Chaplains Serve In Tender Moments
For many families, it is the tenderest moment of all.
For the Hospice Chaplains who serve those families it is rare and precious duty.
Rev. Jessica Godfrey said, "It's almost the opposite of birth, the time for going out rather than coming in."
She serves as supervisor to the chaplains and social workers who work for Hospice of the Carolina Foothills, the local nonprofit that deals with Henderson, McDowell, Polk, and Rutherford Counties, a job she has held for the past five years.
Families are grateful to have a chaplain near when it comes time for last goodbyes.
Godfrey said she and her colleagues are even asked to perform memorial services and funerals for families who lack church affiliations. But lest you think church is not a big deal at the local agency that helps hundreds of families each year, there are two "walls of hope," in the office complex that feature photos from dozens of congregations.
If there was ever any doubt that there are a lot of churches in these parts, visitors might want to take a look at those two walls.
What is Hospice and how does it serve the families and the patients who both come to the Hospice House on Hudlow Road in Forest City and the other patients who are cared for in nursing homes and private homes across the foothills region?
According to Foothills of the Carolinas's Heidi Owen, Hospice is for patients who have a limited life expectancy and can benefit from physical, emotional and spiritual care in their homes or wherever they may be. And that care extends to their families, too.
"People really like having some idea of what is going to happen," Godfrey said of the value of Hospice to family members. "They like having 24-hour access to a nurse."
It can be a time of stress, heartache, family conflict, all of which Hospice chaplains are trained to manage alongside social workers, nurses, volunteers and other staff members.
"Call," is an important word in the life of any minister, at least in the Sacred Southland, and Jessica Godfrey is no exception. Ordained by Rutherfordton's First Baptist Church, the former children's minister felt the definite divine prompting as she worked with patients at Greenville's Memorial Hospital and the facility at Rutherford Regional. She is a graduate of the Clinical Pastoral Education programs in both hospitals.
"I started out here as a volunteer and joked then that my ideal job would be to work as a chaplain here. Now here I am," she said.
Godfrey is joined in her chaplaincy duties by the Revs. Terry Honeycutt, Cy Miller, and Greg Quarles.
Honeycutt said, "Hospice chaplains are interested in whatever brings our patients peace of mind, and that looks different in one home than it does in another. If a doctor has told you that time is running out, you should be able to do it on your own terms.
"I remember one patient who was told he had only three weeks to live. His first response was, 'I'm never shaving again!' His sense of humor served him well all his days.
"We help patients and families identify what brings them some strength and comfort and hope and purpose at the end of their lives. In some cases, we supplement the support patients are already receiving from their pastor and church. Other times we are the patient's only source of spiritual support.
"I have been a hospice chaplain for 10 years and have seen people approach end of life different ways. Many times people come to believe that death can be the highest moment of a life well-lived. What a blessing!"
Rev. Travis Smith, a former Hospice chaplain, who now is executive director of Blue Ridge Hope, had high praise for the current staff and the importance of being a spiritual presence at the time of a loved one's passing.
He told a story of his time with Hospice. In the same day he visited two homes. First, he went to a home in one of the county's poorest neighborhoods, a home that had a dirt floor. The man in bed, living out his last days, said the hardest part of the journey was leaving his family. A couple of hours later, he was in mansion, a home so lavishly furnished as to have marble floors. That man, too, was in bed, living out his last days.
He told Smith, "The hardest part is leaving my family."
If the relationships between local faith communities and Hospice is in any doubt, consider that between July 31 and October 31 more than 80 churches gave financial support to the organization. The care provided by Hospice is also gratefully acknowledged through hundreds of private gifts in memory of loved ones.