Spirituality of Hospice Care

Saturday, March 19th, I was blessed to be invited as a guest speaker at the local hospice training event.  I spoke from my heart that day, not from my notes, but here are the notes I made in preparation for that day.

I feel blessed by your invitation to share with you today some of my thoughts on the spiritual aspect of hospice.

But before I do, I need to share with you how very blessed this community is by the work you do as hospice volunteers.  It seems to me that volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy.  We may go to the polls to cast our votes for political parties every few years, but when we volunteer ….. with every moment we serve, with every breath in our body we are voting for the kind of community we want to live in.  Creston is a better place to live … and yes also to die … because the work you do affirms the sacredness of life itself.

It might be helpful to share a definition of spirituality within the context of palliative care:  “Spirituality is the dynamic dimension of human life that relates to the way persons (individual and community) experience, express and/or seek meaning, purpose and transcendence, and the way they connect to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, to the significant and the sacred.”1 Now, let’s unpack that …

  1. Nolan, S.; Saltmarsh, P.; & Leget, C. (2011). Spiritual care in palliative care: Working towards an EAPC task force. European Journal of Palliative Care, 18 (2): 86-89. See also van de Geer, J., and Leget, C. (2012). How spirituality is integrated system-wide in the Netherlands palliative care national programme. Progress in Palliative Care, 20: 2, pp. 98-105.a time for peace  

Hospice care is a journey of accompaniment.  The people whose beds we sit beside are transitioning from one world to the next.  It is sacred time, and a sacred journey.

To accompany a soul on this journey blesses both the one who receives the gift of accompaniment, and the one who offers it.  In my experience, I have often felt that I have received more than I have given … and it is  then that we know God walks the journey beside us.

Hospice care is a journey of love.  We share the love in our own hearts as we sit quietly beside a human soul readying itself for transition to the next world.  Indeed, the more we give of love, the more we receive.  That, as you create a vacuum, more flows in.

Hospice care is a journey of compassion.  Compassion is not a relationship between a healer and the wounded.  It is a relationship between equals.

Only when we have come to terms with our own mortality, with our own woundedness, can we be fully present with the sacred other; and that is when compassion flows freely from our hearts into the heart and soul of the sacred other as we sit with the one who is dying.  Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared and equal humanity.

When we care for one another, we encounter God. When we experience the Spirit, we care for one another. Everyone, everything is connected through love. We need to live in that reality.

Hospice care is deeply spiritual.  “Spirituality is about personal experience . . . but [not] for the sake of feeling good, individual prosperity, or guaranteeing a blessed afterlife. It is about tracing the threads of the interconnected universe, about finding [the sacred] in nature and community [and one another] – and, in finding God, discovering that we really are one.” (Grounded, Diana Butler Bass, p. 238)

Hospice care is unique to each individual.  Every one of us has our own understanding of what is sacred.  Every one of us has our own understanding of what the transition from life to death is about.  Each of us approaches that gate in our own, unique and special way.

Providing spiritual support for the one who is dying means respecting that person’s personal belief system, and their stage of readiness to address their own spiritual needs.

Hospice care is a journey of accompaniment.

Hospice care is a journey of love.

Hospice care is a journey of compassion.

Hospice care is deeply spiritual

Hospice care is unique to each individual.

What I have learned from sitting at peoples bedsides is this:  We who are blessed with this deeply spiritual, compassionate, unique and love filled ministry of final accompaniment are privileged to be present for several lifetimes.

A lifetime is not the number of moments between birth and death. A lifetime is one moment between two little breaths – the breaths between right here and right now.

May you travel lightly between each moment.

May you live fully into the light each moment brings.

May you be the light in someone else’s darkness.

Rev. Paula

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