Friday, December 19, 2014

An Account of My Chaplaincy Practicum

Photo: "home for one : 16th street,
castro, san francisco (2011)
Today is my last day as a volunteer chaplain. Chaplaincy practicum is a part of my course requirement, and I was very impacted by this experience. If time allows, I would really hope to continue with volunteer chaplaincy. Quite different from most of my classmates, I did my chaplaincy practicum not with a hospital, but with a hospice. Hospice provides palliative care to patients who are diagnosed with a life expectancy of 6 months or less. Most of my visits were either at the nursing facilities where the patients reside, or at patients’ homes.

In my visits, I witnessed sufferings beyond description. The hospice that I work with does a good job providing pain management and patient care, but there are sufferings that physical care simply could not reach – these are sufferings in the mind and spirit. Many patients suffer for disturbed family relations, loneliness and fear; whereas many patients are angry and anxious at death, because they can’t let go of their loved ones. One of the aims of chaplaincy is to help patients accept death. My chaplain taught me about the hospice’s definition of a good death – it is when patients die in peace with God (or “the universe” for non-Christians), with others and with self.

This reminds me of the consequence of the Fall, that is the great separation between God and Man, between Man and Man, and between one and oneself. Seeing death from this perspective, when a person dies of a good death, death, then, makes life complete. For Christians, because we have the assurance of Salvation in Christ, a good death makes life beautiful – it is not only a part of what makes life full, but also what launches us beyond the fullness of this life.

For other patients, they suffer for dementia. These patients are out of contact with the world outside of them, and their sufferings stem from their hallucination. Experience with dementia patients sometimes made me wonder, is a person still a person when he lost the control of his own mind? Where is his spirit in his dementia state? But at the same time, I marveled at God’s delicate design of the human brain. It doesn’t really matter what a brilliant person you are, once these certain areas in your brain go wrong, you won’t even be able to control your body or what goes on in your mind.

It is a humbling reminder for particularly people like me who take pride in their own knowledge and wisdom. I can’t be my own savior, because there may be a time when even my own brain may betray me. When I lost the ability to think, to communicate, and to experience reality, I need someone bigger and more trustworthy than myself to hold on to my personhood for me. When I couldn’t worship or pray anymore, I need God by His absolute faithfulness to keep walking with me as I walk into eternity.

As a chaplain, I sometimes feel powerless to minister to the patients, but I have to trust that the Holy Spirit is ministering to the patients in ways and at levels that I could not reach. Throughout this semester, the more I practiced chaplaincy the more I’m able to feel the heart of God. I can sometimes feel the deep deep compassion that God has for the patients and the human sufferings. As much as I sometimes wondered where God is in all these pains, I saw God in the patients, I felt Him when I’m being His vessel and seeing the patients through His eyes. God is so great and so beautiful.

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