By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
Watching people die isn't routine for most of us.
But for those in the field of pastoral care, it is.
Comforting a person as he or she takes the last breath is a duty for chaplains, church leaders and caregivers, said Vic Killian, chaplain at King's Daughters Hospital.
'The role is a special one,' said Killian, who will be moderator for the Oct. 27 conference designed to educate the community about pastoral care.
For Judy Hoelscher, chaplain with the Scott and White Hospice team, the role is an honor.
'When a person passes, it is a sacred, holy moment,' Ms. Hoelscher said. 'It is a privilege to be with someone when they go from this world to the next.'
For Rodney Kruse, another chaplain from Scott and White Hospice, the job is rewarding.
'Because they have given me something - a real, honest visit,' Kruse said. 'That's something that's important to me. A good visit is a gift.' In the Scott and White Hospice program, chaplains start interacting with the clients as soon as they enroll. After an initial phone conversation with a client, a chaplain will visit the client at his or her house two to three times a week until death. The client's family members are then offered bereavement counseling for a period of 13 months.
'It's a service that's offered to anybody on hospice,' Kruse explained. 'It's not mandatory.'
Chaplaincy is missionary work based on Christian principles, Kruse and Ms. Hoelscher said, but religion doesn't enter the chaplain-client relationship until the client requests it.
'Our training is to be able to minister to people of all faiths and people with no faith,' Ms. Hoelscher said. 'And we're trained to understand their expressions of faith or the absence of it. There are all kinds of hints that determine whether religion plays a major role in their life - their jewelry, their language and their references. We listen for hints and clues.'
There's no ice-breaking question like, 'Have you accepted Christ as your personal savior?' she said.
'We just sit down and have a long conversation,' Ms. Hoelscher said. 'A person's spirituality doesn't become evident until an element of trust is built.'
Kruse said it's the client who sets the agenda of all conversations.
'We sit and talk about the dog, cat, TV or the weather. All kinds of stuff,' Kruse said. 'I'm not out to evangelize or make someone be like me.'
Something that helps him do his job, Kruse said, is knowing that there's a difference between spirit and religion.
'Everyone is spiritual. Spiritual does not mean religious,' Kruse said.
'My calling is to nurture that spirit however and whenever I can,' Kruse said.
It's like a tall order, say the two veterans of the field - Kruse with 15 years of experience as a hospice chaplain and Ms. Hoelscher with seven years in hospice chaplaincy and 13 in chaplaincy with children who were terminally ill or developmentally delayed.
'It can difficult,' Kruse said. 'I do it because of what Jesus Christ teaches.'
There's a particular scripture that Kruse said runs through his mind every morning he gets up for work.
Paraphrasing, Kruse said, 'I was sick, and you visited me. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in jail, and you visited me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink.'
The scripture doesn't say go out and change, Kruse said.
'It says offer yourself to them, and that's what I try to do,' Kruse said. 'Many are sick. I visit. I get them that cup of water - or run an errand to get a prescription filled - whatever.'
As for Ms. Hoelscher, her inspiration comes partly from the emotional support of three friends, colleagues at work and her 16-year-old daughter.
Mainly, it's the relationships she forms with her clients that inspire her to face each day with strength and confidence.
'Families have a hard time letting go of their loved one,' Ms. Hoelscher said, referring to her most recent post as bereavement chaplain. 'You get to see them hang in there - how they hang on to hope. You see them get a renewed sense of energy, activity and zest for life. Hope - that's what keeps me in the trenches.'
Gone but not forgotten
The people hospice chaplains meet through their vocation end up becoming close friends, Kruse said.
'And they die,' Kruse said. 'It's sad and hard, yes, but there's the memory that stays.'
One of Kruse's fondest memories is his relationship with a man he met through Scott and White Hospice.
'He was just a little older than I was, in his '60s,' Kruse said. 'He allowed me to walk with him. He spoke of struggles he had growing up, the struggles of being in the Army and the joy he had in being married.'
Kruse said the man then eventually told him how hard it was to let go of life.
'And then I felt as if I was treading upon Holy Ground,' Kruse said. 'I felt as if I should take off my shoes. I was so grateful he trusted me to share such a profound feeling.'
Another man Kruse remembers fondly had a different idea of judgment.
'He said that at his judgment, Mohammed, God and Buddha would all be sitting before a big movie screen watching a movie of his life.
'And that's OK,' Kruse said, chuckling. 'I'm there to listen, to help people find their own answers.'
One of Mrs. Hoelscher's favorite people was a workaholic whose dying days reminded her that relationships are the most important things in life.
'His favorite activity was fishing, but it had been 20 years since he had been,' Ms. Hoelscher said. 'His life had got filled with all those things that just had to get done.'
Her gift to him, she said, was a fishing party.
'We sent him out fishing with an old buddy of his,' Ms. Hoelscher said. 'It's that kind of thing that makes this work special. You see them let go of all those things they thought were important, and grab on to what really matters - relationships.'
The KDH conference
This topic is timely, seeing as how Oct. 21-27 is dubbed Pastoral Care Week.
In Temple, it will conclude Oct. 27 with King's Daughters Hospital's pastoral care conference.
'There's lessons that chaplains can share with people who have a calling to help people,' Killian said.
His word's hit the theme of the upcoming conference.
'This program is for lay folks,' Killian said. 'It's training that can help them be a more effective Christian caregiver.'
Topics on the conference's agenda include Grieving with Grievers, Care for the Terminally Ill, Elements of a Good Hospital Visit, Being an Effective Listener, Dealing with Suicide and Offering Support to Military Families.
Ms. Hoelscher will present Grieving with Grievers. Keynote speaker Dr. Paul Powell, retired dean from Truett Seminary at Baylor, will initiate the conference with an opening prayer.
'Over the years, we've attended a number of pastors' conferences,' Killian said. 'And the pastors said their people have no opportunities for training - the elders and deacons, the people active in the church. They want to know how to be a more effective Christian caregiver. This is what the conference is for - to augment the area of service they see as part of their calling.'