A Hospice Metta
May you be comforted.
May you be at ease.
May you be strong.
May you be free from suffering.
I've been working on the words of metta to fit hospice work. Health, safety, happiness just didn't seem to be the right things to focus on. And so I've been trying to think what I most wish for my hospice patients. Strength instead of fear at the end of life, comfort and relief not pain, the support and comfort of family and friends, even hope for relief and good days though not a cure.
Since the middle of summer, I have been volunteering as a chaplain-in-training at a local hospice residence. I go for several hours once a week. As of yet, there has been no formal training beyond initial HIPPA, fire safety, and universal precautions. I will have official in-service training later this fall, but they had wanted me to start right away.
I have been following various volunteers and the senior chaplain, going on rounds, going to IDT (interdisciplinary team meetings), learning about paperwork (oh, so much paperwork.) The procedures have been a little overwhelming; there are just so many more patients than my one or two-at-a-time in my other organization.
But it is wonderful to have mentors with their guidance and support. I've been often alone at my previous place (I'm still seeing my last patient, who is quite amazingly holding on.) I'm learning new ways to interact with people and beginning to clarify my own style. The senior chaplain even teste me last week; he had me go into a room, look around, and come back out. I did and he quizzed me about the spirituality of the patients. So, I guess absorbing and analyzing visual cues is something hospice and art history have in common. That, and I'm much more adept at reading symbolism and religious icons than I otherwise would have been.
One volunteer, who is a Catholic eucharistic minister but not quite a Roman Catholic anymore, has advised me that it's okay to give Catholic blessings with a cross on the patient's forehead. I haven't been sure about this; indeed, I'm quite unsure. I think prayers are one thing, but formal blessings in the manner of a priest are outside of my purview. It seems to me deceitful, as if I could offer what a priest does (leaving belief aside.) And so I don't. Prayers, ecumenical blessings, wishes and hopes, listening, comfort, support, presence--these I can do. For those to whom it has meaning, even "Amazing Grace" and the Lord's Prayer. I would do similarly for someone who is Jewish or Muslim, etc.
In Unitarian Universalism, the first principle we affirm and promote is the inherent worth and dignity of all people. And while it's not a principle per se, I would argue that we also support the idea of community. For me, hospice work is about these UU principles--companioning the individual through the dying process, supporting their family and friends, doing this service for the larger community, so no one is alone. For myself, I don't believe in heaven or hell, or even an afterlife. But I know we all die and that it is one of the greatest fears anyone has, for themselves or their loved ones, almost regardless of their religious beliefs. My faith concerns the present, this life on earth, for it is all we know. And so I sit with my hospice patients--the Catholics, the Jews, the Protestants, even the one Unitarian a few weeks ago--and I wish them peace.
May they be comforted.
May they be at ease.
May they be strong.
May they be free from suffering.