Dying Matters Week: Multi faith chaplaincy within hospice care
“We are here as a listening ear, to lend sympathetic and non-judgmental support to those who need it most.” - Rev. Ben Cooper, Lead Chaplain
While nurses and doctors are at the heart of ellenor hospice care, there are many other individuals who play an equally important role in providing holistic support. Chaplains are a key part of the palliative care team, offering comfort and spiritual strength to people with life-limiting or terminal illnesses.
Rev. Ben Cooper has been Lead Chaplain at ellenor for over four years, working three days a week alongside five volunteer chaplains. Here, he talks about the joy and meaning he finds in his work with ellenor.
“My faith in God is at the heart of everything I do.I meet many wonderful people and feel honoured to be part of their journey and to share time with them. A lot of people think hospices are sad places, but there is a wonderful atmosphere and a team spirit at ellenor that’s very uplifting. It’s felt by everyone in our community, from patients and family members to the staff who support them.”
“The chaplains – two men (Ben and Mike) and four women (Les, Sharon, Marion, Folake)
work with the ellenor nurses as part of a multidisciplinary team serving patients and their families. Much of their work takes place at a patient’s bedside – in the hospice, in the patient’s home or within a community setting, such as care homes.
“We may offer empathetic listening, a faithful presence, space to talk about a patient’s life story or to help them discover renewed meaning in their lives and spiritual peace. We also support staff and volunteers, whether by offering a listening ear as they discuss their working day or talk about more personal issues. A smile, a caring hug if they ask for one, holding someone’s hand – it’s all part of a chaplain’s day. We offer support to people of all faiths, as well as people who do not have a religious belief but who would like someone to talk to. Remember, spirituality is not just about a belief in God. It’s whatever brings meaning to your life. When I asked one end of life patient what brought him spiritual comfort, he answered “Arsenal Football Club!”
Adds Ben, “We all have one aim: to enable patients to live their lives as well as possible whether with terminal illness or other long-term health conditions. COVID-19 is a crisis we had not foreseen, and as its impact continues to evolve, our goals remain the same: to re-think and adapt the way we care and support local people within our community, so we can still be there to provide the expert care they need. We are reaching out to patients and their families in different ways - via phone, email or text, or online via weekly virtual prayers and services.We are still able to continue bedside counselling at the hospice, but social distancing has made this a little more challenging. It hasn’t stopped us though and we continue to support people with their spiritual needs, helping to try to answer some of the bigger questions about life and meaning.
“For some patients, approaches such as telephone contact will work well – it’s just like calling a friend and feels very natural.Others will feel more isolated without the human touch, but we will do all we can to reassure them that they are not alone, and that we are still here to support them and their families.
“As far as possible, it’s ‘business as usual’ here at ellenor –there is a peace here, we are still smiling, rising to the Coronavirus challenge and communicating as well as – if not better than - before. The camaraderie is strong, we are supporting each other. As for our local community: the support we’ve received has been amazing! We’ve had much-appreciated gifts of food, and especially welcome has been financial support, which - with so many of our fundraising activities now cancelled – is something we desperately need now.
“Holistic and spiritual care at ellenor has never been more important than it is now, and we are having to all learn how to adjust to this new situation. Our message as a Chaplaincy team is to stay hopeful: we have gone through challenges before and we will get through this together.”