A Day In The Life Of A Hospice Chaplain

As a part-time with Generations Hospice Care, I serve a couple of days a week and PRN (that’s medical-talk for “as-needed”… It’s from the Latin, Pro re nata, in case you were wondering!). I meet with most patients twice a month. Some more frequently if the patient or caregivers desire.

“Are you experiencing any pain?” Whenever I meet with a patient, I always begin with that question. As you can imagine, pain makes it very difficult to concentrate and converse. If they’re hurting, I call in the cavalry–the hospice nurses–who make a real difference and bring comfort with modern medicines. Once that’s covered, I usually move to my second important question. “Do you have any questions or concerns on your mind?”

A patient’s reply helps me prioritize what’s on a person’s mind and heart. Then I ask questions to discern where a person is emotionally and spiritually. I always make an effort to truly meet people where they are by honoring and respecting their belief system. Having done this kind of support work for a while, I am familiar with the most frequently encountered religions, denominations, and philosophical beliefs. When I do discover something new, I reach out to my fellow clergy in the local church communities. While I certainly have a particular religious affiliation and belief, as a chaplain, I never force my beliefs on anyone.

It is common to hear many of the same questions when speaking with patients:

“What happens when I die? Will I go to heaven?”

“Why is this happening to me? Why does God allow me to suffer?”

“What’s going to happen to my loved ones? How could God possibly forgive me for….”

These are obviously not easy questions to ask or address, but we can find solid answers together. At least, answers that get us closer to understanding.

Another part of my job is to serve the family when desired. I am well-versed in grief and mourning and can help people better understand themselves and others. This doesn’t end after the family member has passed, as Generations Hospice Care offers bereavement services to the family as well. I can also help with other matters such as funeral planning. Sometimes, I am asked by the family to celebrate the funeral for their loved one when they have no local church community affiliation.

More and more, I find myself talking with staff: nurses, aides, social workers, support staff, and secretaries in the care facilities. These dear souls may at times suffer from exhaustion, discouragement, and PTSD-like symptoms after caring for so many loved patients who have died in the last years. Staff shortages and job pressures can also contribute to their stress levels. If you are one of them, please call me! Talking with someone who will not judge you or try to “fix” you can be comforting, plus our discussions are privileged communication which means I won’t share it with anyone.

I love Hospice Care because we accompany the dying and address the entire person: body, soul, mind, and spirit. I am honored to work with the most amazing doctors, nurses, aides, social workers, and staff. I’m even more pleased to be invited into families at a most difficult, raw, and profoundly intimate time of life.

Written by Michael Carney, Chaplain for Generations Hospice Care.