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Spiritual support offers strength and reassurance

10th October 2014

chaplain david knight

It may not surprise you that, as part of its holistic approach to care, St Richard’s Hospice offers patients and their loved ones spiritual care as well as physical, emotional and social support. But you may be surprised to find out how integrated the hospice’s chaplaincy service is with pastoral care within the community and that we offer spiritual care to people of all faiths and worldviews.

Often, when faced with a life-threatening illness, people who have not previously had much time, or opportunity, to think seriously about their beliefs may want to discuss these things with someone who knows how to listen. During this time, the compassionate and gentle support offered by a chaplain can help them remember all the things that are most important to them, with all the strength and reassurance those memories can bring.

The hospice’s team of paid and voluntary chaplains are fully involved in the care of patients on the In-patient Unit, while attending Day Hospice and when being supported at home. The team also offers spiritual care for their loved ones both before death and during bereavement.

Our dedication to offering a service which is respectful of the variety of human beliefs means that we can support people of all faiths and philosophies. We are committed to making sure that people from all faith traditions will feel at home in our care. Supporting that aim, Sheila Simmonds, one of the longest-serving volunteer members of the chaplaincy team, has recently been ordained as an Interfaith Minister. The team is committed to help people to find their own spiritual voice.

Members of the chaplaincy team can also give individuals space and time to express their religious beliefs, including being christened, renewing marriage vows and getting married. The team is also the main point of liaison with patients’ own ministers.

Pip Challenger, the newest addition to our team, together with one of our volunteer chaplains, works closely with the hospice’s community nursing team to offer spiritual support to patients being cared for at home. The nurses can refer patients to the chaplaincy team for spiritual care at any time. A chaplain will make home visits for as long as is required, and can help them to talk through their worries.

Sometimes, when trust has built up between the chaplain, the patient and their family, they may be asked to help the patient and their family arrange the funeral service. The chaplain will also work with the family’s own minister to make sure that particular requests are known about. Sometimes, when the patient has had no connection with a church of other faith group, the hospice chaplain may take the funeral service because having someone you know looking after the service can make a big difference to how it feels.

Nurses may refer patients being cared for at Day Hospice or within the In-patient Unit to the team for spiritual support. One of the chaplains will offer support during a patient’s care at the hospice and can continue to offer support at home after they have been discharged, particularly where the individual is socially isolated or has particular spiritual needs.

There have been many occasions over the years when we have supported people in very specific ways. For example, one patient being cared for in the In-patient Unit expressed a desire to be baptised before her death. The chaplaincy team was able to support the family as their pastor baptised the patient by total immersion, making use of a hospice bath. The daughter of another patient wanted to be baptised in the presence of her mother, so the team performed an adult baptism at her mother’s bedside. Other family members have been supported with bedside wedding blessings as their loved one had been too ill to attend the wedding service.

One family member recently wrote to us after the death of their loved one to express their appreciation; “Your guidance, understanding and help in preparing for her funeral was so supportive. The day itself was led by you with sensitivity and care. We felt wonderfully supported by you and your team.”

As leader of the chaplaincy team, my role also involves the spiritual care of the team and the staff and volunteers who work at St Richard’s. High quality hospice care depends on compassionate, caring staff and volunteers but the emotional strain can be difficult. It is important that we provide our staff and volunteers with the spiritual support that they need to help them to continue their caring work. If people prefer to hold these discussions away from the hospice, either at home or somewhere else, this is not a problem.

St Richard’s Hospice’s ethos is that everyone should have access to high quality, individualised end of life care and each area of the hospice continually reviews the service it offers to make sure that patients and their loved ones are receiving the best care they possibly can. This is equally true of the chaplaincy team, and I am actively involved in ensuring that everyone has access to the very best spiritual care, while they are being cared for at the hospice or in the community.

I am regularly asked to talk about spiritual care with many different groups, both religious and secular. My main message is always that spirituality is a deep part of people even if they aren’t religious: it is part of the raw stuff of being human. If we don’t include it in our caring, we aren’t caring for the whole person – and our care always starts with the recognition that each person’s spiritual voice and journey is unique.

David Knight

Lead Chaplain