Editor’s Note: An important aspect of hospice care is the spiritual support provided to patients. Hospice chaplains are professional clergy who are well-versed in the spiritual needs of both patients and families going through the end-of-life experience. If desired by the patient, they provide support based on the patient’s personal beliefs, no matter what religion, and can serve as a link to a faith community.
When tagging along with a Hospice chaplain, James*, on patient visits, I learned the simple truth—no two visits are the same.
The chaplain and I arrive at our first visit to find Ruth*, the patient, lying in her bed. She is waiting for the pain medication to begin working. Ruth scoots herself up in bed to visit with us.
When the chaplain, James, asks how she is doing, her face falls as she fights back tears. She slowly composes herself, while James remains by her side silently waiting for her to go on. A minute later she responds, “I’m okay.” Ruth doesn’t seem okay, she seems deeply sad. She tries to focus on the positive; “My daughter is taking ‘maternity leave’ to care for me” she jokes, “I guess it’s only fair, I took six weeks off to care for her, now she’s taking time off to care for me.”
James agrees with her, and lets her know that her daughter wants to do this for her after all she has done for her. Ruth contemplates this, but she’s not convinced. This is not how she had planned to spend her retirement and this is not what she wanted for her daughter.
Head bent down, Ruth tells James, “I don’t want to go down; I want to go up.” She goes on to tell him that she doesn’t think she is worthy of heaven.
James listens intently and doesn’t interrupt. After a brief pause, he asks her, “Do you remember the last time we visited, we talked about Romans 8?” Ruth looks up at him and acknowledges that she does. “Would it be alright if I read it again?”
She slowly nods her head. James takes out his bible, turns to Romans 8 and begins to read.
As he reads, Ruth’s expression begins to change; the tension starts to ease from her face. When James is done reading, he closes the Bible and asks “Would you like me to share a prayer with you?”
Again she nods her head and he reaches out to her, lightly placing his hand on her shoulder, he begins to pray for her. He prays for her comfort, for her peace and for her caregivers. When the prayer is over, Ruth relaxes into her pillow. She is comforted and ready for the peaceful rest her body needs. James quietly says his good bye with a promise to return.
After leaving the visit, I couldn’t help but feel humbled and impressed by the quiet, spiritual guidance James offered Ruth. My instinct—to wrap Ruth in a big hug and tell her it was all going to be okay—would have added to her physical and mental anguish. In contrast, James listened to Ruth first, acknowledged her feelings and comforted her with his simple reading and prayer.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
About Hospice of the Red River Valley
In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. The organization serves more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, including in and around Bismarck, Detroit Lakes, Devils Lake, Fargo, Fergus Falls, Grand Forks, Lisbon, Thief River Falls, Valley City and many more communities. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or hrrv.org.