Rev. Cheryl Leshay, M.Div., Chaplain, Pastoral Care, UMass Memorial Medical Center
As one of our hospital chaplains, Rev. Cheryl Leshay helps patients and families through anxiety, grief, loss and life-changing situations—sometimes all in one day. "We help people during their most vulnerable times," Cheryl said. "We help them make tough decisions. We help them navigate grief. We're also there to help them celebrate. Our job is to give people hope."
A Cherokee Indian, Cheryl grew up in Oklahoma in a family of healers. "My family has always been in medicine," she said. "So when I went to divinity school, I was drawn to clinical pastoral education." Cheryl meets with patients throughout the UMass Memorial Health Care system. A Unitarian Universalist minister, she gives counsel to people from all religions as well as to those who do not worship at all. "As chaplains, we're trained to serve everybody, whether they have religion or not," she said. "We serve the spiritually non-religious, which is our largest group."
Being a spiritual caregiver means listening, offering comfort, and helping people find strength. Cheryl leads patients through guided meditation and refers them to religious resources in their communities, if needed. "I help people find the resources and resilience they have inside of themselves," she said. "We see miracles in the little conversations and the big conversations. God lives in the hospital, for me."
Cheryl educates staff on caring for patients whose religious views may affect how they cope with sickness, dying and death. She also comforts staff that, in their work as caregivers, experience loss and grief. She has performed emergency baptisms and hospital bedside weddings, where someone is not expected to survive. And when people are dying, she is there, by their side. "We help them find their legacy and to finish their lives with no regrets, so their passing is as peaceful as possible."
Cheryl is grateful for the opportunity to help people when they need her most. "Helping people energizes me," she said. She brings humor and joy to her work, as sometimes that's the best medicine for patients. She wants everyone she meets to know, "You don't have to go through this alone."