Healing from a Distance: Using faith, mindful practices when isolated from loved ones

Published: Apr. 23, 2020 at 7:49 PM CDT
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Brian and Ruth Allen remember the evening of April 10th vividly.

“I had no feeling in the legs,” said Brian Allen. “It was very, very painful in my back.”

Ruth says she stood there terrified after her husband sustained two falls at their Wauankee home.

Because Brian needed to go to the emergency room, paramedics told her she would not be let into the hospital and there would be no point in her following along in her own car.

“They opened the ambulance door one time for me on the side to say goodbye to him,” she recalled.

With therapy and rehabilitation treatment, Brian improved at the UW Health Rehabilitation Center and American Center, doing so without his wife by his side.

“The nights get lonely, the afternoons get very, very lonely,” said Brian. “It’s very, very difficult for her and it’s very, very difficult for me.”

The couple, married for 26 years, communicates through video chats and text messages.

“It’s that nice tight bond that we have that we can communicate and be able to see each other even though we are far away from each other,” said Brian.

Ruth says it’s an emotional struggle to watch her husband recover from afar.

“It affects what you eat and what you do,” she admits. “Sometimes you want to just sleep and other times you just want to be on the phone talking together.”

Mindful Practices

Dr. Richard Davidson, the founder and director of UW Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds, says the range of emotions is normal.

“The real opportunity and challenge is not to get hijacked by those emotions,” Dr. Davidson said. “We can watch them. We can observe them. We can diminish the emotions.”

Davidson suggests creating a mode of expression, such as writing in a journal, drawing, or writing poetry.

He also says research shows expressing appreciation or gratitude for those we love can be beneficial.

“Appreciation is an emotion which is accessible to all of us,” said Davidson. “When we think about it, particularly now during this pandemic, our lives are so dependent on others.”

Another method Davidson recommends is simple meditation practices.

“Envisioning a loved one and thinking about them and envisioning that they’d be safe, healthy, and happy,” he said. “That process of doing it intentionally or even a few minutes a day, we know that we can change our brains and our behavior which can actually have an effect on our biology that may be relevant to our health.”

The Center for Healthy Minds has created an all-encompassing app called the

Finding Faith

Many in this situation are also turning to their faith to help overcome feelings of isolation.

At UW Health, Kendra McIntosh and her team of chaplains are on call 24/7 for patients recovering. She says more than ever before, chaplains are finding ways to connect with family members on the outside.

“Sometimes we’ve been calling and we’re put on speaker phone so that we’re able to speak with a number of family members all at the same time,” McIntosh said. “Sometimes we’re just able to do a one-on-one with the loved ones.”

Andy Karlson, who leads the Pastoral Care Department at St. Mary’s Hospital, says spiritual practices can provide a feeling of community.

“How can we help people remember that we’re all in this together and that we will get through this and we will make a difference?” said Karlson. “We are seeing that there is that need for a greater connection, a need for that sense of purpose that people find through religion and spirituality.”

The chaplains at UW Health and St. Mary’s help facilitate video chats and phone calls with patients and their loved ones, in addition to providing prayer services for many different religions.

Back Home

Brian Allen is now recovering back home with his wife, Ruth. He says they are taking each day one at a time.

Ruth says she’s grateful her husband was able to come home safely.

“He had something that they could give him some therapy for and it wasn’t something extremely extremely serious like a stroke or something like that,” said Ruth.

“We’ve been through a lot,” said Brian. “I just hope and pray that this virus and pandemic can go away soon so that people that are in hospitals and nursing homes can be able to see their loved ones.”