Art of Dying Art of Dying_Volume III_joomag | Page 77

When we can see death as ordinary, as a natural occurrence, then we see the extraordinary. I've been working in the field of caregiving for over 30 years, as a volunteer for suicide and AIDS hotlines and with the Manhattan Center for Living where I worked with folks who were HIV infected. I’ve been working professionally with those who are suffering, ill, or transitioning towards death for 17 years. Palliative care, when applying its full potential, includes someone from a spiritual background. More and more palliative care departments are hiring chaplains. It depends on the funding. Most heads of palliative services acknowledge the presence of a chaplain or other spiritual caregiver to be very, very important. They see me and are like, "Well, hello.” One has to spend, if possible, many hours with a patient over the course of days and weeks, in order to establish a close connection. Palliative care clinicians have a lot to cover, whereas a chaplain or priest has the luxury of spending more time with patients. That's not to say that hospice workers and nurses don't have the same empathy and compassion. Again, it’s the luxury of time, particularly in a hospital. To become a chaplain requires 1,600 hours of clinical and academic study. Part of the training is that you don't bring your agenda. Chaplains are meant to be interdenominational. You're there to serve everyone. This can be a self-transforming career path. My path was to become a Zen priest. A difference between myself and a nurse being with a dying person is that I'm looking at the whole person, their whole history. I can see more than an 87 year old woman who's dying. I can see her as a baby, a little girl, a young woman. When I feel that sense of the whole person, from birth to death, there's such an opportunity for an opening into the person's soul, a shared experience much greater than that of just being present during their last days. My Zen practice enhances my chaplain training, but I don’t enter a room as a Zen priest. I enter without an agenda. Folks see this big guy dressed in black, with this big Irish face, and often think I'm a priest. Most of what is significant to these relationships is shared in silence. You don’t try to translate it into words. You just know it's there. And it’s different every time. It could be through the slightest touch VOLUME III | 77