Powerlessness, suffering, pain … each of these can be applied to the life of the hospice patient and/or family caregiver. Can the hospice Chaplain help the patient to make meaning out of this experience?
As you read these voices of the dying, what is your response? How do they inform your chaplaincy? The dying need to be heard. Listen to these voices.
“Death will soon remove this bitter cup from my lips. I will be free of this life, my family will be free of this hopeless misery.”
“Death is in this house, in the air, in this room. Each day it is closer to this bed, to me.”
“To talk about death may be very difficult or even impossible for you. You have so much to carry. I wish I could spare you the painful horror of watching me die.”
“What will it be like when it comes?”
“You should rest before dinner.” “Rest from what? Rest for what?”
“When I am gone, the air will fill the space where my body used to be.”
“I love that woman with all my heart.”
“Why don’t you look at me when you do talk? Has the cancer so ravaged my body that it is unbearable to look at?”
Hospice patients are more than victims of disease or patients of medicine; they are wounded storytellers. People tell stories to make sense of their suffering; when they turn their diseases into stories, they find healing. There are three types of narratives or stories: the chaos narrative, the restitution narrative, and the quest narrative. Of the Chaplain is introduced to the chaos narrative which is characterized by an underlying message is that life does not get better. And, at the end of life, can life get better? How does this inform your chaplaincy?
The restitution narrative is the creation of the Western culture built upon the tough cultural fabric that health is always restorable. "Yesterday I was healthy, today I am sick but tomorrow I will be healthy again". How do you work with persons in denial?
The patient that journeys through suffering and believes there is something to be gained in the process will engage in the quest narrative. Quest narratives search for alternative ways of being ill or alternative ways of being well. Attitude is everything in this story.
I urge you to read Arthur W. Frank, The Wounded Storyteller, for more on this very important topic. More on what the hospice Chaplain can do by way of interventions with each of these types of persons telling these stories to come in later articles…