Quietly Building a Friendship

Friday, February 24, 2023

BSVM’s 5 program pillars give structure and provide a foundation for our individual and communal reflections throughout a year of service and spiritual formation. Each pillar has characteristics on which we focus specific attention, and each pillar intersects and interlocks with the values and content of the other pillars. 

Read below about the ways in which BSVM alum Mark Conforti (BSVM ’19-’20) found intersections between pillars as he developed community with a patient in his site at Richmond Community Hospital. His insights contribute to how he learned through service with others and how he quietly built a friendship through his consistent ministry of presence. This reflection was first published in The Companion, Issue 30, Winter 2020.

Mark catches up with Michele, the Nurse Manager

Quietly Building a Friendship
By Mark Conforti, BSVM 2019-2020
A graduate of Villanova University

“Checkmate,” Bob* chuckled. I looked up in shock to see a soft grin on the man sitting right across the table. I laughed off the defeat and said, “Wow, I didn’t even see that one coming!” Bob gave a sigh of relief while scratching his greying beard. As he repositioned himself in his chair he asked, “So are you up for another one?”

When I first started my service in the inpatient unit, I met a patient named Bob. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, he was on comfort care and the case management team worked tirelessly to look for a place to have him stay when he was discharged from the hospital. When I had the chance to sit down and chat with Bob, I was captivated by many of his life stories and experiences. He shared about his previous collection of over 3000 DVDs, his carpentry skills, and told the story of jumping out of planes during his time in the military. Although Bob faced a terminal condition and was told many times that he would die within a few months, he continued wanting to improve and grow. He told me that before I met him, he was weak and confined to a bed, but he was determined to keep up his strength. Every morning and afternoon, I would see him walk around the corridors of the hospital floor, committed to complete his 20 laps so that his strength would not deteriorate. Sometimes, I would join Bob for these walks. Nurses and floor techs rooted him on by asking what lap he was on or whether he was up for a race.

Bob carried such positive energy throughout the floor that it was easy for him to make friends with many of the hospital employees. I saw how much the hospital staff cared as they purchased water flavor for Bob to encourage his fluid intake, and saw how a staff member gifted him with a chess-checkerboard game set. I had never played chess before. Once Bob learned this, he wanted to teach me how to play. Most of my visits following this gift consisted of us playing chess together. During these games, we did not talk that much. We just sat and concentrated, mostly on our next move. But there were times that I appreciated this silence. I would often struggle to make a decision on what move to make, and it would ultimately take me minutes to decide what to do next. When my bouts of indecision were prolonged, I would look up to see Bob smiling and laughing and asking me, “So, what are you going to do next?”

Eventually, case management found a home for Bob to be discharged to, and I realized that I would need to say good-bye to a good friend. Although I was upset to say good-bye, I knew Bob’s new home would give him the independence that he would never be able to achieve in the hospital. Once he left, I realized that I not only missed the conversations we had shared, but also the silences. It was in those moments in Bob’s room that I learned to appreciate the little things about him, like the way his laugh carries or the way he looks when he is deep in thought. I may not see Bob on the hospital floor again, but the life that he shared with me allowed me to see how I can share my life with others.

A core part of our ministry is to develop community, not only with my fellow volunteers, but also with our community here in Richmond. To connect with another person and build a meaningful relationship, I realized that I must make myself vulnerable and see grace and beauty in the vulnerabilities of others. You never really know a person until you begin to understand the challenges they have faced and the burdens they bear. When we see the struggles of another, we understand who they are: their personality, their strengths, their passion. As I saw Bob grappling with his diagnosis, I saw a man who set out to improve the life that he had. As I think of my good-bye to Bob, I am grateful for the time I did get to know him. And even if I may not know exactly how is doing now, I know that his positive energy has made a lasting impact on my own life.

Mark used music to connect with patients at the hospital

*Note: Patient name has been changed.

Mark carols with his fellow Ministry Volunteers