Hospice Chaplains Bring Peace and Healing to Individuals and Their CommunitiesBy Seasons | May 04, 2021
Providing spiritual care to those near the end of life has benefits for individuals and healthcare providers.
When individuals are journeying through severe or terminal illness, finding support within their communities is essential. In addition to physical and emotional and mental needs, the National Institute of Aging has identified spiritual needs as a significant factor at the end of life. Today more Americans consider themselves to be spiritual than ever before, but even individuals who have never identified as spiritual or religious may find themselves groping for comfort and support in new places as they approach the end of life. Questions about an afterlife, the meaning of life, and confrontation of difficult emotions or relationship dynamics are all recurring concerns for the terminally ill.
Hospice chaplains are spiritual leaders who can help individuals work through the complexities of emotions about death, grief, and more. Chaplains are trained to understand the spectrum of spiritual backgrounds, and never impose their own beliefs on patients, whether they identify as spiritual or not. Rather, they support the patient and family through open conversation and questions. Hospice chaplains rely on their network of community contacts to provide the resources and additional support that patients and families may require.
How spiritual care helps the healthcare professional and community
While spiritual care provides many benefits for the patient and family, it also brings value to those who are supporting the dying individual.
- Providing Support to the Care Team: We all have demands on our time, and it can be overwhelming to be pulled aside in the middle of a busy shift to enter a conversation that may be open-ended, emotional and time-consuming. When staff identify that someone is having emotional difficulties, hospice chaplains are happy to step in begin a conversation. It can be as simple as asking the patient or family if they would like to have someone come to spend some time talking with them and then reaching out to your local hospice chaplain. You may need to let the patient and family know that the conversation will be as spiritual or casual as they prefer, as they may have negative connotations with the word spiritual or chaplain.
- Caring for Staff: Chaplains are skilled at helping struggling healthcare staff and members of the community work through their own feelings about grief and loss, exhaustion from COVID-19, and life questions.
- Improving Patient Experience: When the patient and family feel supported bodily, emotionally, and spiritually, their satisfaction with the care being provided increases. Conversations with chaplains can lead to a better understanding of what to expect about the end-of-life experience, and can lead to more clarity about what interventions may or may not be desired.
- Connecting the Community: Chaplains are strong networkers and have excellent community relationships across faiths and social service agencies. This enables them to connect individuals who need assistance with the appropriate organization or service.
- Enriching the Community: Hospice chaplains facilitate inter-denominational memorial services and celebrations of life that are open to all members of the community. Anyone is welcome to join or be recognized, and it can be a way for the community to come together and put aside differences to honor the lives of their own.
How spiritual care helps the individual at the end of life
- Addressing Questions & Doubts: As the end of life approaches, many individuals struggle with fear of death or worry that their life did not have meaning. Some patients may not have anyone to talk through these feelings with or may worry about burdening their family. A spiritual advisor provides a safe, judgement-free place for the expression of complex or difficult conversations.
- Navigating Difficult Relationships: When patients have a broken or strained relationship with a loved one or family member, there is often pressure at the end of life to resolve feelings or restore harmony. This may be a desire of the patient or loved one, both, or neither. Chaplains can help families identify their feelings and desires and navigate through these complex feelings or conversations, either jointly or separately.
- Finding Companionship and Support: Many individuals may experience loneliness, especially if they do not have a pre-existing support system. Conversations with chaplains don’t need to be heavy and hard – often just having someone to share a life story with can bring peace, healing, and a sense of being heard and understood.
- Supporting Through Grief & Bereavement: Patients with terminal illness aren’t the only ones who deal with doubt and fear. Studies have found that the fear of death increases the likelihood of prolonged grief symptoms for a patients’ loved ones. Whether families are experiencing anticipatory grief or being forced to confront their own fears about death, the support of a professional to guide conversations about spirituality and death can facilitate peace and start the healing process.
Journeying through the end of life can be difficult for patients, families, and their caregivers. A hospice chaplain can provide a listening ear and welcoming space so that fears, anxieties, and questions can be expressed, helping achieve a sense of peace and closure at the end of life.