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 has presented at women’s leadership conferences, the Parish Nurse Association Minnesota, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Augsburg College Integrative Medicine Symposium, and numerous grief, loss, and support organizations.

  • Marilyn Simonsen

    Dear Arlene, I’m thinking of you today and remembering all the good times we have shared.

  • Marilyn Simonsen

    Dear Arlene, I’m thinking of you today and sending love and prayers.

  • Caroline Merrick

    I know this is hard and I am thinking of you.

  • Michael S Sharp

    Hi Dave Stephanie sent me a nice gathering of different Up North Wisconsin pictures put on a canvas type frame. Thought of all the good times we had up there. Sherry always went in the lake very slowly down the pier ladder, not like us diving in that cold lake???Mike

  • Steven R Ross

    Wonderfully helpful – thanks.

  • Jo

    Singing seems to be one way to heal during and after a crisis. I know for myself I went to my choir rehearsal the night my husband died – we were singing a concert of “Songs of Love and Life” and just being there and not telling anyone about what had happened gave me peace and comfort to cope with what had already been and what was going to be a tough time ahead. Since then, I have been a hospice volunteer and quietly singing of appropriate music that might be meaningful to a particular individual can be a beautiful way to provide comfort to a dying patient, hearing being one of the last things to leave someone. Music is especially powerful for those with Alzheimer’s disease. Those songs (especially hymns) learned in younger and healthier days stay in ones gut and can be remembered and sung again.

  • kenneth

    Our family is praying and trust God for his total healing!

  • Glenda LaVay

    Thinking of you Hank. Hope each day gives you more strength. Hello to Beth!

  • LeRoy and Agnes Luft

    It has been so interesting to read your words. I find them uplifting even as you are going through much uncertainty and life changing experiences. You seem to be able to appreciate the beauty of a sunset, the caring of your family and also make us feel we are in the moment with you and those you love and staying positive.

  • Ann Linthicum CUMC member

    Hi, Amy and Zack. Thinking of all you and praying for peace and healing. My friend, Margaret Lackey does not use the internet so I write our your messages from Caring Bridge and give them to her because she prays for Sadie everyday as do many others, of course. ❤️?

  • Wilson Anders

    Thinking Of You and Praying that the Mri goes well tomorrow , We love you Grammy and Pop Pop

  • Louise

    Although I know it’s well-meaning, it doesn’t help to hear” Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” I love it when friends actually DO something – the RN who answers the phone in the middle of the night if I I need help; the neighbor who takes out the garbage bins without my asking; the friend who takes my husband for an outing. Small things maybe for them, HUGE for me.

  • Rev. Rebecca Freise

    Love is a great healer. Love comes from the Divine. Life is a journey of allowing that Divine presence in. Sometimes the soul, the heart or the body is healed. I surround you in the light of Divine intelligence and Divine Healer. Knowing you are a sweet child of God deserving this loving presence. If you are okay with it, I would like to visit you.

  • Casaand neyer

    We are going through a hard time trying to get through this first month following the still birth of our baby girl on 6/19/2019

  • Joyce

    Johnny,think of you multiple times each day!

    Hugs to you and Jennifer!

  • Pamela Ungerleider

    Your words of wisdom completely fall under the category of a PTSD syndrome that I have suffered from since I was a young child. Even though it may not fall under the category of losing a child I believe that stress, loss and tragedy of any kind can truly cause people to shut down and struggle with anxiety, depression and yes even suicidal ideation.
    I admire your work greatly and appreciate all that you do for these struggling parents ,grandparents,siblings, friends and other relatives.
    As a Critical Care Registered Nurse myself I too sometimes struggle with what to say on how to help my patients and their family members search for comfort. It really is not an easy task at hand .
    Your words have helped me greatly and I look forward to reading your books. God bless.

  • Donna Blauw

    Someone to come and take you out of the hospital for a time and just be with you. Waiting to hear how your family member is doing and finding distraction is not easy. Caring friends to visit make a long hospital stay easier.

  • Shirley Decker

    Carolyn, Billy and I are praying for you several times throughout the day. We feel so helpless, not knowing what we can do to help you. I just want you to know that Our Father in Heaven is very much aware of you and He loves you. We trust in our Savior Jesus Christ to do what is best for you. Know that we love you so much and we want what is best for you. Thanks to Tim for keeping us updated.

  • Joyce Worrill

    thank you for sharing. Only a few minutes ago, a precious friend called in a moment of crisis regarding the health of her 92 year old mom. I am going to get a copy of the book: “If I Could Mend Your Heart.”

  • Ruth Pasker

    Thinking of you today and every day, Mya. Praying for strength and courage for you. Take advantage of our bad winter weather to stay inside and get rest.

  • Wanda Kiefer

    Someone to answer my phone and make my necessary phone calls during a crisis. Somone to just SIT with me while i wait for a special support person to arrive. Bring a dish of food, chips, drinks, etc so i don’t have to cook. Someone to keep a list of food/items brought so i can send thank yous and return dishes preferrible bring disposable dishes. Baby sit youg children

  • Dorothy Tate

    Hope you’re doing good today Lori!

  • Paula M Erickson

    I suffered a stillbirth of my son, Bryce, at 32 weeks. What helped me most was having individuals who had been through similar loss share their heartache and pain. Sometimes, that meant sitting in silence, acknowledging that what I had been through was horrible. I wouldn’t wish the death of a child on anyone. No parent wants to “outlive” their child. Allowing me space to cry and talk was helpful too. Their is no set timeframe or method for grief. It’s different for every person. I will continue to follow Bennet’s and Cohen’s development. They’re both in wonderful care right now. What a blessing! Their parents love them dearly!!

  • Rebecca Bierman

    I wanted some things to say to my friend

  • Chris Kuntz

    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

    Sr. Ann you are a blessing to us ; you are in our prayers !

  • CML Schultheis

    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

    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

    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…