A Report on Today’s Global Hospice Chaplain Zoom Meeting: A New Identity Must Emerge

Report by Saul Ebema, DMin.

Before the emergence of the Hospice Chaplaincy website as we know it in 2015, in 2010 I started a website called Bedsideministry.com with the same concept of sharing my doctoral research to help hospice chaplains. In my mind then and in the minds of many healthcare chaplains, our ministry was centered around the bedside. The Hospice chaplain’s identity was tied to that professional clergy in the Hospice team that provided bedside ministry to Hospice patients in the home, hospital, skilled nursing facility and wherever the patient called home.

As eloquently discussed by the participants in our global hospice chaplain zoom meeting today, The COVID-19 pandemic has created a loss of identity in many hospice chaplains and in the practice of hospice chaplaincy. I must say that this loss of identity has affected chaplains in all healthcare settings including hospital chaplains. Most hospital chaplains are reinventing their practice in supporting the healthcare team by delivering chocolates, candy and massages to the healthcare professionals at the frontlines of COVID-19 (nothing wrong with that). Others are not allowed to visit floors with COVID-19 patients and have started text lines for hospital staff, daily cards/devotionals and short videos of poems etc. The point is, there is a loss of identity and the need to regain it quickly.

For many Hospice Chaplains, this loss of identity happened quickly as we were considered non-essential and told to immediately stop making hospice patient visits and stay at home. Many hospice chaplains have verbalized that this experience for them has led to a feeling of rejection. Dr. Amy Agape who will be Friday’s keynote presenter, rightly called this “ambiguous loss.”

The term ambiguous loss was coined in the 1970s by Dr. Pauline Boss. Ambiguous loss is a loss that occurs without closure or clear understanding. This kind of loss leaves a person searching for answers.

Ambiguous loss is often complicated because it emerges from the outside context and not from the psyche. COVID-19 and the emergence of social/physical distancing to stop/slow the spread has greatly affected the context of the practice of hospice chaplaincy thereby leading to ambiguous loss.

Ambiguous loss has not only affected hospice chaplains but also hospice patients and their families. As stated by today’s presenter Rev. Rebecca McNeely, most families who have loved ones dying in skilled nursing facilities/nursing homes are not allowed to enter the facility and be physically present for their dying loved one. This led to the question of “how can hospice chaplains help the families of dying patients who want to be present for their dying loved ones in the nursing home that is denying them access?”

Lot’s suggestions emerged on how hospice chaplains can approach these situations. Including the Hospice chaplain as a leader/advocate- approaching the nursing home facility leadership and making special requests on behalf of the family of the dying patient. Taking on a central leadership/advocate role.

One of the Hospice Chaplains in the meeting was just assigned a COVID-19 hospice patient so we discussed about supporting COVID-19 patients, their families and the skilled nursing home staff. These times have called for the Hospice Chaplain to be resourceful and creative.

The truth is, many Hospice Chaplains have tried different ways to provide spiritual care to the hospice team, the patients and their families through tele-chaplaincy, daily devotionals, text messages, video messages. Some have even put on the full PPE gear to provide spiritual support by the bedside, but the general consensus is that IT IS NOT THE SAME AS IT WAS BEFORE COVID-19.

While COVID-19 is still rampart, a new Hospice Chaplain identity must emerge that meets the needs of the staff, patients and their families. An identity that feels less mechanical but authentic and real. What that identity looks like, I don’t know. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, let’s continue as Rev, Rebecca McNeely encouraged- doing our best to take care of the hospice staff, patients and their families regardless of the situation.

Global Zoom Meeting Update: Thursday’s Presenter will be Enoch Aguilar a Spiritual Counselor at Fairmont Hospice in San Marcos, Texas who will be talking about “Contentment and Compassion Fatigue.”

You can join by emailing us at info@hospicechaplaincy.com

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