Chaplain’s Role in End-of-Life Care: Offering Emotional and Spiritual Support

Chaplains or spiritual care coordinators are an essential part of your hospice team. During this tender time, patients and families are reflective of their lives and seeking comfort and hope.

“A human is fundamentally a spiritual being dressed in a human body,” said John Ochiagha, a retired corporate executive who now serves as a chaplain in San Antonio and a Catholic church deacon.

Never is this more evident than when a patient and their families are facing end-of-life conversations and decisions. To meet an individual’s emotional and psychosocial needs, hospice chaplains are specifically trained and suited to nurture, support, and comfort. Studies have shown comfort can even reduce pain levels.

Who needs a chaplain?

Most hospice patients fall into one of these categories: those with little to no spiritual background, a faith background with a lost connection, strong religious ties who rely on their current church or faith community for spiritual support.

All of these individuals can benefit from a chaplain’s presence. Hospice-trained spiritual care personnel provide unique guidance through tough end-of-life questions and decisions, plus offer comforting companionship when others can’t be present. Chaplains can involve personal clergy from any individual’s church or faith community. Plus, chaplains from a variety of denominations are available to hospice families.

What services do chaplains provide?

Spiritual comfort to hospice patients and families comes in many forms. Chaplains provide unconditional respect and dignity while providing these services:

  • Listening — Many times, hospice patients simply want to reflect on their lives, find meaning and hope, and seek forgiveness. People often share things with chaplains that they don’t share with their families. Chaplains can listen and ask helpful questions to lead them to share hidden struggles and provide peace. 
  • Presence — It’s difficult for families to relate when their loved one changes, especially in dementia cases. Chaplains can step in and offer a judgement-free presence that helps combat loneliness and guilt.
  • Prayer — For individuals with faith backgrounds, prayer offers much comfort.
  • Reading and/or singing — Whether it’s reading scriptures or religious passages, a favorite book or poetry, or singing songs and playing music, patients often connect and find comfort from familiar material.
  • Family restoration — Chaplains can offer relational guidance to foster reconciliation or communication.
  • Funeral wishes — Hospice patients may be hesitant to talk about death with their families, and having a chaplain serve as mediator can be helpful. Plus, they can provide guidance on religion-specific traditions.
  • Memorial services — Some chaplains are available to perform memorial services.

Seeking chaplain care

A person’s whole health includes their spiritual wellbeing, and hospice care during the final weeks of life present unique challenges that are difficult to navigate. Calling in a chaplain or spiritual care coordinator is an act of love and compassion for both the patient and the family.

For end-of-life care and compassion that only chaplains can provide, find a Heart to Heart Hospice coordinator program near you, currently serving regions in Indiana, Michigan, and Texas.