Hospice chaplains provide amazing support to both patients and families

With Pastoral Care month happening in October, this is a good time to talk about the spiritual component to hospice.

Vivian Dodge, Executive Director of Chapters Health Hospice, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM to talk about the work the organization does.

Pastoral Care Month allows organizations to recognize spiritual caregivers and their ministry.

Dodge said, “First let me acknowledge all the spiritual and religious leaders in our community. We thank you for all that you do. I have to say our hospice chaplain is just such an extraordinary individual and is really such a support to patients and families.”

Hospice chaplains are licensed professionals who plan, assess and care for patients spiritual and emotional needs during the final chapter of someone’s life.

Dodge said, “Their role really is to help the patients and their families through each stage of grief, the before, the during and after death. Their role on the team is to listen and counsel and help patients feel safe. It’s making those trusted connections where individuals feel free to share their thoughts and their feelings.”

Hospice chaplains can sometimes be confused with religion and religious ideology or dogma. That’s not the role of the chaplain. He or she does not espouse any particular religion.

Dodge said, “We think of them as being like Switzerland. They are neutral and focused on the patient or family’s needs. The chaplain can help set the tone for a healthy emotional outlook during this every emotional time in someone’s life.”

The hospice chaplain can help process thoughts relating to end of life, particularly when someone is facing a life-limiting illness.

Dodge said, “Thoughts about life meaning, forgiveness, a sense of purpose, understanding the relationships, maybe their own self-awareness.”

Hospice chaplains can be a great sounding board for individuals. Sometimes patients may be reluctant to share their feelings with their family so as not to upset them. Chaplains can help the patient with that confidence to speak his or her mind without being judged.

Anger, sadness and remorse are typical feelings at the end of life and the chaplains can help.

Dodge said, “When a chaplain visits, God and religions and belief systems don’t have to be part of that conversation. Remember, they’re neutral. They’re Switzerland. So spirituality or emotional comfort is often found in the processing with talking with someone about seeing that their life was a job well done.”

Chaplains can help patients and families design the funeral service.

Dodge said, “Maybe it’s the spouse or the caregiver, the daughter, the brother, have their own emotions that they’re dealing with and the chaplain can be that person’s sounding board as well.”

The Chapters Health Hospice chaplain has a canine companion who also visits with the family.

Dodge said, “If the family or the patient desires, that’s a special visit that we do. It’s amazing to see the bond between animals and humans and how that relieves stress, calms people down. It’s just a great, great modality. A complementary therapy, if you will.”

One of the questions during Pastoral Care Month is what is the difference between religion and spirituality?

Dodge said, “It really comes down to I think the definitions. We think of religion as a specific set of organized beliefs and practices, dogma, usually shared by a community or a group of individuals. Whereas spirituality is more of an individual practice. It has to do with having a sense of peace and purpose. We are considered nondenominational, however chaplains are trained and equipped to honor a particular faith as requested by an individual or maybe just have philosophical talks with someone. Their role between the religion and spirituality function is really to support the patient and family in whatever their philosophies are. There’s no judgment. It’s not about us trying to convert anyone. It’s not about us trying to espouse a particular religious dogma.”

Part of the end of the life system is to accept someone in their belief system. So even someone who is nonreligious can find support with the hospice chaplain.

The Chapters Health Hospice chaplain is an adjunct professor at the College of the Florida Keys where he teaches world religion, so he is very well-versed in a variety of belief systems.

Dodge said, “First and foremost (a chaplain) is nonjudgment. They’re gentle. They’re accessible. They’re available. They have the quality to be in the moment. They have the sense to be quiet when you just need to be quiet, to meet people where they are in their own mind, heart, spirit. I think a chaplain is a fabulous listener and has the ability to be open to all ideas and really has a great sense of humor because you need love and laugher and lightheartedness in an emotional time in life. I think chaplains have the skills to diffuse anger, whether it be the individual or help release tension between family members. Emotions can be a little bit raw at the end of life and the chaplain really has that gift to smooth ruffled feathers, so to speak. End of life is not just the physical symptoms. It’s also about someone’s emotional well-being and comfort and that of the family as well.”

For more information on Chapters Health Hospice call 305-396-8100 or click here: https://www.chaptershealth.org/