The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 9, 2011

Meeting you where you are

Hospice personnel are not afraid of facing the unknown every day

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID — Hospice personnel have been known to deal with the unknown, but never so much as they do in today’s culture.

Chaplain Jeff Jackson, of Hospice Circle of Love, says today you have to meet people wherever they may be on their road to faith — even if that road doesn’t exist.

“The culture has changed for us,” Jackson said. “Ten to 15 years ago most families had religious connections. Now many families have no faith background. Our goal here is to work to meet the person where they are.”

Patients and family members often are scared or angry and have never thought about spiritual aspects of life and death, Jackson said. He added it’s important they know he is not trying to convert them but to meet them where they are and help them find resolution, reconciliation with estranged family members and solve problems.

Spiritual well-being has to do with getting business in order, he said, and his purpose is to make sure all their business is tended to before they die.

An ordained Southern Baptist minister, Jackson said he tries to establish a friendly, trusting relationship with the patient, who often may be “afraid of ministers and social workers whom they fear will ‘get into their business.’”

Once he gains their trust, he said, they often open up about the things that are bothering them, and Jackson tries to work on those issues.

He admits he is not a Southern Baptist at work but the head chaplain of a Hospice unit.

“Sometimes they just want you to be with them and hold their hand, assure them you will take care of their family. Their greatest fear is their spouse or children will be left alone,” Jackson said. “I have the conversations other people never have.”

A common fear among Hospice patients is the unknown, not knowing what to expect after life ends, he said. He advises them those fears, like grief, are normal and that it’s OK to be scared to not know what’s coming.

He also tells them he doesn’t have all the answers.

“There are some questions you can’t answer. I don’t know all the answers. I’ve never died. There are some things I can give resolution to, with others ... give them permission to feel how they are feeling, scared, concerned, worrying, especially if they are angry,” he said.

People often are angry at God but are afraid to say it out loud. Jackson said he tells those people it is OK to be angry with God because God can handle it. If we believe God made us, then our emotions are known to him. Even if an individual has deep faith, dying is still scary, Jackson said.

He believes a disservice often practiced by some religious leaders is to give people the idea faith will solve their problems.

“It just gives you something to lean on to get through it,” he said of faith. “It’s hard stuff, being terminal with cancer, and it’s OK to lean on God. That’s what faith is for.”

Jackson confesses he does not know what happens when people die, except for a belief in a separation between mortal and immortal.

There are some things people take with them, he said, but other things — like reputation, wealth, problems and hurts — are left behind.

“Faith tells me that we leave the land of the dying and go to the land of the living,” Jackson said. “Eternity is what we’re shooting for; all the relational problems and physical problems do not matter.”

Steve Meyer, head chaplain for Ross Health Care hospice, said grieving affects people even before someone dies in the anticipation of death and loss. Meyer approaches people from both a spiritual perspective and a personal assessment.

“People with a lot of Christian faith do better than anybody else. As a chaplain I see this is a major help to people about knowing what to expect,” Meyer said.

An ordained independent Baptist pastor of Enid’s  Gospel Light Baptist Church, Meyer serves as chaplain as an avocation, but he said he considers the service a blessing.

“The Lord has blessed me with the opportunity to minister to people during a trying time,” Meyer said.

The biggest anxiety he sees is how grief affects the family members of a terminally ill patient in so many ways that are unique to each individual. His job is to focus on the spiritual, while doing whatever he can to help them. He personally assists them with directives and other medical decisions they must make. He also tries to fill their lives with as much hope as possible.

“Some people have none, or minimal faith, and have no interest in it,” Meyer said. “I try to be a comfort to them through helping develop memories and joys of their family. From a spiritual perspective, if there is any belief in God, I encourage them to meditate on that.”

In Meyer’s experience the people who talk most about death are those with minimal faith.

“They do not know what will happen,” Meyer said.

But everyone, whether possessive or absent of faith, is concerned about family.

It is his task to help them become comfortable in their minds about the future — both their own and that of their families.

“From my point of view, hospice is such a valuable tool in people’s lives,” Meyer said. “It isn’t giving up at all. It’s getting the best you can have at where you are.”