Something for the Spirit
The following contribution is in celebration of October 25-31, 2015 as Pastoral Care Week. Spiritual care is a key component of hospice care as Fr. Jack explains below.
When faced with life-limiting illness, as much as 70% of the discomfort or pain patients experience is not physical, it is emotional and spiritual. And their family caregivers experience similar pain. Our chaplains help patients and families in spiritual distress to express their pain and work towards healing; we help people of any religion or no religion; and we facilitate communication and cultural sensitivity. The following is an example of what many people may be feeling when dealing with serious illness.
My body, my mind and my spirit are all linked. Each one affects the others. When my life is going well and I am healthy and happy, "I feel fine." If I live with a life threatening disease or condition, it shapes my response to the world around me. I think differently and I feel differently. I probably need to think things through concerning what is happening to my body. Am I slowing down? Will my body stop working in bits and pieces or all at once? Is this going to hurt? Is there a way that I can fix this or get out of this? Eventually the answer will be, "No, I cannot fix this." So, how do I feel about that?
I can have an array of feelings, one right after the other or all at once. I feel hurt because this body, that I have been living in for perhaps the last three-quarters of a century, is breaking down and I want to keep going. My response to the hurt might be anger. I can be angry at the world, at God, at myself and I can react badly to everything and everyone around me. I could also shut down or deny that this is real; telling myself it will go away.
Whatever emotions I feel, they are right for me. If I am ever going to get on with life, I have to acknowledge and own my feelings. When asked, "How are you today?" the answer is often, "Fine." I know you are not fine and you probably know you are not fine, but it is a place to start.
On a spiritual care visit, I need to acknowledge the physical and the emotional parts of the person with whom I am talking. I have to start where the person is at, not where I think they should be. The reality is that this relationship is all about the journey of life and not a destination. If I can share where I am at with the physical and emotional parts of my life, I can begin to look at that part of me who knows all of that. That part of me who cannot change what is happening or how I am feeling, but can begin to understand it and make sense out of my life. I may not change a thing, but I can be calmer and stronger. Some segments of my life may be out of my control, but I can manage how I react and how I deal with other people, family and caregivers. It helps to remember that there are areas of life where I do have control. It shows up in what we commonly call our outlook.
This is spiritual care. It may be about our religious feelings or not. It is about who I am and how I deal with myself; it is that part of me who knows how I feel and how my body is doing. Spiritual care is the journey of letting someone in as far as I want to share the thoughts and feelings I am having at this time. The chaplain is a calm presence with whom I can reflect those feelings and self-knowledge, expect a non-judgmental, open companionship so I can just be myself, and begin to understand how I am really doing. I can explore my options concerning how I want to react to my body's pain or to my heartache over what this is doing to those I love. I can become a calmer person.
Making this spiritual care journey takes trust in another person. As a chaplain, I take that trust very seriously with no judgments and no expectations. I will help you to explore, to look at life in different ways. This is your journey; I am here as your companion.