MARTHA KESSLER: Pastoral Care – Healing the Spirit When the Body is Beyond Repair
By Martha Kessler, VITAS Healthcare // September 9, 2019
Receiving a terminal diagnosis bridges the metaphysical and medical
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Receiving a terminal diagnosis bridges the metaphysical and medical.
With one revelation, everything changes: Treatments shift from curative to palliative and the patient begins to focus on making the most of the time they have left all while processing the inscrutable mystery that now faces them.
Even when physical discomfort is minimal, a patient may be plagued by a fear of death.
VITAS Healthcare, the nation’s leading provider of end-of-life care since 1978, employs a chaplain on every interdisciplinary team to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of patients and their families.
While each chaplain maintains his or her own faith practice, those working with VITAS are trained to provide support to patients and families regardless of their culture, belief system or tradition.
In hospice, chaplains come equipped to navigate the complex issues of spirituality and mortality: What is death like? Where do we go? Will we face judgment for our deeds? Do we simply cease to exist?
These questions don’t have easy answers if any at all. But a good chaplain doesn’t need an airtight theological defense for the afterlife to help a dying patient find peace.
VITAS chaplains are trained to address spiritual issues in patients and families who don’t subscribe to any religious affiliation.
“I’m more like a coach,” says one VITAS chaplain. “I help the family find their own answers and their own release from fears and worries.”
Chaplains may share stories, pray with a patient or prompt them to open up about their fears near the end of life. It can be a slow, uncomfortable process full of long silences, but chaplains know the value of patience.
“When I first started as a chaplain, I found the silences hard. Now I honor those silences because I know that I’m not here to fix things,” the chaplain says.
Before a death and during the mourning period, the VITAS chaplain helps develop a plan of bereavement care for patient and family. These typically include visits from the chaplain and other members of the hospice team, such as a social worker and bereavement specialist.
The daily work of a hospice chaplain is demanding. A chaplain may have to visit several patients in a single day. A visit can last minutes or hours, depending on the patient’s needs.
A chaplain may be called to provide spiritual counsel or attend a death in the middle of the night.
Hospice chaplains must live comfortably in a world of mystery and apparent paradox. They know that not all questions have answers – and that some of the most important questions don’t need them.
Love, not doctrine, is the best remedy for spiritual ailments at the end of life.
In the words of one VITAS chaplain: “Every day, I ask the Lord to fill me up with love, and then I go out and give it all away to our hospice patients and their families.”
Martha Kessler is the patient care administrator for VITAS Healthcare in Brevard County. For more information about end-of-life care options, call VITAS Healthcare at 866-759-6695 or visit VITAS.com
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