Soul soothing: The spiritual benefits of hospice care
By Catholic News Agency
For seniors in their twilight years, particularly those battling terminal illnesses, the question of hospice care is perhaps one that too often flies under the radar. While discussing end-of-life care can be difficult for family members, the option of hospice—or a philosophy of care which focuses on the palliation of a terminally ill patient’s symptoms, be they physical, mental or spiritual in nature—can be a healing, hope-filled option that supports the dying patient and his or her family members.
Standard of Care
The concept of hospice has been evolving since the 11th century, which saw places of hospitality for the sick or dying develop. Modern hospice care includes palliative care for the incurably ill given in hospitals or nursing homes, but can also provide services to those who would rather die in their own homes.
Some of the difficulties surrounding end-of-life decisions can be rooted in the fear of losing one’s independence and autonomy. For seniors who are in need of extra care but who are still capable of fully independent living, home-based hospice care can be a welcome solution. Family members and caregivers alike can benefit from the arrangement of a professional, caring hospice worker making daily house calls. For many families, the introduction of a third party into the process of dying can be tremendously healing for everyone involved.
Dan Wieberg of Home Instead Senior Care, an international network of home-care providers, explains that for some seniors, full-time care isn’t necessary, but that supplemental in-home assistance can literally be a lifesaver.
“Not only are patients benefiting from personalized, in-home care, but family members are supported during what can be a trying time. The involvement of a competent, compassionate professional can make a big difference for everyone,” Wieberg said.
The spiritual benefits of hospice care are also significant. Clergy members and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion to the sick who regularly interact with the terminally ill are familiar with the supernatural tinge many of their conversations take on.
Father Peter Musset, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center in Boulder, reflected on his own experience ministering to the dying, citing an encounter with an elderly woman on her deathbed.
“I could (make) a holy hour in a clean adoration chapel, yet the mystery of Christ was fully present in this gritty reality of shallow breathing and death … it was before me in the person of this 80-year-old woman who was alone with nothing but a picture of Jesus and a rosary on her nightstand.
“I knelt down, put her rosary in her hand and prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I thought to myself ‘I wish more people could do holy hours like this near Jesus Christ and his suffering present in our bodies.’ Her death was a gift to me,” Father Musset recalled.
The gift of life is a familiar enough concept, but the idea of death as a gift is more foreign to the ears. Hospice workers and families of the dying can attest that approaching a loved one’s death with respect and even a sense of awe can go a long way toward easing the pain of pending separation. Hospice care, by readying one for the next life, affirms the inherent dignity and humanity of the patient.
Speaking to the U.S. bishops during their ad limina visit in 1998, Blessed John Paul II said, “Health care professionals should always bear in mind that their work is directed to individuals, unique persons in whom God’s image is present in a singular way and in whom he has invested his infinite love. The terminally ill in particular deserve the solidarity, communion and affection of those around them; they often need to be able to forgive and to be forgiven, to make peace with God and with others.”