Last week, I met with the volunteer director of a local free-standing hospice provider and she invited me to meet with the chaplain about joining the pastoral care team. I spoke with him on the phone and then met him today . . . and I'm in! I'll be a volunteer with the pastoral care team, a big step on my way to being a hospice chaplain. I'll have more information about everything I'll be doing later, but it will run the gambit from visiting, conversation, funerals, even the odd wedding. Altogether, though, it's about sitting with patients and families to give them space and a listening ear to explore the journey they're on. I worried that I wouldn't pass muster with a senior chaplain because of my "knowledge gap" in theology (while I have a passing familiarity with various Christian denominations and their differences, I haven't read the whole Bible. I know most of the stories through art.) But, even after five years of volunteering elsewhere, I've never had a theological discussion with anyone who was dying; most want to talk about their families, relive memories, even those surrounded by Bibles, Christian hymns, prayer cards, and rosaries. Closet I've come is singing "Amazing Grace" and reciting the Lord's Prayer. Still, I know I have a lot to learn and I'm looking forward to companions on my own journey. And if I'm not cut out for hospice chaplaincy, it's good to know before I go get anoter degree! (Yep, to be a real chaplain--accredited and all--I need a Masters of Divinity.) If it is the right place for me, well, I'm excited to find that out.
It'll be rigorous, though. At my initial interview, I was asked if I'd experienced a momentous death. I never thought losing my dear Aunt Sis would come up in an interview, but I was able to talk about her death--how it was highly medicalized, with hospice only at the end, but that seemed to be her preference. Of course, then later, my uncle and cousin died.
Then, in a cold call (which I never should have answered, being sick and half asleep on the couch), the chaplain (a Christian) asked me how I had been called to spiritual care. Of course, I don't think of it as a divine "calling," not being called by anything but my own spirit. Which I explained, along with my own path to Unitarian Universalism and hospice (Do you know what you call an atheist with children? Unitarian. Plus, there are my leanings to Buddhism. And my own experience with pain and isolation.) But I should've known that chaplains have seen it all. These are not the questions I've had on other interviews. But I answered and was honest and it went well.
Still, I was glad to have practiced with Mama the night before--running through questions on strengths (comfort with people from different faiths and backgrounds; I've been told I'm a good listener) and weaknesses (that theology gap! also sometimes a tendency to avoid conflict and confrontation, though I'm better if I'm advocating for a patient.) Also, what I want from my new organization--a mentor, a community of hospice workers, experience in a facility dedicated to hospice, more skills in sitting with people. I could talk about my relevant experience--hospice volunteering, lay ministry at church, community service, mindfulness practice, non-violent communication (NVC) training--and my own practices such as Zentangle, Yoga Dance, meditation, reading poetry and history, even crocheting prayer shawls. And, of course, clarifying my own beliefs--I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all people, the interconnection of all beings, the importance of a variety of sacred teachers and wisdom sources, each person's responsible search for truth. Yep, those are the UU principles. Nothing about heaven, hell, or even God. I'm focused on the world I know. I do not know beyond that, though I tend to believe there is a spark of life but no divine plan, no cosmic engineer controlling fate and destinty. Religions are created by humans to help them understand and cope with the Mystery; as humans are flawed, so are religions. I don't think we come close to comprehending the world around us (just look at how wrong we've been about margarine!)--there are things we do not understand or can explain--I don't think the Mystery will ever be fully known--though, moments of grace show us glimpses. So, for me compassion is the guide through our experiences; some call it Love. And that is what I want to bring to people as they or their loved ones are dying; just as I hope I am surrounded by love, compassion, and family when I die.
And NONE of that came up today! It was a quick discussion--he was comfortable with me and must have seen something he could work with--and I clean up nicely, in new clothes approrpriate for the place. So there we go. I have some HIPPA hoops to jump through and then I'm on my way. Soon. (I'll do the TB test and have my photo taken in two weeks; they're also checking references and doing a background check.) I can't wait.
Last note: I was meditating yesterday in preparation for today, and came up with the metta meditation I could use with hospice patients (the whole safe-happy-healthy-live in peace progression isn't quite right), or really with anyone:
May all beings know joy.May all beings know hope.May all beings know comfort.May all beings know peace.