How to Point–Gently–Toward Healing

Mary Farr, left, with JoAnn Hardegger, mother of Baby Brighid, the namesake of CaringBridge, at a November 2017 event marking the 20th anniversary of CaringBridge and launch of the How We Heal series.

Pediatric hospital chaplain and ordained minister Mary Farr’s new book, “If I Could Mend Your Heart,” has a deep connection to the very essence of CaringBridge.

Mary was a chaplain-on-duty in June 1997, at Children’s Hospital, Minnesota, when JoAnn Hardegger was put on in-patient bedrest during the 23rd week of her pregnancy. Mary provided spiritual and emotional care to JoAnn and her husband, Darrin Swanson, as they hoped and prayed for their baby’s safe delivery.

As Mary kept vigil with JoAnn and Darrin, the couple’s college friend, Sona Mehring, launched a website to keep family and friends updated. Baby Brighid came into the world on June 7, 1997, as did CaringBridge.

Brighid was so fragile; her time on Earth lasted just 9 days. But CaringBridge, named in her honor, is Brighid’s legacy.

Mary Farr, a retired pediatric hospital chaplain, said, “We are all invited to walk one another home when the night looks and feels completely dark.”

And “If I Could Mend Your Heart” is a tribute to JoAnn and Darrin, and families everywhere in need of healing.

“In many ways, JoAnn and Darrin were a catalyst for me writing this book,” Mary said. “I wrote a version of it way back when, soon after my experience with them.”

In the 20 years between Mary’s original manuscript and its re-publication in 2017, she has devoted her life to exploring the worlds of hope and healing, as a chaplain, minister and author of four other books on the upheavals of life.

She calls “If I Could Mend Your Heart” a gentle promise that sunrise truly does follow midnight.

“When people have been through a health crisis, there is such a tender piece of time when they might not be up for reading a self-help manual,” Mary said. “This book gently points toward healing. It doesn’t tell them they will be fine, but honors what they have been through. It is a quiet walk with them.”

Mary said that even after a career of walking beside families during a health crisis, she still marvels at the simple and complex topic of how we heal.

In her book, she expresses it this way: “If I could mend your heart, I would promise not to say, ‘Look how well you’re handling things,’ or ‘Cheer up, God wouldn’t give you more than you could handle,’ or ‘You’ll be over this soon.’

“Instead, I would whisper in your ear, ‘We live in a fragile and imperfect world tinged by brokenness and cloaked in unanswered questions. Some things truly aren’t fair. This is hard.'”

In her experience, Mary has seen people choose to heal, even when restored health is not an outcome. And she has seen others choose to take steps that are likely to foster healing.

For families whose hearts are open to healing, and for those who deeply wish to help, Mary offers these words of wisdom:

  • “In difficult times, we are not being punished by the universe. Our lives are part of a whole. We can anticipate and count on future good. It may not be the same light, but it can be a light. This is where I like to point people.”
  • “A bishop at a conference I attended said that our real purpose in life is to walk one another home. You have an open invitation to walk beside someone during a journey. Make meaning of it.”
  • “We need to learn to be courageous, both in asking for help and accepting help. If you find this frightening or uncomfortable, think of the many doorways you can enter through. The work of healing begins after the crisis. Be present for that.”

What Help Have You Found to be Helpful?
Everyone has a different experience; we’d love to hear what kinds of things you have found to be most helpful during a health journey. Please add your thoughts in the “Comment” section directly below.

A former director of chaplaincy at Children’s Hospital Minnesota, Mary has written five books, including “If I Could Mend Your Heart,” and presented at women’s leadership conferences, Parish Nurse Association Minnesota, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Augsburg College Integrative Medicine Symposium, and numerous grief, loss, and support organizations.

Comments (5)

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Chris Kuntz Nov 27, 2018 3:47pm
My first born grandchild yanked me back to seeing the good things in life. She was just 7 months old when Mom died. I realized I would much rather play with her, watch her smile, and enjoy witnessing her milestones growing up. It was better than being sad all the time about something I could not change. I worked through the stages of grief -- and slowly went on. I still go to the cemetery and leave flowers on special days. Now I can smile at the memories of her. Mom was sick for a long time. Most of us could see that her condition was deteriorating. She did what she could to stay with us as long as she could, before she landed in the ICU for the last time. I think taking small bits of time here and there to experience the good stuff along the way (no matter how small) helped to refuel my reserve before each new stumbling block emerged. It certainly gave her moments of joy. We tried as a family to continue our usual celebrations with Mom, adjusting as necessary, for what she was able to do and to enjoy. My sister and I cooked Thanksgiving meal while others kept her out of the kitchen and amused. We bought gifts for the Christmas tree in secret for her to give when she could no longer leave the house. We spent time with her every chance we could and laughed a lot when silly things came up. We phoned in to listen to whatever she wanted to talk about that day. We enjoyed her while she was here. She would periodically pull out a box of cards,well wishes, and prayer reminders from family and friends. She looked through them with a smile on her face. All these things helped to get us through the tough times.
Brian du Quesnay Nov 25, 2018 9:31pm
Sr. Ann you are a blessing to us ; you are in our prayers !
CML Schultheis Aug 05, 2018 3:31pm
I lost my 34 year old son last August 14, 2017. Its coming up on a year. Counseling helped, especially faith-based group grief share. Its been quite a journey. I was a single mom for all of his life and an educator. I have a daughter and two grandkids. They keep me going. I am retired now and have a loving husband. You just never know when grief was rear its ugly head. Just take it a day at a time and do self care.
Marla and Keith Saathoff Aug 04, 2018 1:35pm
We lost our son at age 22 as a passenger in a car wreck. We have grown stronger in our grief over almost 23 years.
Sonia Jan 29, 2018 10:25am
I love this article! One thing that has helped me is to remember that life is a rollercoaster. It will have ups and downs, some more extreme than others. Don't pretend it isn't happening, you might fall out. Hang on TIGHT and scream, laugh, shout...