A Labor of Love: Hospice Care
Posted by Chaplain Michael VanOeveren, MDiv.
One of my most memorable chaplain visits was to visit the wife of a patient who was not assigned to me, and whom I had never met before. We had a task to accomplish, and while working on that we started talking. I was a High-Church Episcopalian and she was Jewish "not-religious" I learned, but this made no difference I soon realized. As we sat together at their kitchen table, coffee in hand we talked. She shared about how she had met her husband, the children they had together. The good times and the hard times they shared together in their 70 years of marriage. With a twinkle in her eye she spoke of their granddaughter who had just graduated from college, she was so proud. We talked about the difficulty of her husband's illness and how she tried to keep a positive attitude about it all. As I sat there listening to her talk I soon realized that she was probably giving me more encouragement than I to her. But then, most often as a chaplain, I listen...I listen to stories about life, about faith, about family and friends...this visit was no different.
As the visit between the two unlikely friends drew to what would have been its normal close, I asked my newly made friend if there was any coffee left. With a smile and that now familiar twinkle in her eye, she walked me back to the kitchen. We sat again like old friends and shared about life. The assigned work for the visit was accomplished, but the opportunity to listen and be present was not yet completed. We sat together for another hour or so, where at the end of our time together she hugged me like a member of the family. I left that memorable visit thankful for the opportunity, thankful for the stories shared, and thankful for the hug which I know meant so much to each of us.
What I have learned most about being a chaplain over the past years is that it is not about me; it's about the individuals that I am there to support. My own faith certainly informs how I react and respond, but being a chaplain is about supporting the individual where they are on their own spiritual journey. When asked questions such as "What's heaven going to be like?" or "Where do you think I'll go after I die?" I often pause for a moment, and then invite the individual sharing the question to answer it for themselves. Then with their answer as the frame work of the conversation, we set out on a journey together trying to find the answers to life's questions.
Being a chaplain is one of the most rewarding vocations I could ever ask for. I am privileged to meet people from all walks of life, from all faith traditions and experiences, and we are given the chance to journey together down the road of life. We support one another whether by talking, holding hands, sitting quietly, sharing scripture and prayer or laughing, watching TV, or playing cards. The role of a chaplain morphs and transforms to the needs of each individual patient and their support network. Each time I make a visit, there is often the wonderful opportunity to name that which is Holy, and already present in the life of those I visit. A chaplain declares God's blessing not because without it God is not present, but because it brings to the forefront of those who hear it that God is always present there with them. What an extraordinary and rewarding task.
I am thankful for each and every visit I am able to make as a chaplain. I am thankful for the opportunity to share in some of the most intimate moments of life. Thankful for the opportunity to provide peace and comfort to so many when it is so desperately needed. I am thankful for the innumerable blessings that I am given through my work as a chaplain. For all of these reasons and so many more, I am thankful to be called a chaplain. It is a labor of love.