By Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow
Director, Religious and Chaplaincy Services at Hebrew SeniorLife
End-of-life care has always included a spiritual component, helping patients “make peace with death,” alleviating the fear of the unknown, and helping families deal with grief and loss. In the past, patients looked to their priest, pastor, or rabbi for support, guidance, and solace. Patients who had drifted away from formal religion or perhaps never practiced one, may have shied away from speaking to clergy members. But according to a recent Boston Globe article, there’s a growing demand for spiritual services within the hospice care environment, as people increasingly view spirituality as separate from religion. While this isn’t exactly a seismic shift in thinking, it can open the door to an end-of-life experience that is characterized by joy, love, and connection rather than grief and loss.
A chance to talk about death. Patients and their families may avoid talking about death for fear of upsetting one another. Clergy members know how to initiate conversations that allow patients to explore their feelings and fears, to help them find a sense of inner peace, closure, or even just acceptance.
A chance to create personal meaning. Hospice care most often focuses on caring for a deteriorating physical state. But patients’ minds and souls need care, too. Not being able to participate in activities they once loved can leave patients feeling depressed or despairing. Spiritual caregivers can help them identify ways to incorporate facets of these activities into their lives. And this helps them maintain their sense of self even in a diminished physical state.
A chance for forgiveness. As people approach the final stage of life, feelings of guilt and regret for things they’ve done in the past may surface. A rabbi, priest, or minister can offer comfort by listening with compassion and without judgment.
A chance to share joy and laughter. When hospice residents are able to face their fears, shed their guilt, and meet bodily limitations with grace, they are free to experience the moments of joy that life still holds. For their families, this is a time to reminisce, connect, and celebrate a life well lived.
During the last days and weeks of life, caregivers at Hebrew Senior Life’s Hospice Care Services guide hospice patients and their families through an unfamiliar and sometimes frightening landscape. From giving compassionate care to the sick (Tipul rachamani), to honoring the dignity of human life (Kevod haberiyot), Jewish values are reflected in every facet of day-to-day life. Each member of our staff receives special training in Jewish culture, tradition, and values. And these values – reverence for our elders, compassion, loving kindness – inform the care we provide to patients from all faiths.
About Hospice Care at Hebrew Seniorlife
The hospice care offered at Hebrew Seniorlife as part of our continuum of health care services, is dedicated to offering medical care aimed at easing patients’ pain and anxiety. A leading provider of Jewish hospice services in the Boston area, we are known for delivering the highest quality of care, focusing on a commitment to community, and offering innovative end-of-life educational programming. We welcome patients and their families of all backgrounds, faiths and cultures, supporting them through the challenging weeks and months of terminal illness and remaining close by as they begin to heal after loss.