It is both a privilege and a challenge to support someone as they enter the final stages of their life, and for hospital chaplains, the privilege far outweighs the challenge.
Hospital chaplains are among those who accompany patients and their families during this incredibly emotional time, and it is an uncomplicated relationship.
“Unlike nursing and medical staff, we chaplains don’t ask the patients a whole lot of questions and unlike most staff, we have the time to sit with a patient and just listen to them,” explains Gary Cartmer, CatholicCare Sydney Hospital Chaplain at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital & St George Public Hospital
“We always offer a friendly visit, a listening ear, and companionship. This very often enables a patient or family member to open up emotionally with us.”
Gary believes this freedom to talk openly often leads to the patient sharing their fears, concerns, and doubts, which in turn allows the patient to truly accept and receive the support offered. Providing emotional and spiritual support along with prayer and sacramental service, Gary understands the anxiety and difficulty experienced by the patient and their loved ones and is there to provide assurance and guide them through the uncertainty.
The journey with a patient can be for days, months and in some cases years, and is often a time patients openly invite God into their day and turn to Him for strength, a notion also adopted by the hospital chaplains. Before each hospital visit, the team of chaplains prays together, asking God to help them with every visit to every patient.
Sr Maria Pineda, a Hospital Chaplain at St George Public Hospital, similarly believes it is a privilege to walk alongside a patient in their time of illness and describes it as a “holy” ground,
“It is a place where I meet a person in a time of great vulnerability and therefore, I am aware it is also a place where God is present in these times of suffering.”
Sr Maria describes this time as being an instrument of the Lord and fulfills the role with reverence, a supportive presence, and an awareness of when to keep silent and when to speak.
“It is a privilege to witness that it is in these times one can really experience the presence of God, alive and acting, providing solace, encouragement, and hope,” says Maria.
Urging families and loved ones to be open with the patient and not to hide their feelings she worries too many people miss out on the support they need due to a misguided sense of having to be strong when it is actually most beneficial for the patient and their loved ones if communication is open and honest.
Ultimately hospital chaplains provide great hope in death being a call home to eternal life and helping patients and their families to understand and accept letting go. Sr Maria describes it as returning to the Father’s house, whilst Gary highlights this as a time of surrendering to God’s love and grace and the sense of hope delivered by being with God.
“If a person can embrace the virtue of hope where they start to see that Hope is to be with God forever, then a person can also find great comfort in knowing that they will also be reunited with their loved ones who have gone before them,” says Gary.
Living Well Dying Well is a collaboration of Catholic parishes and agencies working with palliative care services to enhance these services through the provision of volunteers. If you are seeking this accompaniment, or the services of hospital chaplains, for you or a family member or friend, please complete our registration form.