New York City and you went to live in a small town,” says Chava. A “small town” where everyone knows your name notes Chava. “I love it. I just love that I can walk down the hall and there are people I know and say ‘hi and good morning’ to and they say ‘hi and good morning’ to me,” says Chava. “And that’s just gold.”
Being able to look around the room at a work gathering and recognize all of your co-workers as friends is valuable to Chava. A self-pronounced “introvert,” Chava says that she has to make a conscious effort to get out of her comfort zone and “check in with people”–those “people” to her being not only staff but also the elder residents and their families. Normally getting replenishment by spending alone time curled up with a good book, Chava’s love for her externally-focused ministry and the people she serves is still very evident.
One of the hardest parts, admits Chava, is “the ever-changing cast of residents.” According to Chava, the repeating pattern of getting to know residents; building meaningful relationships with them; and then having them pass in time; is wearing on a person’s heart. “You really have to be good at taking care of yourself because it is a lot of loss.”
However, Chava recognizes that her feeling a sense of loss comes with this type of chaplaincy at St. John’s. She notes that the nature of this work is different than the acute chaplaincy she still does, time as reported, one or two times a month at Strong. “This kind, is about relationships–building relationships and knowing people over time,” says Chava, who adds “that goes for the families as well as the elders.”
It is these relationships built over time that have provided Chava with true appreciation for her work at St. John’s. “This isn’t just work. This is real life, real connection,” says Chava, who notes that she still gets Christmas cards from the daughter of a resident named Jean, who has since passed away, but with whom Chava spent 7 years building a friendship during her time here.
And now, after more than a decade of doing this work, and aging herself, Chava is finding new ways to connect with residents. “I am at a good place to be a nursing home chaplain,” says Chava, who admits that at her age, “I don’t completely get it, but I get it enough to connect.”
Recognizing the fact that with age comes wisdom is one of the ways that Chava “gets it.” Chava recalls books she has re-read recently that she first read in her youth and movies that she has re-watched, which now seem entirely new to her because of her changed perspective. “Life gets deeper and richer. That is such a crucial message,” says Chava. “The whole story matters.”
It is through her role as a nursing home chaplain that Chava is able to recognize and value an important stage in the lives of the elders around her. “This is valuable work. People still matter even when their lives are coming to their end,” says Chava. “And, our worth as pastors is not based on how long people are going to live after they hear our sermons.”