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Volunteerism Translates Into Solace for Sick

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Linda Mangassarian clasped hands with the woman in the hospital bed as they both closed their eyes.

“Thank you, Jesus,” Mangassarian whispered softly. She began speaking Armenian in the unmistakable cadence of prayer.

“I prayed to God to help the doctors find the wisdom to heal her,” Mangassarian said. The woman had told her that the doctors had not been able to find out what was wrong, despite surgery.

In the few minutes of the visit, Mangassarian did not get a lot of details. But, as a volunteer chaplain at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, she is trained to let the patients talk about what is important to them, said Janet Richardson, a staff chaplain.

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“Linda is very good at following where the person wants to go,” Richardson said.

Both Richardson and Mangassarian remember fondly how they met in January.

“I opened the door to my office,” Richardson said, “and literally ran into her.”

Mangassarian had been walking by the chaplain’s office and felt a need to go in. After all, it was the chaplain’s services in a Maryland hospital that had helped her so much a year and a half before when her son killed himself.

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“I’m doing this in the memory of Greg,” Mangassarian said of her volunteer work. Greg Kocharian, her only child, was a 22-year-old music student at the University of Maryland when he committed suicide. Mangassarian moved to Glendale last year to join her brother and try to get away from the pain.

When she met Richardson, she learned of the need for Armenian-speaking volunteer chaplains. Of the 245 patients at Glendale Adventist on a recent day, about one-third were Armenian, said Alicia Gonzalez, a hospital spokeswoman.

Mangassarian recruited seven other volunteer chaplains from her church, Christ Armenian in Glendale. Their Armenian-speaking skills--some also speak other languages--help patients who are feeling isolated, Richardson said.

“They often end up singing songs in Armenian,” Richardson said. Two of Mangassarian’s volunteers are older men who seem to know every Armenian patient in Glendale Adventist, she said.

The nine volunteer chaplains visit patients in rehabilitation, coronary care, oncology and other units. Often, they find the patients at a crossroads in their lives, Mangassarian said. They can help the patient choose the right road, but much is out of their hands.

“God does the healing,” said Mangassarian, who came to the U.S. from Iran as a teenager in the 1960s. She is still healing from the loss of her son. “He used to always hug me,” she said.

At least, she says, she understands now what grieving families go through, and that sayings like “Everything happens for a reason” does nothing to help.

“It’s easy for people to say big, lofty things,” Mangassarian said. “But the best thing is to listen, and cry with people.”

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So was it part of a bigger plan, a compensation, that she found her way to Richardson’s office that day?

“I don’t think it can justify his death,” she said. “It’s just a joy to know there’s a place where God can use me.”

Training for volunteer chaplains begins next week. For more information, call (818) 409-8008.

Personal Best is a weekly profile of an ordinary person who does extraordinary things. Please send suggestions on prospective candidates to Personal Best, Los Angeles Times, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth 91311. Or fax them to (818) 772-3338. Or e-mail them to valley@latimes.com


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