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Caryn Siegel, a spiritual care volunteer for JFCS’ Jewish Chaplaincy Services serving Stanford Medicine, has been dedicating her time to supporting hospital patients for fifteen years. Caryn offers her patients a compassionate presence and a listening ear. She also brings insight from a very personal experience.
In 1987, Caryn’s son, Ilan, was born at Stanford Hospital severely disabled. Ilan was in and out of Stanford’s Intensive Care Unit for the next seventeen years of his life. Caryn vividly remembers sitting in the hospital with her husband, Mark, over the years—the two of them feeling very alone.
When Ilan passed away in 2004, Caryn felt that the best way to honor his memory was to be there to support other hospital patients and families. She decided to become a spiritual care volunteer so that others would not feel so alone.
Jewish Chaplaincy Services volunteers go through extensive training and certification from Stanford Health Care and from JFCS, and must abide by many regulations to make sure they are fully prepared to support those they serve. Volunteers not only provide a warm presence for hospital patients and their families, they also offer spiritual comfort in times of anguish and uncertainty.
Caryn admits that she may never know the impact she makes by visiting with a family. Yet, there are also wonderful surprises that come years later when least expected. Once, for example, she ran into the wife of a former patient at a social event. The wife thanked Caryn for talking with her and singing a mi sheberach when her husband was so sick—that single moment with Caryn had restored her hope and helped her through a difficult day at the hospital.
Chaplain Bruce Feldstein MD, BCC, Director of JFCS’ Jewish Chaplaincy Services, says, “Caryn brings a quality of listening that creates a special connection with patients. She is a Gute Neshome—Yiddish for a Good Soul.”
One very meaningful connection came when Caryn was visiting a hospital patient around Yom Kippur. The patient started the conversation off by telling Caryn that he was not religious. She said that was perfectly OK, and shared a gift bag that she had brought him. As they talked about life and the items in the bag, he asked her to plug in the yahrzeit candle that was included. As it glowed by the bedside table, he mentioned that his father had died five years prior around Yom Kippur. He began to open up, sharing stories with Caryn about his relationship with his beloved father and confessing his fears about being in the hospital.
During the pandemic, it has been a challenge to provide in-person support to those in the hospital, but Jewish Chaplaincy Services volunteers are still finding ways to connect. Bruce says that Caryn, an excellent organizer, is helping to redesign the program so that volunteers can make phone visits with patients and families. She and other volunteers are also preading spiritual comfort to own communities by writing cards and doing personal work with people in their neighborhoods and families.
Caryn says that she is grateful to be there for families during this especially vulnerable time—though she looks forward to getting back to hospital visits and being able to hold someone’s hand when it’s needed.
Caryn says, “I’m so thankful that I can be there for patients and families, even if it’s just a phone call now. Whether it’s spiritual support, listening to fears, or occasionally just helping someone find a good corned beef sandwich – I know they are not alone.”
Learn more about JFCS’ Jewish Chaplaincy Services serving Stanford Medicine >
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