Some stories just try to help us understand. And feel.
Stories like a Boston Globe feature on clergy who care for the dying.
Written by a Globe correspondent rather than a staff writer, the story is an old-fashioned feature. It asks spiritual caregivers who and what they encounter — types of people, their thoughts and feelings and challenges — and how the caregivers cope.
The very first three paragraphs show the sensitivity the writer brings:
They do not prescribe medication, plump up pillows, or serve soothing broths, but for hospice patients — and their families — spiritual caregivers often ease the pain that hurts the most.
“The emotional comfort comes first from the companionship, accepting people exactly where they are, acknowledging as they certainly know themselves that they are coming to the end of life, and being able to reassure them that it’s OK to die,” said Rabbi Herman Blumberg.
Spiritual care has always been a part of hospice programs, but chaplains interviewed for this article report that patients and their families increasingly recognize the need to heal the mind and soul, even as the body is failing. Behind this trend, they say, is that people are less likely now than in the past to view spirituality as the exclusive realm of religion.
The article talks at length on the Jewish perspective (more on that later), but it also brings in a variety of other traditions: a Unitarian, an Old Catholic priest and two from the United Church of Christ.
Especially insightful is the observation that because people are “less likely now than in the past to view spirituality as the exclusive realm of religion,” the clergy must sometimes mute their own doctrines.
“There are times when Blumberg puts his yarmulke in his pocket before meeting a patient for the first time,” the article says, referring to the rabbi. Adds the Unitarian Universalist: “As a spiritual care professional, you have to have it in your DNA that you’re there to support the patient’s choice, not there to evangelize or proselytize.” And says the Rev. Diane Christopherson, one of the UCC ministers: “Spiritual care is not about a chaplain’s own religious background or needs. If a person had talked about Jesus as significant to his or her spiritual perspectives, I might ask an open-ended question inviting further self-reflection and expression.”
Then what do caregivers offer? Often reflection. If someone worries about an affair he had, the minister leads him into a discussion about “why people have affairs.” If they ask what comes after death, the caregivers guide them into a “conversation about their perception of afterlife.”
The priest is asked at length about conquering fear: