Kaytlin Butler, a chaplain at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, details her experience working during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in a video series TIME is producing with Katie Couric.
In the video above, Butler tells Couric that her mother’s death when she was 8-years-old has shaped the course of much of her life, including her decision to serve as a chaplain. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the nature of Butler’s job as a chaplain.
Where she would typically help families through the death of a loved one by encouraging them to hold their hands and touch their bodies, the coronavirus has forced her to guide people through their last moments at a distance. This can look like placing a hand on a door to a patient’s room and praying or making a Rosary available by a patient’s bedside.
“Religious rituals are very tactile activities. We touch, we eat, and to have all of the physicality of showing loves stripped away. It’s heartbreaking,” she says.
Butler also assists health care workers, who are witnessing the loss of human life on an unprecedented scale. Some workers have asked Butler if they are being “punished” for some reason.
“It breaks my heart because the people that ask me that question are putting their lives at risk to heal and to take care of people in the middle of just an extraordinary mess,” she says. “I tell them that they are a gift. This crisis is something that is so much bigger than anything any single one of us can do.”
This interview is part of a special series produced in collaboration with Katie Couric. Read more from TIME Reports with Katie Couric, and sign up for her weekday morning newsletter Wake-Up Call with Katie Couric.