Hospital Chaplains: Who Knew They Can Do So Much?
Hospital chaplains provide valuable support when loved ones are dying. Guest blogger Laura Spiegel recently learned they can do much more.
When you think of hospital chaplains, what comes to mind? A bearer of bad news? An imminent turn for the worse? A symbol of death and dying? That’s what I used to think. Chaplains showed up in end-of-life situations, and I never wanted to encounter one.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Last week, I had the privilege of listening to a chaplain at my local children’s hospital as he “demystified” spiritual care and chaplaincy. It turns out that hospital chaplains offer interfaith care, but their role in hospitals is not confined to death and dying. In fact, a big part of the chaplain role is supporting families emotionally as we navigate changes, struggles, or tipping points that occur throughout our lives.
Hospital chaplains help us identify our own resources and strengths so that we can better cope with situations that are causing distress. For some, these situations are indeed life threatening. But for many, they are merely tipping points on a longer journey.
A new diagnosis.
A first hospitalization.
A significant change in treatment plan.
Throughout these tipping points, chaplains can help us explore shifts in identity, roles, and meaning. This often includes grieving the future “story” we’ve envisioned and beginning the process of rewriting a new narrative for our children and our families.
While many chaplains are focused on in-patient hospital encounters, some are expanding their role into outpatient centers. I can’t tell you how excited this makes me!
When my daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis eight years ago, I was shaken to the core. I had naively envisioned a life for my daughter where health could be taken for granted. Where doctor’s appointments were limited to annual check-ups and benign bouts of strep. Where I could swat down stress with the knowledge that this was my second child, and this time around, I knew what I was doing.
With my daughter’s diagnosis, my identity as a woman and mother shifted. My roles as a spouse, daughter, friend, businesswoman, and caregiver collided in messy, unexpected ways. I began to question where I spent my time and with whom I spent it. I mourned the loss of the “future” I had envisioned for my family — and slowly but surely began to write a new one.
Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to partner with care teams that recognize the importance of physical and emotional health. My daughter’s quarterly appointments have allowed the space and time to explore both her and my emotional well-being. But what if a chaplain was included on the care team with the sole role of offering emotional support?
I would latch onto that in a heartbeat.
Our children’s hospital hopes to expand the role of hospital chaplains into more outpatient centers over time. When this resource hits the CF center, I can tell you this: I’m gonna come a-runnin’.
Do you like the idea of a chaplain joining your care team? Ask your doctor how hospital chaplains work in your hospital — and how you can access chaplaincy support!
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Laura Spiegel spent 12 years at the world’s largest biotech company, partnering with professionals and care teams to help people with special needs and disabilities lead full and happy lives. In 2013 her daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Laura now hosts Paint Her in Color, a website that offers emotional support to parents of children with special medical, developmental, or behavioral health care needs. When she isn’t reading, writing, or soaking up time with her husband and kids, Laura can be reached at Paint Her in Color, by email at email@example.com, and on Facebook and Twitter.
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