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Six Months At Hospice: On Spirituality and Dying

Let me say that I ended up working at Hospice because for years the animal communication and Reiki sessions I did with animals prepared me for this work.  A growing number of clients wanted end-of-life consultations, and I obliged, honored to do so, honored to speak with and hear the wisdom and love of the animal ready to die, honored to share  the grief and sorrow of the humans releasing their greatest love.  It was a natural fifteen year training program leading me to work with dying people.  I can say the animals have taught me how to live and how to die.
Why do I do pastoral care?  How?  Why do I  do it this way?
I do it because I'm called to be a conduit between the spiritual realm and earth realm. For 20 plus years I had a spiritual practice and did readings and counseling on the side and eventually grew more concerned with my own gift to the world than with being a professional psychic earning supplemental income.  I watched friends of mine blossom as successful  metaphysical “entrepreneurs,”  and I never fully placed myself on that road for whatever reason: no time, no sales ability, devoting more energy to my teaching profession.  Although I was trained as a writer and am a writer by nature, the Universe did  not present me with reward and opportunities for commercial success after a few years of publishing in small literary journals.  I tell people I stopped writing poetry when I began seeing a therapist after a trauma -- and I no longer had the need to craft confessional, drama laden lamentations.  Therapy cured me of poetry.  But my therapist was more than anything else my primary spiritual teacher and through her invitation to explore a healing, living God and spirituality, I began questioning my purpose. (Thank you Joan Lieberman!)  Evaluating my life path, I found that when I was successful, it was strictly in the field of education and service, not in self-serving endeavors,  and I heeded the message.  There is nothing wrong with serving the self.  This is not a judgment.  It was just that I was shown  over and over again through experience and disappointment that it was not to be my path in this life. So really, what was I giving the world that could be considered true and valuable service that wasn't motivated by career  advancement or profit? 
In my years of metaphysical study and in my own psychological healing journey, I learned to recognize and listen to the Spirit – or God – or whatever you call it – and saw how smoothly my life flowed when I followed the subtle hints sent from the Divine Source.  Then my question became, "how can I take what I have learned about God and Spirit and use it in a practical way to help others?"  I finished a second M.A. in Pastoral Ministries specializing in Loss and Healing, and the next logical step was to get out of the classroom do the work.  I have been interning as a Hospice chaplain since October 2012.
How do I take the knowledge (not belief but knowledge)  that we are never alone and that this world is not the lasting one?  How do I assist others as they cross the bridge between these two worlds?   How do I sit in the center of someone’s most critical life moments and turn the experience from one of fear to one of  love?   I stare at death and say “you are not a door closing but a world opening.” I do this by being present and standing in what I know to be truth . My pastoral presence – even when I don’t have the right words to say (and often I feel I don't) —means that I stand in God’s Light and channel that energy.   If  I am truly a transmitter of Divine light then my intention and presence become healing tools on their own, and guided by this, I can accompany others where they have to go.  I help people go home.  With patients’ families I do this by talking with them making them feel at ease with me even if the conversation begins on a pedestrian level.  Eventually it opens to allow deeper conversation.  I do it this way first because it’s natural to me ( I'm a good talker); secondly because  I feel people need and even welcome a slight distraction from the emotional burden of sitting bedside and watching their loved one slowly die;  and thirdly,+ because it builds trust. People are more likely to share their feelings once they know me on a casual level because I am no longer a stranger imposing myself in their sacred moments, and witnessing death is as sacred and intimate an act as dying itself.
How does my faith tradition inform or not inform my  theology/spiritual perspective of pastoral care?  Are there main themes, images, concepts that I draw from…?
 I draw not from just my inherited faith tradition but from many. I am inspired by the God in Hebrew Scriptures whenever I read that He has not forsaken his people no matter how they may have strayed, particularly the promises to lift us up "on eagles' wings."  The image of Elijah being swept up in a whilrwhind and carried home brings me comforting tears and reassures me that we do elevate beyond the earthly plane. I still recite the Shema aloud every night before I go to sleep. I see this as my personal covenant with God, an ancient one, which keeps me grounded and connected to my roots... and even though I stray from practicing Judaism, it does connect  me to many Jewish patients whose first question of me is usually “Are  you Jewish?”   and I can say yes because I cling to that very important tradition.   They are then more inclined to talk to me.   And further,  because I do have knowledge of the Gospel  and the message of Jesus, and because I do appreciate the universal beauty and truth in his words, I  connect with Christians equally.  Ironically, my Jewishness makes me receptive to Islamic prayer (I love the physical metaphor of praying with cupped open hands ready to receive).    And because of my meditation experience and Buddhist leanings I can relate to Buddhist and  Hindu patients, and vice-versa, and because of the many metaphysical beliefs I hold, I am equally at home with those who honor tribal or earth traditions.  When I first meet patients and families and they ask me what my denomination is, I tell them I am an interfaith minister and share my Jewish background, and in every case so far, we have all agreed that in the end, we all go to the same place and  share the same Divine Source no matter what we call ourselves in his brief life. 
How does my understanding of my life history, experience, and gifts inform my theology/spiritual perspective of pastoral care?
First, let me say quickly that I have suffered much in my life, a private suffering, and my healing has been an intimate experience between me and God, an experience that  I know is shared by others. “With God all things are possible.”   Regarding loss, I have lost four significant people: two friends that I knew only for a short time but whom I loved deeply,  and my grandparents,  the two greatest people I have ever known. Three of them died on hospice and the other in a hospital after battling a brain stem tumor for years.  Having experienced such loss  helps me understand others facing loss.  Add to that the seven dogs (my only children) I have lost, four of whom died in my arms. 
1What are the strengths and weaknesses of my theology/spiritual perspective of pastoral care?
Clearly I see my theology as an inclusive circle but others might view it as too amorphous.  As a matter of fact, a chaplain who addressed our CPE class proudly proclaimed that anyone who professes to be “spiritual” rather than religious is full of b.s.  He is an example of someone who judges  my theology as weak.  I view it as a strength, so elastic a band that it doesn't snap or break but flexes and extends.  My weakness is not a weakness in my world but perhaps in other people’s estimation it is.  My weakness, really, then, is caring what they think.


Geoffrey Philp said…
Keep growing in the Light...

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