I am a hospice chaplain. I am also a rabbi.
After serving a congregation for 10 years I made a big change and entered the world of hospice. More than 20 years ago my grandmother died of ovarian cancer and she was cared for by hospice. Little did I know that my family was ahead of its time or that this experience would serve as a foundation for my belief in the goodness of hospice care.
This conviction in the goodness of hospice has grown exponentially with each passing day that I am a hospice chaplain. While there is great misunderstanding in the general public about what hospice is, in general hospice work is accompanying others on their journey of life, affirming the tremendous meaning of each individual’s existence. In addition we strive to maintain the integrity of each person’s physical, emotional and spiritual needs. We all know that each of us will die, “though we know not when that day will come.” In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon declares “Greater is the day of death, than the day of birth.” According to the Chassidic masters this does not present any contradiction. Rather, spiritually, this is our moment of highest potential. Beyond this spiritual aspect the day of death presents for the dying, it presents the same challenge for this individual’s loved ones. While I appreciate King Solomon’s wisdom, I see firsthand how life affirming a hospice program can be to a patient and their loved ones.
With this in mind, here is what I’ve learned and experienced and what I hope others will learn:
- Hospice home health aides are an exceptional group of people. They are a constant, reassuring presence to help patients and their loved ones manage ever changing physical needs. They truly make the patients clean, comfortable, and well cared for.
- Hospice nurses are an exceptional group of people. They will bend over backwards to ensure their patients’ comfort, both physical and emotional. They know and understand the human body and use that knowledge to provide the best possible care for the patients in a loving way.
- Hospice social workers are an exceptional group of people. They help people access resources in times of need and crisis, they provide emotional support, and they provide loving guidance during some confusing and dark days, and they ensure that life’s special moments are feted and cherished.
- Hospice chaplains are an exceptional group of people. They do NOT want you to convert or force any kind of belief upon the patient or her/his family; the chaplains are simply present to offer support, facilitate prayer or whatever will provide meaning to a patient or the patient’s family. They are there to sanctify the sacred moments of life.
During the period of shiva, after the funeral of our loved one, it is customary to cover the mirrors in our home. This allows everyone to reflect on the life of the deceased and according to Rabbi Norman Lamm, “During shiva, a mourner is striving to ignore his/her own physicality and vanity in order to concentrate on the reality of being a soul.”
Each of us is a soul, and a soul that every hospice worker will tend to and nourish in her or his own special way, celebrating the life each one leads.