At Saint Elisabeth Convent, Elena Dubovik is a sister of mercy. In her ministry, she seeks to bring sick and suffering the joy of God's love and thus empower them to endure the hardships and sorrows that befall them. We asked her how her service gives inspiration and hope to the patients and helps them recover and how it changed her life.
Knowing that someone loves us gives us the power to live
After my conversion in 1998, I attended Father Andrey Lemeshonok's talks with the laity at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul. At one of the talks, a sister of mercy asked me if I would be interested in doing ministry at the mental health clinic in Novinki. I received the blessing of Father Andrey and began my visits.
Coming to the wards, I did not feel awkward, uneasy or hesitant. However, one thing that caught my eye was the sadness of many of the patients. In the ward, there was a piano and several patients who could play it. Together, we began to sing songs about friendship from children’s films and cartoons. Soon, the sadness gave way to joy and a sense of peace and comfort. Singing together returned us to the happy times of our childhood filled with happiness and love.
This experience showed me how badly we suffer from the shortage of love in our lives. Many patients depended on the love and affection of their families and friends. I wanted them to know how much God loved them. Knowing that someone loves you gives you the power to endure your hardships with humility. Together, we prayed, read the gospel and wrote prayer notes for the patients’ families and kin. Some had difficulty remembering the names and were very happy when they succeeded. For some, it might take hours of walking around before they would finally remember and call out the name. “I remember! At last!” they would exclaim.
God's love and grace touched the hearts of many of the patients, and the change in them was visible. Some started coming for confessions and communions. Over a short time, the number of patients who took communion grew from five to twenty. In general, I would say that every generation has its sorrows. Some have known the horrors of the war and enemy occupation. For our contemporaries, it is mostly health problems. At all times, we must endure our trials with patience and humility, helping others. Love always gives us the strength to continue.
Sympathising with others is a way of coping
In addition to patients of the mental clinic, I also started visiting the wards of the tuberculosis hospital. Its patients were from different cities, and their families could not visit them as often as they wished. It broke my heart to see young women aged 17 - 18 who had had a portion of their lungs removed. Sadly, some patients did not survive. Lung infection is full of uncertainties. Unlike cancer patients, patients with tuberculosis patients are less aware of death. They continue to take their medicines, and things seem to be going their normal course when suddenly their condition deteriorates.
Many have poor appetite from taking antibiotics, but they need to eat well to recover. I worked hard to make them eat. I cooked food at home and shared it with the patients. They also shared some of their food with me. Frequently, I would come to see them after work, and they would open a tin and say to me, “Sit down and help yourself.” By taking care of one another, we added joy to our lives.
I realised how hard it is for many to accept the circumstances of their lives and come to terms with them. However, those who succeed, find peace within themselves, stop panicking and begin to notice other people and offer them help. As they are helping others, they also help themselves.
There are many ways of giving help - by offering a handkerchief to someone in a coughing bout, sharing food, or opening the window to let in some fresh air. Letting others sense the grace of God is also a great way to help and speed up the recovery.
At the tuberculosis clinic, I told the patients about the hardships of the mental patients, and I spoke to the mental patients about the pains of the sufferers from tuberculosis. Both listened and said, “And we thought that we could not have it any worse!” When we sympathise with others, we cope better with our hardships.
God gives us the energy to endure
You might ask me where I get the energy to continue what I am doing. Sometimes, I feel weak and exhausted. However, even in these moments of weakness, I always feel the Lord’s help. He feels me with His energy as soon as I walk through the hospital door. He puts into my mouth the right words to reassure and raise the spirits of every patient.
The Lord energises me to share the joy with all who rejoice and the grief with those who grieve. He empowers me to pass around His love by serving others. He shows me how to cheer up another and gives me the strength to come with my troubles. I am grateful to God for my sense of belonging to Him and my kindred spirits. All the sisters are different, but they are happy to be in the same sisterhood because there is unity among us.
The Danish author Hans Andersen wrote a beautiful tale about the necklace of life Made up of many pearls. It had the pearls of health and joy, grief and sorrow. Each of us is busy putting together the necklace of our life and adding more pearls to it.