By Faith Fitzgerald, DMin, BCC, Director of Community Health Programs, Hospice of the Chesapeake

Before we talk about what to expect when the chaplain visits, we need to talk about the very word that prevents many hospice patients from accepting that visit. To many, the word “chaplain” conjures an image of praying and singing hymns. Though some hospice patients might welcome that image, a patient does not have to be religious to benefit from the visit. They must be spiritual. In other words, they must be human.

While some people are religious, all people are spiritual. All people have things that bring us meaning and purpose. All people seek a path to peace. That is especially important at end of life and helping people find that path is our main role. For that reason, let’s call “chaplains” “spiritual care providers.” 

Spiritual care providers are part of the interdisciplinary care team, which includes a patient’s physician, nurse, certified nursing assistant, medical social worker and a volunteer. The team meets weekly to share and discuss the progress of each of their patients. When you sign on to hospice, you will get a call from your spiritual care provider to introduce themselves and schedule a visit. 

We come into your home with no set agenda. We are there to listen to you, learn from you and support you. We may ask some questions to help us complete a spiritual assessment, a tool that helps us and the rest of the team know who you are. What’s most important to you at this moment and how we can support that? Are there spiritual beliefs or practices that will help you at the end of life that we can nurture? Our goal is to come away from that first visit with answers to these and other questions. 

At the end of the first visit, we will ask when you would like for us to visit. Some people might say next week. Others might say this visit was enough. Some might say they’ll call when they think they need a chaplain. It is the patient’s choice. 

Even if the spiritual care provider is not meeting with you, we are still caring for you. We are connecting with other members of the care team and staying up to date with what’s happening in your care. We might hear from the team that there has been a change in your journey. We would likely reach out to offer help navigating that change.

Sometimes the spiritual care provider can be a bridge between family and patients. We might reach out to a faith community to help an estranged member reconnect. We also are there to help the patient and the family prepare for what they want the end to look like. Is it important to have certain rituals at the end? Should there be prayer or certain music or spiritual texts to be read? Our goal is to provide that space and resources to make that happen.

Rest assured that after you die, the spiritual care provider will call immediately to see how the family is doing. Hopefully, we had the time to help you plan a funeral. Often, we are involved in the actual service, especially for those who did not have a faith community to help properly memorialize your life.

When the services are done, the spiritual care provider can be a bridge to guiding the family to the grief care they need. 

We hope you will keep this in mind when the spiritual care provider, or chaplain, calls. We have open minds and hearts whose only goal is to help you find peace as you prepare to say goodbye.

Hospice of the Chesapeake is a not-for-profit organization that is caring for life throughout the journey with illness and loss in Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s counties. Its affiliated programs include Chesapeake Supportive Care and its bereavement services, Chesapeake Life Center. For details, visit or call 410-987-2003. 

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