Maintaining Hope Through Adversity: Ashleigh Donaldson and Deena Prakash


Deena Prakash
Deena Prakash
Ashleigh Donaldson











Throughout the country, signs on lawns, banners on buildings, clanging pots and pans, and soaring voices celebrate America’s health care workers’ tireless efforts against the coronavirus. Within the Princeton UMC family worship several healthcare professionals and their families. In the first of an occasional series, Ashleigh Donaldson and Deena Prakash answer questions about their experiences working during COVID-19.

Since August 2018, physical therapist Ashleigh Donaldson has worked at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx. Currently, she is working in the ICU.  For 20 years, Deena Parkesh has worked as a nurse at Capital Health in Trenton. Deena works in hemodialysis, a specialty that uses a machine to remove waste and water from the blood. 

Ashleigh, can you describe your day? As a PT in the ICU my job consists mostly of evaluating the functional level (for discharge planning) of patients and, when appropriate, starting to mobilize them. With COVID patients, we are seeing their oxygen levels drop significantly with functional mobility, so sometimes even sitting them up for a couple of minutes in the ICU is difficult.

What is your biggest challenge? Firstly, as I am sure everyone has heard, we originally did not have enough equipment to safely see patients. This meant we were either not wearing appropriate equipment, or, we weren’t seeing patients as often as we should because we were trying to conserve gowns/masks etc.  Another challenge has been that patients are not allowed to see family members,and watching them deal with everything on their own has been hard. Personally, my biggest challenge has been not seeing my family. I know I am exposed every day so I absolutely cannot see them under any circumstances, and I am not sure when it will be safe to see them.”

Deena:“It is very challenging to work since 99% of our patients go on dialysis three times a week for the rest of their lives. Their only choice of treatment is a kidney transplant. Through this long term care, the patients become like family members to the nurses..  A few of my newly infected patients have died due to loss of kidney function. It is very hard for both patients and the staff. Fear and apprehension are very common.”

Where do you find strength? Joy? How do you maintain hope? Ashleigh: ” The hospital has received many food donations and a lot of positive messages of support.  Patients give me strength; they are fighting so hard and it helps us to fight hard too. Quiet times of prayer help to bring me to a place that is calm. I have also received so many supportive messages from friends, family, and of course this church. I would like to say now that I am so grateful for the prayers, cards, and calls to my mom.  I find joy in seeing the patients improve. When a patient is discharged, a song plays in the hospital;  when a patient finally sits up, medical staff cheer outside their room. People are all pulling together which gives me faith that humanity, kindness, and the human spirit will prevail.”

Deena: “We are together at His Mercy during this pandemic.I pray to God every day for strength and courage, and for my patients’ recovery. I have never before seen nursing care like this before. It is frightening. To do our jobs, we need a lot of physical strength and mental stamina. Indeed, I appreciate our church family for thinking of me, and thank them for all of their prayers.”

Ashleigh (we think she’s on the right ’cause she’s tall!) with a co-worker
Deena (on the left) with her co-workers



Talking with Children About Grief

Evangeline Burgers - Director of Children’s Ministry
Evangeline Burgers – Director of Children’s Ministry

by Evangeline Burgers

In talking with members of our church family in the past few days, I am realizing that COVID-19 and the loss that trails behind it is starting to hit very close to home for many of us. A member of our church family passed away last week from the virus. You may very well know others who have lost their lives recently, due to COVID or other causes. Unfortunately, there may be more in the coming days.

So how do we tell our kids about death and dying? How can we help them grieve? Last Fall, our Sunday School teachers participated in some training in how to help our children with grief. I have some of the highlights below and I’ve also added some more tips I found helpful in watching this recent webinar* on talking with children about death. I encourage you to watch the video, but here are some highlights.

Helping Kids Cope with Grief:

– Speak completely about death with children: “____ stopped breathing and they have died.” Avoid saying confusing things like, “_____ is sleeping for a long time.”

– Model openness and vulnerability for children: Name exactly how you’re feeling when you find yourself missing someone who died.

– Name that it is okay to laugh and be happy when you’re feeling sad and missing someone who has died.

– Encourage children to ask questions.

– Reflect on coping strategies that work well for you. Model these and name them for your child(ren). For example, “I need to go for a walk right now to help me think about my sadness.”

– Grief is not only about people dying. Our children may be currently grieving other things, like seeing friends, playing sports, going to church and school, etc.

– Follow kids’ leads for their preferred grief outlets: coloring, imaginative play, playing games, etc.

– Some children may be withdrawing into solitude in their rooms – keep inviting them to do activities as a family, like eating together, going for a walk, playing games, or whatever their interests might be.

– Talk about all of the helpers in your community and the extraordinary displays of love being shown by humanity right now!

– Don’t try to fix their feelings. Let them feel sad and affirm their sadness with statements like, “I feel sad, too.”  Giving them space to feel their grief equips them for emotional regulation.

– Be patient with their grief process: your child might have big feelings about seemingly trivial things. (my son Henry was SO mad today that he couldn’t eat pizza for lunch!) This is part of their grief process.

Good Theology for Talking with Kids about Loss:

– Jesus came here to be human and show us all of the feelings. John said, “Jesus wept”. God’s faithful people do not always experience joy. It is okay to feel sadness and despair.

– When children ask tough questions, it is okay to tell them that we don’t know all of the answers. Have grace for yourselves. We don’t know the full nature of God.

– Children may need some sensory practices to help them remember God is with them. Light a candle, ring a bell or chime, or give them a rock to hold to remind them that God is near.

– Children can write a letter to God with their feelings. Tell them God is big enough to handle any feelings or thoughts they lift up.

– Go into the Psalms and read them with your child to show them that generations of people have suffered and asked questions of God.

– Reread the Holy Week scriptures together. Acknowledge the suffering Christ endured, while also reminding them that the story did not end with Christ’s death on the cross. Help them make spiritual meaning in this: what we are experiencing now is not the end!

– Be ready to theologically learn from your child. They can be the best theologians around!

Children’s Book Recommendations:

Badger’s Parting Gifts:

The Invisible String:

Images of God:

 We Are Here For You:

Please know that our clergy and church staff are also here for you and your family right now. Feel free to email us or give us a call if you and/or your children need someone to talk with about big feelings. I also encourage you to join our PUMC Families WhatsApp group to share/receive ideas, prayer concerns, and to stay connected. While we cannot gather together physically, please know that your feelings are valid and that you are not alone!


Evangeline Burgers

Director of Children’s Ministry at Princeton United Methodist Church


Preview YouTube video Parent Webinar – Talking with Children about Death

Parent Webinar – Talking with Children about Death

Preview YouTube video [Badger’s Parting Gifts] By Susan Varley ♡ Spoken Ruby Dee

[Badger’s Parting Gifts] By Susan Varley ♡ Spoken Ruby Dee

Preview YouTube video The Invisible String Read Aloud for Kids!

The Invisible String Read Aloud for Kids!

Preview YouTube video Images of God for Young Children by Marie-Helene Delval

*The webinar involved two experts from Green Leaf Psychology (Dr. Jennifer McCollum, Licensed Clinical Psychologist) and Sandra Concannon, Marriage & Family Therapist, along with four from Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church —  Rev. Jaime Polson, Pastor for Family Ministry & Executive Leadership, Lori Robinson, Associate Director of Children’s Ministry, Keris Dahlkamp, Director of Youth Ministry, and the moderator, Ryan Timpte, Director of Children’s Ministry,