Inspiration : You Must Be Special: A Reflection on Eleven Years as Hospice Chaplain
Posted by Chapster on Sep-30-2005 (4090 reads)

Today, September 30, 2005, is my last day working for Vitas Innovative Healthcare Corporation as one of their hospice chaplains. I leave their employ feeling a deep sense of loss but moving into a new position as a hospital chaplain. In the course of my eleven and a half years with them, they have become part of my family and I love them. Vitas, in my opinion, is the finest hospice in the country, and team 403 the best goup of caregivers, with the heart and the resources to provide the care that is needed to terminal patients. Here, in this article, is a brief message that I shared with my team yesterday. I hope it will be of help to all you wonderful hospice workers.

My dear friends...

I started here at Vitas over eleven years ago having just finished my training as a chaplain at Baylor University Medical Center. I will be going back to Baylor's halls next week to begin my new job as chaplain. I do so with deeply mixed feelings. I am happy to be part of a great team. I am sad not to be part of this great team.

If I tried to mention each person whom I have come to love and appreciate over the past eleven years, I would be here all afternoon. To each of you, though, I hope you hear my tender feelings for you before this brief talk is over.

What I have learned to appreciate over the past eleven years is that every time we reach out to someone, as you do each day, whether by word, or a held hand, or an understanding look, each of us, managers, secretaries, nurses, social workers, chaplains, every one of us, when you touch someone a transaction occurs. If we give something of ourselves, something magical happens. And, it is important, because when it does, we know it and we feel it. It costs us something in our souls. When we touch the lives of our patients, we surrender a part of ourselves in giving to them. In that very moment, in that arena where we reach out in some form past ourselves, a special light is ignited, and a transaction of the soul occurs. What happens in that moment? This. We become a repository of our patients and families suffering and they become the beneficiaries of our healing. Make no mistake about it – every time you encounter a patient, there is some cost to you. And, this is what I admire about you – that despite that cost you continue day in and day out to offer yourselves as gifts to those who are hurting. And, in this I admire you deeply.

A number of years ago when I worked deep nights on the weekends at Baylor, I would visit with the nurses of the various units throughout the nights. I would often spend much of the night in ER with families that were dealing with a child who had had a gun shot wound or perhaps in Labor and Delivery with a difficult delivery or a stillbirth or in the OR Waiting Room. The nurses of the various units would often say, “I couldn't do what the nurses down in OR do,” or “I couldn't deal with Labor and Delivery.” In response, I'd always say, “Well, that's what they say about you. They say they couldn't do what you do. There aren't any jobs that are really harder than another. There's only what's right for you - what you can handle.” I guess that I wanted them to hear me blessing their job as unique and distinct and hard in it's own way. And, what I said was true – from a certain view.

When I came to Vitas, I often heard people say the same thing to me: “I couldn't do what you do; It takes someone very special to do what you do.” Whether from true or false modesty, I would always respond, “Nah, its not hard. Anyone could do it. Only once in awhile is it really tough. The rest of the time, I laugh a lot, I get to do what I want most times, really, it's a breeze. And, the truth is, you help people a lot! What's hard about that?"

But, over time, I'm not sure when it started, I began to sink back into a private world after a death, or an oncall visit, or after really looking in a wife's eyes and telling her how sorry I was that her husband had died. I know how I'd feel if I had to say goodbye to my soulmate and wife. I know how I felt just a few weeks ago when I knew that Betty Anne (not a real name) was dying and I wouldn't see her again. Heck, I had been visiting her nearly half the eleven years I've been a Vitas. I just didn't know how many more times I could do that and still have anything to give.

A hospice nurse in the Bill Moyers special, “On Our Own Terms”, when asked how she coped with working in hospice, said she just went home at the end of the day and pretty much stayed with her family. When people asked her to get involved in outside activities, she would say, “No, I gave at the office.”

I've been giving at the office for more than eleven years. When people say to me these days, “That's got to be hard,” I am more likely to reply, “It is. It has unmeasurable rewards, but it is.” And, when they say, you must be a special person, I still don't think I'm that special, but I do stand in literal awe of some of you. You are special persons. You are the angels that hold the hands of those who are taking their last breath on this side of what we call life. Some of you make next to nothing in terms of a monetary reward, but you persevere, granting peace, comfort, and human dignity to patients and families you have never known before and will likely never meet again. I know the pain of saying goodbye to them.

While studying for the ministry, I worked as an electrician. I took pride in building and fixing things and walking by something I helped construct a month, a year or six years earlier and saying, “I built that,” or, “I wired that.” Whenever I drove by, part of me was still there. There aren't such ready reminders for you, you who give your lives to patients. There's no pupil to come to your schoolroom door ten years later and say, “I remember when you taught me geometry in Junior High. Now I'm a physicist at Oak Ridge.” There's only the touch that you gave, the Roxanol you ordered, the family that didn't want to hear that momma couldn't eat solid foods anymore. There's the nights when you wake up at 3AM wondering how Mrs. Jones is? Did she die over the weekend?

The recognition that we have completed the job is that our patient died. That is our memorial. And, somehow, day after day, you find the strength to do it, to reach down into the well of your lives and your souls and to give them a smile, a laugh, a prayer, a bath, and dignity.

What I tell you now is the truth. It comes of a certainty that I feel about nearly nothing in my life. I feel more certain of this than I do about the existence of the sun. I wish for you to hear this from my lips, from the mouth of someone who in some measure knows what you go through, and who, on this one occasion speaks as a prophet. The next time someone says to you, “It takes a special person to work for hospice,” be humble, look like a hangdog if you must, say “Ah, shucks,” if you have to, but know this from me to you, not you as a group, you as a person – the next time they say “You must be special to work for hospice,” know that this is absolutely true - they're right.

I love you all.

Thank you Team 403 for your care and love over the past. I have been through much in the time I have known you dear friends: a divorce, being wayliad in Chicago on September 11, 2001, and my marriage to my Soulmate and Friend, Barb. I do love you all! Blessings to each of you. Thannk you Barb for supporting me in this transition.


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