Not infrequently, patients who are hospitalized or in a hospice at this time, ‘fasten on’ to someone of their choosing, not uncommonly from outwith the family and with whom they feel at ease to talk. It might be a doctor, a nurse or a hospital or hospice chaplain. Then again, it could very well be a hospital or hospice cleaner or auxiliary worker or someone who they have come upon in a less formal way. I well remember a second-year nurse speaking to me about a patient who she was nursing and whom in the course of events; she had come to know very well.
One day the nurse was helping her patient take a bath. Quite ‘out of the blue’ apparently she, i.e. the patient, asked her a personal question about her belief in God and the ‘hereafter’. The nurse concerned, although apparently willing and able to answer, chose to parry the question with a suggestion that she should really speak to the hospital chaplain and consequently, that was the end of that. Now in retrospect, she was feeling somewhat uneasy about the whole affair: hence her approach to me. The strong likelihood was of course, that her patient had deliberately chosen that precise moment, i.e. in the bath, where with her favourite nurse in such close attendance she had uninterrupted privacy. Had she wished to speak to the chaplain, then there had been and presumably would continue to be plenty of opportunity to so do. Her wish was, very plainly, to speak to someone of her choosing at what she clearly considered an opportune moment and that is the point.
Of course, chaplains can and do at times have a vital role to play, both with patients, their loved ones and from time to time with members of staff. This is likely to be especially the case where the patient is a member of his/her “flock” and to whom he/she has been their family minister or priest or whatever, sometimes for years. I know when my sisters died, “our minister” (as over the years we always seemed to think of and refer to him) was simply wonderful in terms of the measure of support and comfort, which he gave freely at that time to every member of our family. Indeed, it so happened that years later when my mother was dying, in our home (which whilst being a great and sad loss, was also a great privilege and honour) that same minister, although now residing in a quite different part of the country, came to visit her just before the end. No one could have been more welcome or more helpful and nothing more appropriate to the ending of my mother’s life here on earth than a visit from “our minister”. In his own inimitably unfussy, quiet but truly devout manner, his very presence, as well as his words, pronounced what proved to be a moving and fitting benediction on her life.(C)SB.