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Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee, How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
The hospice patient’s eyes welled with tears as everyone in the room joined the Catholic Community Hospice chaplain in singing the familiar hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” Singing, along with prayer and listening, is just a small part of the spiritual care that the chaplains provide patients and their families at the end of life.
Once a patient is admitted to Catholic Community Hospice, a chaplain is assigned as part of the patient’s care team. “We serve people of all faiths – or no faith,” says Deacon Jim Lavin. “We try to meet people where they’re at.”
There are four chaplains on staff, including three full-time and one part-time. Two of the chaplains are deacons. End-of-life care is provided in full accordance with the Catholic Church and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). “We operate from within the Catholic Ethical and Religious Directives, assuring every patient of our commitment to honoring life right up until the end,” explains Deacon Jim.
During the visits, the chaplain spends time with the patient conducting a review of his/her life. “I love hearing their personal story. It’s an opportunity for us to get to know them as best as we can – their values, their passions, their relationship with family, as well as with God,” explains Tracy MacClement, MDiv, chaplain.
For some patients, there is great anxiety about those they are leaving behind. “Our chaplains come in and help them let go. To see someone reach that moment of peace in a dignified manner is so beautiful,” explains Donda McLaughlin, LMSW, LCSW.
In addition to helping the patients, the Catholic Community Hospice chaplains provide spiritual support to their loved ones. Deacon Joe Allen recalls two brothers who hadn’t spoken in 12 years. One lived out of town, but travelled back when his father was dying. The two were forced to talk and eventually began to repair their broken relationship. “You see God working there,” says Deacon Joe. “It took the death of Dad to bring two brothers together.”
One of the chaplains is always on-call whenever a patient passes away. While some people may find the idea of death to be scary and uncomfortable, the chaplains find attending a death to be meaningful. “It’s such a sacred moment,” says Tracy.
Following the death, the chaplain stays with the family, pitching in and helping with important next steps such as contacting the funeral home and the church. They even officiate patients’ funeral services, if needed.
Every Monday morning, the entire Catholic Community Hospice staff gathers. During that time, they remember all the patients who most recently passed. They pray for them and share favorite memories. “We also pray for one another,” adds Deacon Joe. “Our staff gets really connected to our patients, and it hurts when one of them passes.”
“You see God working there.”
The patients continue to be remembered during an annual memorial service hosted by the agency. For 13 months following a loved one’s death, Catholic Community Hospice provides bereavement services to family members.
Grateful for the care received, those family members often call or send cards and letters of thanks. Tracy recently heard from a woman whose husband died six years ago. Catholic Community Hospice’s presence during this time was so impactful, that she felt compelled to reach out and let Tracy know.
Like the other Catholic Community Hospice chaplains and team members, Tracy does not do this work to be thanked. “Hospice care is a ministry,” she adds. “Through my work, I don’t ever have to wonder…I get the gift of watching God do things.”