The Importance of Encouragement

The Importance of Encouragement

At the age of 40 I became pregnant with my fourth child. That was a surprise – albeit a very pleasant one! Now, at the age of 50+ I have become a University student for the first time in my entire life.

Previous to this, my closest contact with any university, was attending weddings in the Honan Chapel in University College Cork or more recently attending Foyle Vineyard at Magee in Derry.

All of my nursing training was hospital based. I trained in the days when students weren’t supernumerary – we ran the wards, with only a small number of qualified nurses there to supervise us.

Things are very different now of course. Nursing training is university based and it’s a lot more academic than when I trained.

I have let my nursing registration lapse and I want to renew my mental health nursing qualification –  the only way to do this is via a Return to Practice course, which I am doing at Ulster University – Magee Campus. Most of it will be placement based, two days per week. It will also involve E-learning, a lot of reading and an assignment. I intend to do this while also continuing with my normal job, which is part-time. Time management is going to be a very big challenge.

This week I took annual leave from my work in order to attend the five full days of Induction/Theory Block which form the introduction to the course. In the lead up to starting this course I have felt both excited and terrified. Excited because I have always enjoyed working in the area of mental health and I’m looking forward to developing my skills and my knowledge. Terrified because I didn’t quite know what to expect; fear of the unknown and fearful of the challenges of time management.

There was one problem that I didn’t foresee though. Of the thirteen of us in the class, only two of us are returning to mental health nursing, one is doing children’s nursing and the remainder are doing adult general nursing. I of course knew that this would be a likely scenario, I just hadn’t thought it through to it’s logical conclusion.

The logical conclusion is that all of the teaching so far has been geared towards nursing in an acute care setting. This is not in and of itself a problem, as most of it is stuff that we all need to know, like drugs administration and infection control.

The problem for me however, is that all of this discussion of scenarios regarding the care of ill patients in an acute hospital setting is constantly reminding me of the many weeks that I spent in hospital with Leah and everything that this entailed.

You might think that I’m naive, but I never anticipated this.

I’ve been back at my work, in the Health Service, for over a year and I’ve experienced more “grief triggers” in the first three days of this course than I would normally encounter in an average month when I’m doing my job.

One of the nice things about my current job, is that I plan my own work and it’s mostly based around home visits, so if I am struggling emotionally, I can move things around a little and take some breathing space until I’m feeling better. Even the fact of driving several miles through beautiful countryside to get to some of my home visits is very therapeutic.


All of this has been really helpful for me in coping with grief. In the early months of returning to work after Leah died, there was even days when I decided to just do paperwork rather that face the public. Having this flexibility has enabled me to have zero sickness absence and still get all my work done by “pacing myself”. 

One of the difficulties for me this week is the intensity of it all – not much pacing and not a lot of breathing space for somebody like me who is at times dealing with some very strong emotions.

Today’s lectures were in a building in the grounds of Altnagelvin Hospital. I found this difficult, as the car park is opposite the South Wing where Leah had two admissions. I was walking through the hospital grounds, lost in my thoughts, when I met a man that I used to work with and be quite friendly with before Leah was born. I’ve met him once since Leah died and I had only only bumped into him a few times in the years previous to that, as we have both changed jobs since we last worked together in the late 1990’s.

When I bumped into him today, he looked at me with compassion in his eyes and told me that he prays for me almost every day. He told me that every week day when he’s driving to work (approximately 27 miles) he prays individually by name for each person that he knows of who is especially in need of God’s comfort. I could barely get the words out to thank him, I felt so overwhelmed with his kindness and so very thankful.

Isn’t it good to know that there are people like this gentleman – a qualified social worker – working in our Health Service?

There is a passage in the Bible in Exodus 17 where Joshua is fighting in a battle. Whenever Moses holds up his hands in prayer, Joshua and his army are winning, but whenever Moses gets tired and lowers his hands, then Joshua and his army starts to lose. So then Moses’ friends, Aaron and Hur come up with a bright idea:

Exodus 17:12-13 (GNT)

When Moses’ arms grew tired, Aaron and Hur brought a stone for him to sit on, while they stood beside him and held up his arms, holding them steady until the sun went down. In this way Joshua totally defeated the Amalekites.

I love this Bible story because what it tells me is how important it is to receive support and encouragement and to give support and encouragement. There were four key players in this story – Joshua with his army, Moses who prayed and Aaron and Hur who encouraged and helped Moses while he prayed.

Encouragement is so important. In another Bible story – the one about the twelve spies entering Canaan, Joshua on this occasion is one of the encouragers, while others are spreading negativity and discouragement:

Numbers 14:5-7 (NIV)

Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good.If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.

In the New Testament in 1 Thessalonians 5:11(NIV) we are instructed to:

Encourage one another and build each other up

Who can YOU encourage today and tomorrow, at home or at work or wherever you are?