By Carl Manning
American Red Cross
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, December 7, 2016
Carol Lilleaas was sitting on her cot in the American Red Cross shelter where she has been since her home, and just about everything in it, was reduced to ashes from the wildfire that swept through the area.
Lee Ragsdale, a member of the Red Cross spiritual care team, saw her sitting there and joined her on the cot. Their talk started with a few words that in short order blossomed into a fully animated conversation. In a few minutes she was smiling for the first time since she had arrived at the shelter.
She explained that the only thing she really regretted losing in the fire was the United States flag that covered the coffin of her career Army husband when he died 12 years ago.
“I woke up in the middle of the night, thought about it and start crying. It was the only thing that made me cry,” she said.
While Lee wouldn't discuss specifics of his conversation with her, he did say that she’s a strong woman.
“I just reminded her of her strength and reassured her that she was capable and that she shouldn't feel ashamed asking for help,” Lee said.
An ordained Episcopal deacon, Lee also is a Knoxville Police Department chaplain. This is his first time to serve as a member of the Red Cross disaster spiritual care team and said he’s enjoying being able to help those in need.
“It was everything that I thought it was going to be and more. I’m essentially in awe of what’s going on,” he said.
All spiritual care responders are trained to provide appropriate and respectful disaster spiritual care in line with Red Cross fundamental principles of impartiality and neutrality.
“Praying isn't necessary. If they don’t ask, then I don’t push it,” Lee said. “Whatever brings comfort to them, I’m always willing to facilitate,” he said. “The first thing is to be there for them and really listen and understand and let them know that.”
He said when people feel they are being understood, it enables them to open up and discuss their emotions and other issues.
“If I can help them to move from awareness to acceptance and finally to action, then I've helped to promote that healing they need,” he said.