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Chaplain underscores spiritual care for terminally ill & their caregivers

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Caring for someone at the end of his or her life is a trying ordeal. Often, the spiritual needs of both the patient and the caregiver are lost in the shuffle of medication, confusion and eventual grief.

“Both patients and caregivers have spiritual needs that must be met,” said Ella McCarroll, a chaplain at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. “Just because a patient is dying does not mean he or she has no spiritual needs. And caring for someone who is terminally ill is quite exhausting, both physically and spiritually.”

McCarroll described decisions made near the end of life and ways to spiritually support both patients and families in a class on “Spirituality at the End of Life” during Black Church Leadership Week Aug. 5-9 at LifeWay Ridgecrest (N.C.) Conference Center.

“One of the most important ways you can help a patient deal with his death is to lead him in a life review,” McCarroll said, which can include reflections on mistakes and things learned, as well as a time of confession, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Also, caregivers sometimes need a life review, she said, citing the fact that many families harbor unforgiveness or need to deal with unsettled issues.

“Sometimes family members just need help preparing for the death of their loved one,” McCarroll said. “I’ve seen so many cases in which the person is ready to die, but he can’t because their family won’t let him.”

Regular visits from someone in the faith community to the patient and family are also important, McCarroll said.

“No one should die alone,” she said. “There should be people from church or some other faith group surrounding the patient, reminiscing, singing songs and celebrating the fact that their loved one will soon be going home.”

Churches can have active hospital and shut-in ministries, which McCarroll said can involve worship with patients and offering communion to those no longer able to be in worship services.

“There are many long-standing members who got ill and no one visited them to bring communion,” McCarroll said. “That’s such an important part of church and they were missing out on it.”

Some conference-goers questioned how to meet the spiritual needs of a patient suffering with mind-altering diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

“You’d be surprised how much an Alzheimer’s patient remembers of the past,” McCarroll responded. “As long as there is still a body, there are spiritual needs, even with Alzheimer’s. The patient is still God’s creation.”

McCarroll also defined words commonly used when describing end-of-life care, as well as defining steps that should be taken in advanced planning for the end of life.

Hospice care, for example, is care for those who are terminally ill and have been given six months or less to live, while palliative care, for those whose death is not imminent, manages illness and pain and is often used for cancer patients.

McCarroll also spoke on the importance of making end-of-life decisions about such issues as DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) orders.

“If you don’t make the decisions about your care at the end of your life, someone else will have to make those decisions for you,” McCarroll said. “That is not only hard on your family, but it also may result in your wishes not being granted if you haven’t made them clear.”

Approximately 1,300 people attended Black Church Leadership Week. The conference was sponsored by five Southern Baptist Convention entities — LifeWay Christian Resources, International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Annuity Board and Woman’s Missionary Union.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: MINISTER TILL THE END.

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  • Brandy Campbell