Spiritual Care in Hospice

Physical comfort is often the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of hospice care. However, Memorial Hospice comprises a team of care providers across disciplines, including spiritual, to help patients and their families navigate their difficult situation and to care for the patient as a whole person.

“We try to join the patient and family in the moment, empathizing with whatever feelings they are experiencing,” said Jan Costello, spiritual outreach coordinator at Memorial Home Services Hospice. “Chaplains are really there to be that listening post. To provide a presence, and to not only listen, but help them connect the dots.”

In the past two years, Memorial Home Services has expanded the Hospice spiritual care team to include multiple chaplains who serve patients throughout central Illinois. Chaplains visit patients at home and can also serve as liaisons with community clergy members.

Spiritual-Care-in-HospicePatients in Hospice are seeking wholeness, comfort and peace at a time when treatment is no longer an option. Costello said Chaplains often talk with patients and their families about the meaningful things in their lives and help address fears, guilt and anger.

“Caring for spiritual needs is as important as providing food and water,” said Sister Rose McKeown, ASC, manager of Pastoral Care at Taylorville Memorial Hospital. “All of us as a team want to communicate to the patient and to the family: ‘You’re not alone. You’re valued. You’re still human. You have not been abandoned.’”

McKeown said spiritual needs are not problems to be solved, but experiences to be entered into. And, patients who are not religious still have spiritual needs.

“One thing we like to explain to people is that religion and spirituality aren’t necessarily the same,” Costello said. “Spirituality is focused on where a person finds wholeness in their life. Religion is a specific belief system.”

With this in mind, chaplains gauge patient needs and develop a visit plan to document important steps to consider as they walk alongside the patient through their end-of-life journey. Sometimes, they simply need someone to lean on, a good listener, a ministry of presence, or spiritual and emotional support.

Chaplains can baptize, provide communion and assist with memorial services or funerals if patients don’t have a pastor in their lives.

“There’s no greater mission in life than to walk another human being home to God,” McKeown said.