A chaplain’s perspective on hospice

Published 7:00 am Friday, June 19, 2015

Life is a gift. I think it’s especially a gift to have lived here in this country and in this time in history. To die – to lose that gift – is a hard reality to face, for ourselves and for our loved ones.

Hospice provides end-of-life care that allows people to die at home with their loved ones around them. Hospice provides information, understanding, and medical, spiritual and social support to the patient and to the family, to make the process as comfortable as possible.

I’ve been a hospice chaplain for 25 years, and I consider this work the most fruitful part of my professional career. I visit patients regularly, and I’m often able to develop some special relationships with them and with their caregivers. I try to make people more aware of God’s steadfast, unconditional love for them in this difficult part of their lives.

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Through these home visits, I’ve discovered that caregivers can do things for loved ones they never thought they could. And they do it with such a caring attitude. It is unconditional love lived out, and it’s a powerful testament to the presence of God’s spirit in people of all backgrounds, ages, and denominations.

Recently, we served a couple who had been married for almost 70 years. I watched the husband take care of his wife with such great tenderness, 24-7. He had help, too, but she was the love of his life and he was there for her virtually every minute.

After several months of hospice care, I was called to their home as she was actively dying. There were family members already gathered at the home when I arrived. I asked them to surround the patient at her bedside, and I led them in prayer. As we were praying together, she took her last breath. What a powerful experience for all present. What a gift to the patient, as well – to die peacefully, surrounded by love and prayer.

Hospice serves families for a year following the death of a patient, through individual grief counseling and support groups. As chaplain, I continue to visit the spouse of the patient mentioned above, as he adapts to this new experience in life. Words can’t capture what it’s like for him, but he continues to move through the grieving process.

I’ve learned how helpful it is for the caregivers to be able to talk about (or journal about) what they’re thinking and doing day-to-day after the death of their loved one.

Losing someone we love leaves a hole, and life is never the same again. Life can be good again, but it will be different. The grieving process takes time. There is no specific timetable for it. It takes as long as it takes. Faith and support are important resources at this time.

By Jim Prator