Giving Voice: Celebrating Pastoral Care Week
By Terre Mirsch
Last week, hospices nationwide honored the contributions of our dedicated hospice chaplains during the 27th anniversary of Pastoral Care Week. Pastoral Care Week provides opportunity to promote spiritual values as part of the healing process while inviting us to celebrate the work of spiritual caregivers. This year’s theme, “Giving Voice,” reflects on both the giving and empowering roles of spiritual caregivers.
“The Theme for the 2012 Pastoral Care/Spiritual Care Week is a play on words—words that must be voiced to empower, words that have been empowered. They may be the words of hope and love and care, of respect that reveal value and potential to those who have lost their sense of self. They may be the words spoken by those who have not spoken, words of the disenfranchised who are finding their voice. Giving voice is providing a nurturing to a withered soul that, though beaten down or laying fallow like a seed in the parched earth bursts into life and sprouts with a drop of water, like a bird whose thirst is quenched is free to fly to the heights.”
Spiritual care is integral to the holistic care that defines hospice philosophy. In fact, its value is so widely recognized that all Medicare certified hospice programs are required to provide spiritual care and counseling to those that it serves. The hospice chaplain or pastoral counselor is a core member of the hospice interdisciplinary team, providing spiritual support to patients and families who are facing life-limiting illness.
Hospice chaplains provide spiritual care and support in keeping with the beliefs of those they serve, helping them to draw on their own faith traditions and teachings for comfort and guidance. Their support can supplement the spiritual care that is already provided by community clergy, or they can provide support and presence for those that do not have connections with community clergy or support. They can also assist with planning or facilitating funeral services or memorial services. In many hospices, the chaplain is a member of the bereavement team that supports family members following the loss of a loved one.
A common misconception is that the hospice chaplain is only for the religious, or for those who believe in God. But the role of the hospice chaplain is much broader. Hospice chaplains act as a resource to explore concerns and promote comfort, dignity, and peace. Those that face advanced illness, and their families, may face questions about the meaning of pain or suffering near the end of life. They might find themselves seeking opportunity for forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing with others, or with a higher power. Hospice chaplains provide an opportunity for talking about unfinished business, asking unanswered questions, discovering life’s meaning, or telling one’s life story.
Hospice chaplains give voice. They empower. They listen. They comfort.
During this year’s Pastoral Care Week, and always, we honor all of the spiritual caregivers that offer comfort, healing, and prayer to those who face life-limiting illness and their families.
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” -Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, French philosopher and Jesuit priest