Hospice educator Joan Halifax tells the story of a precious gift she once received. It was an intricately carved ivory box. The bottom of the box formed a hand in a curved position. The box lid was another hand which fit tightly over the other hand, so that the hands were clasped, and appeared to be gently cupping something within their grasp. When the lid was lifted off the box, one saw a tiny bird, so delicately carved that it appeared to just be taking flight, finally free from the hands' grasp. Joan shared this image as a metaphor for the kind of care hospice brings to its patients and families.
But since hearing this story, I have been unable not to feel that more specifically, it defined the role of the spiritual care provider. Spiritual care providers, also called chaplains, have always been a part of the hospice care team, anchoring the essential spiritual part of the body-mind-spirit whole person care hospice offers. Spiritual care providers believe that each person is unique, and that each person as a unique expression and receptivity to that thing which gives their lives meaning and purpose: we hold this to be their spirit or spiritual connection. One need not be religious or even hold a belief in a deity: each person has something which gives meaning and purpose to their life. And thus each person has story of beauty to be told, a life to be shared and celebrated.
Spiritual care providers are like the gently clasped hands: we seek to hold the patient gently and safely, offering him or her a place of rest and comfort from which to tell their story, discover their own beauty, rekindle their strength of spirit and eventually take flight. We hold gently and do not force beliefs or opinions upon others, we respect and honor traditions and beliefs unique to the patient, and we listen, offering acceptances and encouragement in a difficult time. We rejoice with the patient and family in the story of their lives, and mourn the places of grief with them. Often the best medicine is the quiet warmth of those safe, cupped hands. And when their spirit is ready, spiritual care providers offer a gentle platform from which to take flight.
We all need someone who sees the preciousness of our life journey and who help us to under that preciousness when we, at a certain moment, may not be able. We all need someone who can talk, laugh, sing, pray, and just BE with us. This month of October, thank a spiritual care provider/chaplain for their joy in walking humbly in this rewarding role.