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End of Life

Chaplains, Spiritual Services & Hospice

Reviewed by: MySeniorCare Staff
Last Updated: 4/15/2011 1:30:31 PM

When a person, and their family, is told about a terminal illness, the initial shock and grief is overwhelming for all concerned. There is a desire to know things such as how long their loved one has to live and how the terminally ill person will be cared for. The physical needs of the person are met by their doctors and home health nurses.

If the person wishes to die at home, or stay at home as long as possible, the focus shifts to the need for pain medications, and other remedies for the symptoms of their affliction. One of the most important aspects of providing care for the terminally ill person is caring for their spiritual needs. This is where the use of a hospice, and a hospice chaplain is invaluable.

The spiritual well being and care of an elderly person who is dying is not just necessary for someone deemed "religious." People from all backgrounds, belief systems, and cultures benefit from loving, non judgmental, spiritual care as they reach the end of their lives. No matter the dying person's spiritual beliefs, nearly all terminally ill people have spiritual questions, such as why they became ill, and questions about an afterlife.

Oftentimes, news of a terminal illness makes one examine their life, and feelings of guilt and the need for forgiveness may need to be addressed. As result, people with terminal illnesses may wish to complete any "unfinished business" they may feel they have. A family member may not feel equipped to deal with these matters, as they may have spiritual questions and uncertainties of their own. This leads to the question of who best can meet the spiritual needs of a terminally ill person.

Hospices provide holistic, supportive, care to a person at the end of life, as well as support for family members. Hospice care may be provided in hospice facilities, or hospice workers can come to a patient's home, as well as the hospital. Generally, hospice care uses a team approach to care for the dying person, and one member of the team will be the hospice chaplain. A hospice chaplain is able to provide the spiritual support and care needed to serve a diverse population, and they are specially trained to meet end of life spiritual needs.

Hospice Chaplains

Once a person enters into hospice care, the chaplain will want to meet with the person to assess their particular spiritual needs. This need not be a formal, structured meeting, but a meeting that will allow the terminally ill person to speak honestly about their spiritual needs. Just as hospice nurses, and workers become familiar with a patient, so can the hospice chaplain, providing emotional, and spiritual support to all members of the family.

A hospice chaplain, after the initial meeting, might assist the patient and family by coordinating end-of-life care with the person's pastor, or other spiritual leader. The hospice chaplain can also help the family with funeral preparations, freeing them to be with their loved one in their time of need. He or she will be available to listen, answer questions, and be a liaison between the patient, and other hospice workers, so that all involved will be able to care for the terminally ill person in a way that supports and respects their individual spiritual desires and needs.

Many make the mistake of thinking that a chaplain is only for people who believe in God, or are religious. This is a misconception of the hospice chaplain's role and capabilities. If you, or a family member, is under the care of a hospice, do not miss out on the vital spiritual care that a hospice chaplain is able to provide to all people at the end of their lives.

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