I Know More than the Hospice Staff

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When first admitted into hospice care, one of the patients mentioned they looked forward to the chaplain’s visit. In recent years, before and especially during his illness, this person told the admitting nurse about reading (and re-reading) the Bible cover-to-cover.

“There’s nothing the chaplain can say that I don’t already know about the Bible.”


Did humility, humor, or hubris influence our new patient’s claim? Were the words boastful or spoken to avoid more difficult emotions? What is easily said on the “surface” may hide deeper questions or concerns. Like, Won’t someone please listen to me? or perhaps Let me start with a subject I can control—knowing the Bible—to eventually risk revealing what is out of control . . . my fear of dying.

Many of the people all hospices serve have faith traditions with a unique book. The Hindu reveres the Bhagavad-Gita. Jews claim the Torah. Christians embrace the New Testament. Muslims honor the Koran. Some patients may know little about the sacred text at the center of their religion, while others might possess a scholar’s awareness. A life-threatening disease can cause one person to explore—for the first time, or with renewed energy—the words of her faith, hoping to uncover answers or encouragement. The next person might scorn his religion’s traditions because the illness proves God doesn’t care or never existed.

A hospice chaplain enters into a person’s life, from hours to months. The chaplain has no interest in interpreting, defending, or condemning any scripture. Instead, what is important to the chaplain is what is important to the patient. Even more essential, what are the real hurts and hopes in the shadows behind a patient’s knowledge, ignorance, or doubts about their faith?

What are the deeper questions? Read More →

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6 Reasons Why Hospice Disappoints


For the dying, and for those caring for dying loved ones in the final season of their life, hospice can feel like earthbound angels have arrived to help you.

I’ve made thousands of phone calls to individuals as part of my hospice job in grief support. I do not exaggerate when declaring that gratitude for hospice staff is frequent. Perhaps the enthusiastic compliments were for a home health aide who regularly visited for months or an admit nurse only with the patient in the beginning moments of hospice care. Both were dubbed “life savers!” Equally true is frequent praise for the entire agency: “Everyone was wonderful to Dad!”

But “frequent” is not 100%. At the Medicare site that compares hospices in the United States, what do you think is the percentage for the statement below?

Family caregivers who would definitely recommend this hospice to friends and family:

___ 62%

___ 70%

___ 84%

___ 90%

___ 94%

In other words, Medicare has determined that ___% of people, after being served by a specific hospice agency, would vouch for that company to the people they know.

One of those five numbers is the correct answer. That means a small to significant percentage of respondents were likely disappointed by the care for their loved one. Read More →

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Mr. Cantankerous Goes Home

You'll Accompany MeFinally, the husband and father came home.

With his family.

He had a “good death.”

His wife, who the patient said that he loved more than life itself, sat beside him until a breath became the final one.

Not yet fifty, he should have been fussing with his vintage Chevy, playing with his first grandkid, or renovating another house with his business partner. Instead, he was stuck in bed. Because he enjoyed rock-and-roll, a lot of music was played during his last days at home. In those precious moments, in those fading breaths, there was one particular song that . . .

But I’m getting ahead of his story. It’s a story with a sad ending because a man too young dies. It’s also a story with a good enough ending, because of those four opening sentences. How I wish everyone’s death (old or young, rich or poor) had some version of those simple, blessed opening sentences. That won’t happen. Some deaths are hard. Some deaths strip a person or family from any opportunity to prepare or plan. Sometimes we deny impending death and then find ourselves grieving not just the person, but our own blindness or stubbornness. Read More →

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