By Jerri Jameson, American Red Cross
In times of disaster, many turn to their faith – whatever spiritual path they follow – for comfort and hope.
The American Red Cross fields trained spiritual care teams to support and guide this vital element of disaster response and recovery.
Dr. Diana Levine leads spiritual care outreach for the Gulf Coast Texas Region of the Red Cross. A practicing Naturopathic and Oriental medicine doctor, she has been a Red Cross volunteer since 2009.
“Especially during times of crisis, there’s a gap in the normal faith of life,” Levine said. “Spiritual care provides some type of normalcy so families can move on.” The simple act of listening becomes what she calls “a ministry of presence.”
Levine put that ministry into action with members of an extended family who had lost four loved ones in the early days of Hurricane Harvey flooding.
Believing they were better off than many, two brothers and a brother-in-law went out in a boat to help rescue people in the hard-hit eastern part of Houston. The boat tipped and the three were thrown into the water. The brother-in-law could not find the other two men and eventually made his way home.
A couple days later, after the two men did not appear, two other brothers and another brother-in-law headed out in a boat to search. They were joined by two journalists wanting to report on their efforts. The men finally located the bodies of their relatives; after bringing the bodies to authorities, they headed back out to help others.
That mission turned deadly when their metal boat began to rattle; not realizing the boat had encountered an electrical current, they jumped into the water. The two brothers are electrocuted; the brother-in-law and the two journalists clung to a tree for more than 16 hours awaiting help.
A Red Cross team – including Levine – encountered this grieving family at a funeral home. Gradually, the family was able to share the fact that the two men who survived were having a particularly hard time coping with the tragedy. Survivor’s guilt had set in.
Red Cross caseworker Ozzy Capmany, a member of the team, translated as Levine spent hours with the survivors, “listening,… just listening.” It was Capmany’s opportunity to see the power of spiritual care to help the family engage its own religious strength.
“When you lose your faith, there is no medicine that can help you,” Capmany said. “But the ability and knowledge (of Levine and spiritual care workers) helps provide rapid relief, and helps fix the spirit and soul.” After hours listening to the survivors, Capmany says he could see them “open their hearts and breathe relief.”