Honoring Life Journeys
Posted by Tammy McNeal, Chaplain
During this Pastoral Care Week, I would like to celebrate the chaplains at JourneyCare and around the world for all the care that you provide to people and families in the various ways you serve. As I reflect on my own pastoral care journey, I am appreciative of the profession I feel called to do.
What do I love about hospice care? I love that it is not specifically focused on death, but on the life of the patient. As a chaplain, this has afforded me the opportunity to hear each patient's life journey. It is in this sharing that I have gained the opportunity to celebrate patients’ lives in the present. Listening to the patients and their families allows their life experiences to be honored. It also has allowed me the opportunity to hear how their lives connect the past, present and their desires in their final months and days. These stories have really influenced my calling as a chaplain.
Of the many families who have impacted me, I would like to share a memory of one of the first families I served with JourneyCare. The family was very close. The patient had dementia and was being cared for at home by her daughter, son-in-law and grandson. When chaplain support was offered to this family, they declined. However, they did allow an initial visit.
Upon arrival, I was greeted at the door by the patient’s daughter and son-in-law. The grandson and the patient were sitting in the living room. The patient, not comprehending, spoke and smiled. Initially, the family asked questions about my faith, I think in part because a lot of times families are confused on what the role of a chaplain actually encompasses. Hospice chaplains provide spiritual support to terminally ill patients and their families, regardless of spiritual, religious or cultural backgrounds.
After I answered the questions and explained my role as a chaplain and as a part of the care team, the daughter replied, “So you are not going to tell me why I should be in church and how I am going to hell if I do not go?" I replied, “Of course not.” They all laughed.
The patient was involved in a church before the illness. So, the family desired spiritual support for her, but not for them. My challenge as a chaplain was to honor the patient and her faith and at the same time honor the family who desired support without religion being the “spiritual support.” I reflected: how can I achieve this? The answer was in their journey, and in the art of listening to the life and legacy of this patient and family. It was in the sharing of how this mother, mother-in-law and grandmother had impacted their lives to the point where they were caring for her at all costs and care outside of their home was absolutely not a desired option.
During months of weekly visits, the family shared more and more with me. They started to introduce me to friends and other family members. Then one day, it seemed as if the family was waiting for me to arrive. It appeared that the patent was declining rapidly.
Then they shared this: “We never wanted a chaplain, wanted to see one, hear from one or feel the need to gain support from one. And then came you.” They went on to share how chaplain support changed their lives and how I touched their loved one’s life. I was humbled and felt honored to be a part of this important time in their lives.
This family still impacts the way I serve families today, especially those who fear being judged by a hospice chaplain, or do not understand the role of the chaplain. I‘ve been fulfilled by many lessons learned, and humbled by many stories of love, courage and legacies. My heart is smiling because this is what Pastoral Care Week is all about celebrating — caring for those who have afforded us chaplains the opportunity to become a part of their families' lives.
I feel proud to be working for an organization that strives to make a positive difference in the lives of each patient and each family. It has definitely made a difference in mine.