By Curtis Freed, MA, BCC
Hospice is all about end of life care. When a patient is admitted to hospice, that person and their family receives expert medical care from the hospice physician, nurses, social workers, nurse aides, and bereavement counselors (grief support following the patient’s death). The hospice team also includes a chaplain (referred to the Spiritual Care Counselor).
So what does a hospice chaplain actually do? There are times when people ask me this very question when they learn that I am in this work. There is the perception that the hospice chaplain has an “agenda” that includes bringing in his Bible to the patient’s home in order to “preach” at the patient and the family. I assure you the hospice chaplain is much more than that.
Hospice chaplains are valued for a number of functions they perform. They are often an advocate for the patient who cannot speak for him or herself. The hospice chaplain inspires hope by bringing a calming presence at a critical time when the family is saying good-bye to their loved one who is passing away. Maintaining a calm and comforting presence at an emotional time is essential. The hospice chaplain provides that calming presence by helping those who are grieving to identify means of coping and sources of support. Most importantly, the hospice chaplain validates and affirms the feelings of grief and loss with a non-judgmental listening presence. In doing so, he or she plays a critical part with the healing process when a loved one passes away.
The hospice chaplain works with patients and families of all faiths and religions to offer hope in place of helplessness. This may or not include using a sacred text such as the Bible, prayer, performing rituals such as offering communion, baptism and anointing. Spiritual care is not limited to those who have a strong faith or church background. The chaplain also works with those who do not identify with a particular religion to help that person find purpose and meaning in their suffering. The chaplain is often called upon when the patient is fearful of dying, nearing death, or has died in order to provide support to family. They also can be called upon when a particular patient’s pastor, priest or spiritual leader is unavailable.
Research supports the value placed on healthcare chaplains. In one study, 94% of patients surveyed at several hospitals in the Midwest indicated a visit by the chaplain was important to them (Journal of Religion and Health, 2011). Physicians realize the value of chaplains, especially working with the elderly (Journal of Primary Care & Community Health, 2011). In another study, 41% of 3000 hospitalized patients desired a discussion of religious and spiritual matters with a chaplain but less than half of those surveyed reported having one (Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2011).
Hospice chaplains are greatly valued and appreciated for a variety of reasons. Most hospice chaplains who I know love their work. I would like to conclude with this quote by the late Cardinal Father Joseph Bernadin:
“We are to do for one another what Jesus did: comfort others by inspiring in them hope & confidence in life. Our distinctive vocation…is not so much to heal better or more efficiently than anyone else; it is to strengthen their confidence in life. The ultimate goal of our care is to give those who are ill, through our care, a reason to hope.”
About the author
Curtis Freed is a Spiritual Care Counselor for Harbor Hospice. He is a Board Certified Chaplain (BCC) with the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC). Prior to joining Harbor Hospice, he worked as a chaplain at Mercy VNS & Hospice for 3 years. In addition, he worked as a chaplain for Spectrum Health at Butterworth and Blodgett Hospitals for 9 years. He is a graduate of Liberty University (1987) and Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (1990).
Harbor Hospice and Harbor Palliative Care is committed to alleviating patients’ symptoms and providing choices to help the patient achieve optimum well-being. For almost four decades, Harbor Hospice has provided experienced, compassionate end-of-life care for terminally ill patients and their families, focusing on medical, emotional and spiritual needs regardless of ability to pay. Serving residents of lakeshore West Michigan, their team of professionals and volunteers connect patients and families with resources to align their goals of comfort and improved quality of life.
Learn more at HarborHospiceMI.org or by calling 231.728.3442 / 1.800.497.9559.