By: Karuna Duval and Andrea Johnson

Many people starting hospice seem surprised or slightly uncomfortable to get the initial phone call from a hospice spiritual counselor. I hear a variety of comments: “Great I can’t wait to meet you,” “Thanks, but we’re not very religious,” “That’s the last thing we need,” “I’m an atheist. I don’t need to get saved,” and “We have our own church, thank you.”  I’ve even heard: “Sure, what the hell.”  Regardless of the response there’s a question that often lingers in the air and is sometimes voiced as: “So…what do you do?”

It’s a great question! What do I do? I am a core member of the care team along with your nurse, social worker, hospice aide and volunteer. I am a person who has extensive training in spiritual and religious traditions as well as human relationships. I have knowledge and respect for many faith and philosophical traditions, and I am committed to supporting you in yours. I am here for you, the patient, as well as your close family and friends, because this journey toward the end of life is shared by those nearest and dearest.

“Spiritual” is a word with many different shades of meaning. At hospice, spiritual includes your deepest questions, values and beliefs, and can’t be separated from your life experiences, relationships, and activities. So on my initial visit, I’ll often ask about where you grew up, and about your interests and activities. I’ll ask about those closest to you, your working life, how you spend your energies, and what gives your life meaning. I’ll ask if you have any religious or spiritual background that is important to you now. If you identify with a religious group or church, I’ll ask about your involvement, and if you are getting the support you want from them at this point. If you request, I can call your clergy or spiritual support person to request a visit for you.

Many people nearing the end of life want to take a fresh look at their lives and their beliefs. Some wish to reconnect with a faith community while others find new sources of strength and support in family, friends, accomplishments, art, nature, or looking back on important threads of meaning in their lives. Often people long for relational healing or completion, a sense that they have “said what they need to say” to important people in their lives, or at least to have tried.

In our time together, I promise to listen carefully for what is important to you—your values, beliefs, goals, opinions and preferences in order to support you in living the rest of your life in the way that makes sense to you. What is important to you is important to me too, and important to the whole team.

So, when I call to introduce myself and set up a first visit, what will you say? I won’t be offended in the least if you say, “Sure, what the hell!”