By Carol Bamesberger
We were a team of chaplains called forth to serve in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. We were deployed to assist the families of Staten Island, Coney Island and the other shore areas of New York.
We came from 13 states, members of NACC, APC, NAJC and the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy (CPSP).
We were four women and nine men.
We were blessed with training, compassion, energy, a willingness to serve and a calling to be there.
Our main goal was to be a part of integrated care teams and to provide pastoral care to each family of someone who died as a result of this storm. The magnitude of destruction of this storm created significant roadblocks in acquiring information. The area we were covering sustained major damage to records and information centers. Clearly this hampered our process.
On our integrated care team calls, the chaplain was often the one designated to approach the family first. I would kneel before them and touch their hand as I offered them our condolences. On receiving this gift, the doors opened for the individuals to share the story of their loved one and their own struggle with this horrific storm. In this sharing of the story, the nurse and case manager often heard the answers to many of the questions necessary for their forms. This created a sacred space in which we were there to meet their needs lovingly and simply.
One of my biggest gifts in deployment was the power of the team. Our teams were amazing. Each morning we would meet at 7 a.m. at Cosmic Diner near New York City’s Times Square for a planning and team support breakfast. From this space, we sent small teams to different areas to be with and serve the community. How this was done took on many forms, but through it all we aimed to transmit hope and peace as we walked among survivors.
One of our teams identified an area of 2,000 apartments in the disaster area that had received no services. Within an hour our chaplains called headquarters and deployed Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles with food, water, supplies and ongoing services. When the food arrived one of our team raced to the top of each building announcing the arrival of help.
We visited area churches, synagogues, and temples, and met with the clergy. Doing so, we identified areas of need and walked with individuals through the pain. We were invited to serve and be at the table for a Thanksgiving dinner in a large church. While serving, we provided comfort and peace along with potatoes and gravy!
We were often called upon to be a calm in the storm for the American Red Cross staff and volunteers at headquarters. Daily they approached us with requests for counseling and assistance in debriefing. They would share their stories and we were there to listen, to offer compassion, and to draw forth the strength of their own religious convictions. At the headquarters’ Thanksgiving meal, a rabbi and I were invited to give the blessing. What a joy to be able to offer thanks and bless these incredible Red Cross angels who left family and friends to meet the needs of others.
Clearly we were “One world… one family… one…humankind!”
Carol Bamesberger is a retired NACC chaplain from Los Angeles, CA. According to Timothy Serban, Disaster Spiritual Care Lead of the American Red Cross, she not only covered the disaster spiritual care operations in New York for Wave 2 following Hurricane Sandy, but extended her departure for an additional week in order to ensure a complete transition in leadership.