How a UCLAH Hospice Chaplain Can Help Ill Patients
UCLAH Hospice Chaplains provide spiritual support to terminally ill patients in hospice care and their families.
What Do Hospice Chaplains Do?
Hospice care is meant for the complete care of the whole patient. The goal of is hospice is not to treat illnesses or problems in isolation, but to make the patient as comfortable as possible during her remaining time. This includes a wide variety of medical staff; nurses, home health aides, physicians, and therapists are all vital components of the hospice medical team. But in a holistic view of hospice care, these people are not enough. There needs to be someone to look after the spiritual needs of the patient. This is the role of UCLAH’s hospice chaplains.
They work with the rest of the hospice care team to ensure that the spiritual needs of the patient are being met. For some patients, this will involve helping the patient meet the requirements of her faith by performing sacraments and end-of-life rituals. For other patients, they provide spiritual support in a less orthodox way, discussing with the patient her relationship with the world and helping her find meaning in her life.
Spiritual guidance is available to all patients and families, regardless of their religious inclinations. An approaching death can make even the most down-to-earth, pragmatic person question life’s meaning. UCLAH chaplains have eased the worries and fears of many patients and families.
How They Help Patients
While our chaplains may personally adhere to one faith or another, their duties in hospice care are not defined by any particular faith. The patient does not need to be a member of any religious group to request a spiritual care visit. Nor does a patient or family need to host such a visit; it is entirely up to the patient. But sometimes, even irreligious patients can benefit from some of the ways that a spiritual guide might help:
- Help patients come to terms with death and loss.
- Assist the patient in finding meaning in her life.
- Attend to the patient at her time of death.
- Attend to the religious needs of the patient. If the patient’s faith requires a specific rite soon before death, our chaplain can contact a member of the needed clergy to perform that rite.
Almost all patients contend with these matters. Spiritual and emotional support are available to everyone regardless of their faith or spirituality.
Spiritual balance is an important part of a patient’s well-being. It may not seem as important as medical care, but spiritual comfort care is highly correlated with positive medical outcomes. Patients with a positive sense of spiritual self generally report less pain and more comfort as they progress through the end of life. This, in turn, eases the burden on family and other caregivers.
When it comes time for the patient to pass away, our chaplain can be there to comfort the patient during her last moments. Much pain can be eased with his gentle presence.
How They Help Families
Having a terminally ill loved one causes distress for families, and they, too, need emotional and spiritual support. Anger, guilt, and spiritual bewilderment are common feelings, and a visiting spiritual leader can provide a compassionate ear and spiritual guidance, giving family members a healthy way of working through such difficult emotions.
- Provide a safe place for family members to vent their frustrations and their emotions.
- Help the family understand the spiritual and emotional needs of the patient.
- Mediate disputes that might arise between the patient and her family.
As experts in spiritual and emotional guidance, our chaplains often hear things that the other members of the hospice team might not. Sometimes, patients and family members complain about frustrations, grudges, or even outright hostilities. Such negative feelings can make a barrier to effective care, impacting the patient’s comfort and emotional well-being. When this happens, he can be a conduit of positive communication. He can help family members understand the patient’s needs, and maybe even pave the way to resolving long-standing issues between them, resulting in better emotional health for all.
With the death of a patient, most of the duties of physicians, nurses, home health aides, and therapists are concluded, and they soon move on to help new patients. Our hospice chaplain, however, still has much work to do. He will continue to support the family by:
- Providing bereavement care and suggesting suitable counseling.
- Being available by phone or email to personally assist struggling family members.
- Helping to organize memorial services.
- Informing religious organizations and clergy about the death.
Family members care for their ill family member for months, sometimes years, before death occurs. In that time, they have developed a routine with caregiving at its core and have formed a close attachment—it may be the closest it’s ever been—with the patient. To have that closeness ruptured with death and that routine disrupted in the worst possible way must be shockingly grievous for family members. Emotional and spiritual emptiness are likely. Depression is common.
But he will still be there after the death. He will provide care to the family, offering comfort and guidance and helping them process their emotions and the too-soon absence of their loved one.
Helping Other Team Members
Hospice health care is physically and emotionally exhausting for the team members. Hospice workers often form bonds with their patients, and knowing that death is inevitable in hospice care does not lessen the shock when a friend dies. For that reason, our chaplains provide support for the other members of the hospice team.
They help the team members understand the spiritual needs of the patient. For example, some faiths forbid certain kinds of medication or therapies. In such cases, they explain the needs of the patient, helping change the care plan to meet the spiritual or religious needs of the patient. Hospice is about whole-patient care, and team members should take care not to cause spiritual distress to the patient.
But no matter what religious leanings patients and families might have, UCLAH chaplains are there to attend to the spiritual needs common to all people.