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Spiritual care in hospice

by Melissa Bowers, MA, MPS, Chaplain at Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care

Spiritual care is one of the three key areas of hospice care. Hospice addresses the whole person, providing care for the body, mind and spirit. Every family has the benefit of a team of professionals from the very first day of service. Each person chooses how much and what kinds of support they want from physicians, nurses, aides, social workers, chaplains and perhaps even volunteers. 

Each October, Pastoral Care Week/Spiritual Care Week gives opportunities for organizations and institutions of all kinds and types to recognize the spiritual caregivers in their midst and the ministry which the caregivers provide.

hospice chaplain

Spiritual care is not about religion

Some people are deeply religious and take comfort in their faith. Others attend services sporadically or are unsure what they believe. Still others don’t believe in an afterlife at all. But, everyone who comes to hospice has one thing in common. They are nearing the end of their life and they are coming to terms with their own mortality. People may have strong feelings about how they want care to happen, or what they want for their family. They may not be sure how to comfort friends and family. Some people may have regrets or guilt, or just want to tell someone something special.

Spiritual care may not be familiar to families who have been going through a health crisis. Many healthcare professionals are reluctant to bring up end-of-life topics. Spirituality is very personal and there can be very strong feeling surrounding it. Spiritual care is available to people in hospice care, their families, caregivers, and can even friends who may be having challenges coping.

Chaplains provide care wherever it’s needed

The chaplains of Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care are educated in spiritual and religious disciplines, and must be trained and certified in a program of Clinical Pastoral Studies. These training programs are accredited and supervised so that graduates are well versed in the art of spiritual care. You can expect your spiritual care provider to have these qualifications, among others:

  • An open-minded and open-hearted approach to spiritual needs
  • The ability to listen deeply, and to provide a sacred space for questions of profound meaning to be considered
  • To stand without judgement with you and others while they explore needs, feelings, fears, and sources of hope and joy
  • The ability to ask open-ended questions and facilitate the exploration of some of life’s most deeply-held values and viewpoints
  • The compassion to assist with end-of-life spiritual needs like the giving and receiving of forgiveness, facilitating reconciliation, feeling gratitude, finding peace, saying goodbye
  • The skills and presence to guide people and families as they look towards a new chapter in their lives, including exploration of beliefs about the afterlife, the meaning of end of life, and finding hope for new beginnings

Whether you embrace a specific religion or just pursue individual practices that nurture our soul, spiritual health is foundational to well-being. Regardless of age and stage in life, you can experience peace, hope and deep joy when you tend to spiritual wellness with consistency and care.

Chaplains do more than pray

Many times, people balk when offered a chaplain for the first time. They might have a priest, pastor, rabbi or confident in whom they trust. Or, they might not want a stranger to pray with them. Our chaplains aren’t looking to force beliefs on anyone. Before you say no out of hand, think:

  • Have you considered messages you want to leave?
  • Is there anything you’re worried about?
  • Maybe there something you can’t tell family and you need to get off your chest?
  • Do you have guilt, shame or regret, or do you need to make amends?
  • Is there someone you want to thank?
  • Do you need assistance with final arrangements?
  • Do you just need someone to talk to?

When in doubt, just ask. Chaplains are open to all of the above and much more. They will look out for you and make sure their coworkers who are caring for you are also doing okay. Some people wonder how people can find the strength to work in hospice. Our dedicated professionals will tell you that it’s an honor to be present with a family at this difficult time. They take pride in their work and come each day with open hearts. And, our chaplains make sure they’re doing okay, too.

Kansas City Hospice believes in caring for the whole person in ways that meet the needs of each individual. Spiritual care is one of the many tools in our philosophy. We want to share stories of the ways spiritual care has helped bring healing, hope and encouragement to families. We hope you’ll share your stories, too, by replying in the comment space below. 


5 Comments on “Spiritual care in hospice”

  1. Jean Slack Says:

    Well said. Thank you!!

  2. Donna Stevenson Says:

    Three years ago when my father was put on hospice, the chaplain called and asked if she could come visit the family. I am not sure my mom thought it was a good idea because she had never been outwardly spiritual. I on the only hand, very much wanted the chaplaiin to come. Working as an hospice admission nurse for a couple of years, I understood hospice and the benefits of using the whole team.
    So later that day (or the next day) the chaplain came and sat with us for a hour or two at the kitchen table just getting to know us, and listening to what we were going through. She asked some questions at first, but mostly just started the conversation then let us take it where we wanted to go.
    Just as she was wrapping up, she read a verse from the bible (I had told her how important following Jesus was to me). She then asked if she could pray with us. My mom was the first to speak up and said “Yes”.
    After the pray the chaplain stool to leave and my mom stood up and gave the chaplain a big hug and thanked her for coming and said, “I can’t imagine anyone but you doing this”. I think my mom was saying how she felt loved and cared for by the ‘caring’ the chaplain was providing us.
    Three days later when dad was taken to the hospice house, they asked my mom if she needed anything and she requested the chaplain to come back to see us.
    Due to the brevity of my dad’s stay in hospice we only saw that chaplain 2 times, but the peace and calmness she brought us was priceless.

    This week and every week, thank you chaplains for all you do for our patients, families and for us.

    Donna

  3. Sarah Packer Says:

    My parents are getting older, so I wanted to know some of my care options! I didn’t know there were spiritual services offered at some hospices that can guide families and people through a new chapter of life and explore beliefs of the afterlife. That’s something my siblings would really like, so I’ll look around for hospice services that have special services that could make the grieving process easier, thanks to this post! https://guidinglighthospiceelko.org/

  4. Mary Zahner Bauer Says:

    It is hard to find the words to describe the the feeling, when all at once my father in law was actively dying and we all quickly gathered around his bed, the door opens and in walked Joel Carmer, the chaplain at the Kansas City Hospice House. My father in law was a man of faith but I think feared death. I believe God sent Joel to our room at that time as he shared prayerful words of comfort and peace. I have the honor of working with these amazing Chaplains and hearing from other’s the impact they have on so many. On May 7th, I was able to witness it first hand. A very special thanks to all who reach out to others at this very sacred time to provide spiritual support.

  5. Kim Says:

    Such a thankful heart for all of our Chaplains.
    Thank you for all you do each and everyday!
    I am truly blessed to work with such wonderful chaplains who are a blessing to each and every life they touch 🙏❤

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