Alone but not Lonely: An interview with the head sister of the home-care service of St. Elisabeth Convent

An interview with Sister Anna, the head sister of the home-care service of St. Elisabeth Convent.

- Sister Anna, how was the home-care service organized?

The spiritual father of the convent, archpriest Andrew, had been considering organizing a rest home at the Convent for quite a long time.

Two years ago he blessed the sisterhood to learn about home-care services.What we learned was that there were several commercial organizations providing such service, but their staff was not always qualified enough. At the same time, at the churches there are groups of people, who voluntarily help people in need, the weak and the lonely.

- What the home-care service did start with?

Together with the former head sister we were blessed to deal with this obedience. We took out advertisements about our service, and as soon as we got first requests for help, we started our work.

- Who are your patients? Who do you visit and help?

They are absolutely different people: the ill, the elderly, the lonely, the disabled – all who need help and support. But most often these people need communication.

- How many sisters are currently engaged in your home-care service?

Different people come to us and we give employment to them. But I always draw their attention to the fact that this is not just a job, but our ministry. Sometimes the volunteers, who can help 2-3 times a week, come and stay with the patients for several hours. The amount of the sisters began to increase quite rapidly. In 6 months 15 new sisters came, and today there are 25 of them.

- Have you gone through a special nursing course? Do you have any specific education?

I read in a church newspaper that in the Church of the icon of the Mother of God “The Joy of All who Sorrow” there was Sister Galina, who was also dealing with home-care service. With the blessing of our spiritual father I called Sister Galina and asked her to teach me, how to take care of disabled people. Together we visited the home of an ill old lady. That was my training and obedience at the same time.

- What were the difficulties you faced when you began your social work?

At the very beginning we faced serious problems because we  lacked financial support and because there were only a few of us. Once we were invited to help a woman, who was released from the hospital after she had had a stroke. Her relatives could not look after her, while the sister from our service could help her only for two hours a day. We did everything we could to help, however, the woman died from blood poisoning.

After we finished the private course with Sister Galina, we decided to go through the course organized by the House of Mercy. Last year 14 of our sisters have finished this course, and today 16 of them have certificates which allow them to look after severely ill people.

What is more, we went through the course in psychology. Today we also visit special lectures which are held for us. We always try to improve ourselves and develope new skills, because the level of living of our patients depends on how good a sister can care for a person, on the level of our education as the sisters from the home-care service. You can either turn a person into a vegetable, or help him recover by using all his corporal and spiritual resources.

The sisters should understand, what the illness a person suffers from, and how they can cope with this illness. We learn how to transport severely ill people, how to wash them and feed them. The sisters who work in the home-care service are the sisters of charity. They come to different families, where people are different as well. Some of them are unfaithful, while some of them were baptized but did not attend a church since childhood, let alone that in some families there are internal conflicts between the family members. You see, a person was living quietly, but when he suddenly got sick, and faced a completely different way of life. Obviously, in such cases his attitude and character changes, and his soul hurts. The relatives are often on the verge of stress, as they do not know how to behave with an ill person. This is why a sister should know how to help them both physically and spiritually.

- Why do people refer to you for help?

It seems to me they think that if the home-care service is organized by the Convent, then the sisters working there are kind, merciful and responsible. People feel they can trust our sisters. They start to search for a service on the internet and find information about us. They just call us, while we conceive each call as a signal from God. If a family asks us for help, then we should go and do our best to help these people. People may think they get to us by chance, but we have a different view.   

- Have you ever had the cases, when people turned to God due to the help they got from the sisters?

Once we were invited to an old man, his name was Valeriy. He was a very angry man, who cursed all the time. He suffered from bed sored, had a fractured femoral neck, epilepsy and a blood-stroke. When he saw our sister he was scared and asked for their ID cards, because there was a conflict in the family: his relatives were sharing an inherited house. His niece could not look after him, while his wife was about to have a nervous breakdown. We took a decision to send our brother Igor to help the man.

First of all, he did his best to provide the patient with good care: a comfortable bed, a clean room... He also cured his bed sores and other wound. At the same time brother Igor began to pray for his patient when he would visit him, and a bit later Valeriy learned the Lord’s prayer with his help. Finally, in seven months time, the man agreed to partake of the Holy Communion.

There has been another case recently. A woman asked for help. Her Mother, Helen, had a stroke. After that she was lying on her bed and did not say a word. I came to her, cared for her, but as soon as we started to talk about God, she turned aside. Sometime afterwards her condition began to get worse and she was near death. We all tried to assure her to partake of  The Holy Communion and invited a priest, but the old lady refused. Then one of the sisters kneeled near her bed and asked her, whether she wanted her own mother to partake of the Holy Sacraments before her death or not. Helen said yes and began to recall certain moments from her past. Finally, she agreed to partake of the Holy Communion. In a couple of days she died.

Later we learned from her relatives, that her mother was a faithful woman and worked as a warden in the church. Helen attended the church in her childhood, but later she became an atheist and the leader of an atheist movement. In the end of her life, God showed His mercy and allowed her to pass away after she had partaken of the Holy Communion.

One more story. We came to another old lady, Rimma. She had multiple fractures and suferred from memory loss. She was very weak and did not realize what happened, that is why her relatives had to tie her to the bed. Her husband who loved her very much nursed her. However, everything he was able to do was to cook for her, while she needed constant skilled care. Neither the old lady nor the old man visited the church and partook of the Communion.

Our sisters sat by her bedside day and night. Little by little, old Rimma began to recognize the nurses by their kerchiefs, started to respond and partake of the Holy Communion. The sisters looked after the old lady untill her death. When her coffin stood in our church and the old man sat by it, I came closer to console him. He was crying his eyes out, but he was very grateful for the help as well. He said: “As my Rimma died I do not want anything, but to visit the church”. Such moments remind me that we do not come to people in vain. 

By the way, when our patients die, sisters do not leave the post. They stay nearby until a person is buried and constantly read the Psalter.  There are moments when a daughter calls in the morning and says that her mother died and a sister does not need to come to them. However, a sister visits them anyways and stays untill the very end. She helps to wash the body and calls a priest.

- Is there anything we can do to support your social ministry?

We are especially interested in products for care and medical equipment. Together with patients whose relatives support our ministry, there are also patients with extremely low income. This is why we need financial support to provide them with necessary care, as well as for further development of our service and education, and finally for special uniforms for our sisters.

You can support the ministry of the home-care service of St. Elisabeth Convent any time by ordering from the Catalogue of Good Deeds or Donating below.

Help support the ministry of St. Elisabeth Convent