Almost 7 years ago, I joined hospice. Not as a patient, but as a chaplain. A friend of mine recommended me for the position. When he called me, my initial thought was “Hospice is about sickness and death, and those are the two things I least like about church ministry.” I didn’t resist the recommendation though because I was working a janitorial temp job that made me miserable. It helped pay the bills, but it was not where my heart was. Divorce limited my ministry options, so hospice chaplaincy could be an avenue of ministry worth exploring. Indeed it was! That’s why I say hospice saved my life.
When I went in for the interview, I met two great nurses who loved hospice care. They were down to earth and seemed like they would be great to work with. I had the privilege of working with them and several others. One of the CNAs, who had been a friend for quite a few years, introduced me to my wife, for which I am grateful. As I mentioned, team members came and went. One thing remained the same – these were men and women who laughed together, cried together, and even came pretty close to screaming together. These men and women taught me the value of a team. I will be forever grateful to God for allowing me the privilege of working with such wonderful people.
Patients and families were no less special but in a different way. These were people of all ages who were walking through what the psalmist called “the valley of the shadow of death”. Despite that fact, these were people I laughed and cried with. We laughed in the home and cried at the graveside. While I was the one who was called in to minister, these folks often ministered to me equally if not more.
In hospice work, I learned things I would not have learned otherwise. I would have easily stayed in my comfort zone of church ministry, where many won’t reveal their raw emotions for fear of judgment. In hospice care, the church face rarely exists, and people are revealing the worst of themselves in hopes that someone will come along and offer hope, unconditional love, and a safe environment to be real.
Hospice saved my life in so many ways. It saved me from thinking ministerial work was over for me. It provided me with rich experiences with a wide variety of people I would not have encountered within the walls of a church. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning, especially in that first year when I was adjusting to the loneliness and quietness of the single-again life. I knew that, despite the intensity of hospice work, there was a team in the office that was the family I needed and will continue to be, despite my recent shift away.
Yesterday, I said “see you soon” to many wonderful people. For the first time since I left my last full-time music ministry, I had the dignity of leaving well. It was a healthy transition out. I didn’t leave angry or hurt. I didn’t leave with an “I can’t wait to get out of here” attitude. The team asked if I would pray with them before the day closed, and we exchanged all the sappiness that would be expected.
On April 5, I will begin a new role at a different place. These precious people I mentioned above will go with me. Not physically of course, but the things they taught me about life and compassionate care will. I’m a better person because of these last several years. Thank you for pouring into my life!