My mother is very old and homebound; she doesn’t belong to any particular church, but I know she would appreciate having a minister or someone to talk about things with besides me. . . .My partner has cancer and doesn’t have long to live. We’ve been trying to talk about it, but we don’t know where to start. . . .I’ve had this disease for a long time, but it’s getting much worse, and I’m getting more afraid about my future. . . . .
There will come a time in each of our lives when we face illness, infirmity and death. Even those of us who have experienced much suffering and tragedy in our lives find it almost impossible to deal with our own, and those of our most beloved friends and family, without help. We may have difficulty talking to our nearest and dearest about these tender topics. Sometimes we are afraid of getting upset and crying in front of others: Won’t we make them feel bad, too? Sometimes we are embarrassed about our fears and feelings. Sometimes family members actively discourage us from talking about our thoughts and feelings about sickness and death, believing all will be easier if we “think positively” or “put on a happy face.”
These are circumstances in which a trained chaplain like me can be of greatest service. I come to visit. I ask gentle questions and I listen to whatever the sick or dying person wants to talk about. Often, conversations arise in which a person explores, questions and resolves issues of faith and belief: Why am I sick? Why am I dying? Is God angry with me? What did I do wrong? Many people have a deep-seated need to talk to someone outside of their circle of family and friends, to revisit aloud their history and express what has not been expressed before: sorrows, regrets, shames, joys, accomplishments, triumphs. Some people are fearful about the future, their illnesses, their deaths, the afterlife. As an interfaith chaplain, I bring no religious or spiritual agenda to the table; I meet the individual on their terms, and support them in defining their own beliefs. I am glad to offer prayer and provide other religious or spiritual rituals, but only if individuals want them.
I do not have all the answers, of course. Each of us makes the passages between health and sickness and from life to death alone. In my seminary training, hospice work, nursing home chaplaincy, and a yearlong residency as a hospital chaplain, I have learned how to facilitate the individual’s journey through these difficult times, and also to provide support to family and friends who are sharing that journey. I passed a rigorous written and oral examination to become a Board-Certified Clinical Chaplain in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy, a national organization of professional chaplains and pastoral counselors. I am an active member of a Center for Spiritual Care and Pastoral Formation chapter, a group dedicated to deep psychospiritual development that supports our professional work as chaplains and holds us accountable to professional standards.
In some medical settings such as hospitals and in hospice care, you or your loved one will be provided with the opportunity to see a chaplain as part of your care. If you do not have access to a chaplain, or prefer to see a chaplain privately, please contact me. I am glad to have an initial consultation at no charge in order to determine whether I can be of assistance to you. You do not have to walk through this period of tremendous change without spiritual support.