Perhaps you are familiar with Music Therapy, Therapeutic Touch, Speech Therapy, Physical Therapy, Respiratory Therapy… a host of therapies to enhance the lives of our patients. This week I am enjoying Baseball Therapy. The Major League Baseball season opened this week and many of our patients in their 70s, 80s and 90s now were young boys in the 1920s, 30s and 40s… the days of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey, Mel Ott, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, and Bob Feller just to name a few. Before the days of cell phones and televisions most all boys played baseball at some point in their childhood.
An amazing thing happens when I place a baseball in the hands of, say, a 90 year old male patient with dementia. His eyes sparkle, a smile is ignited, and although he can’t remember what he had for breakfast two hours earlier he begins to talk about what it was like to be a ten-year-old boy listening to a summer’s ballgame on the radio where his childhood hero accomplished feats that the child will never forget. It is as though holding that ball transports him through the decades. Memories not only of the pros, but also his own youthful exploits on the ball field, are retold in vivid color… the sparkling eyes and smile becoming broader all the while.
I have seen this scenario play out several times this week, usually with the same results. Jeremy Hudson says, “Spirituality is that which gives breath to life”, and since that is true then placing that baseball in the hands of a hospice patient can be a spiritual and therapeutic event. Sometimes the memories stirred up are not pleasant ones. On occasion the ball brings up painful childhood memories—recollections of spiritual wounds imposed by the hurtful words of a father or coach—wounds to the spirit of a young boy, some of which are not yet healed. And this often leads to a different conversation… and at times a different kind of healing.
Life review, accomplishments, regrets and confession are often facets of the conversation as a hospice chaplain. And at times this leads to overdue forgiveness, the healing of lifelong spiritual injuries, and ultimately a sense of peace. And being facilitator and witness to these kinds of things is what make me fall in love with my “job” over and over again. And so as springtime unfolds and preparations are being made for Passover and Easter you are likely to see me with a baseball in my hand. Along with the rosary beads and yarmulke it is one more tool in my “Chaplain’s Toolbox”— one more tangible item used in the invisible work of relieving the pain sometimes felt in the human spirit.
I just love it when they say, “Play Ball!”
Chaplain, Spiritual Care Coordinator