Cheryl Plummer, Lutheran Diaconal Association, is a hospice chaplain. During this pandemic she has continued to be at the bedsides of those near the end of their lives, to offer spiritual comfort and support, religious rituals, and connection to loved ones in the hospital, extended care facilities and private homes. The hospitals are a somewhat eerie and different place during this COVID pandemic, the hallways are empty, no visitors and no routine procedures, but the units themselves are overflowing and busy with lonely patients. For patients who have the COVID virus Cheryl’s ministry has become one of praying in the hallways into the nurse’s phones into the isolation rooms, and comforting and reassuring their loved ones by phone. Hospice patients in the hospital, who do not have the virus, are allowed one visitor at a time so visits are sometimes long as I wait as each family member is allowed in to the hospital to have their turn to pray and say their goodbyes. Even though our hospice patients can have one visitor at a time, sometimes due to their loved ones being elderly, or having underlying health conditions, or due to them having small children, their loved ones may not be able to be at their bedside as they are dying. So the chaplaincy team has been doing their best to help all those who are sick and dying to connect with those they need to hear from, to hear the voices that will comfort them the most. Even if someone is near the end of life and no longer responsive, the chaplains will help their family see their dying loved one’s face, share in prayer together, and say those things they need to say to them, the things that person needs to hear, that they are loved and will be missed, but it is alright to go be in God’s embrace.
Cheryl recounts that recently she sat at the bedside of a dying patient and just held the phone while his daughter and then his son and then his wife each called and said their goodbyes, telling him what a good father and husband he is, and that it was alright, that they would take care of one another and his rescue dog, and that they loved him. I comforted each of them as they grieved from afar, with me as their presence for him, close enough to hear their loved one breathe. He died the next day.
One of the hardest things is that hospice chaplaincy is usually a ministry of touch and hugs. So she has learned that one can hug and express caring using an extra compassionate word or prayer. Hospice chaplains all have moments of doubt and exhaustion and some fear during this crisis. A huge part of Cheryl’s ministry is supporting the rest of the hospice and hospital teams. She has cried a lot but then goes on and puts one foot in front of the other, to continue to provide spiritual care another day.
(Cheryl is a Deaconess in the Lutheran Diaconal Association, and a hospice chaplain)