When most people think of spiritual care, they think of religion. In healthcare and at the end of life, spiritual care means so much more.
"Spiritual care becomes what the patient or family needs it to be," said Tim Brokaw, Arbor Hospice Spiritual Care Coordinator. "Sometimes patients want to talk about religion and heaven, but more often than not, they need affirmation and encouragement."
Spiritual needs and concerns sometimes relate to the "big" questions in life - what is happening, what does it mean, how do I make sense of this, what is important in my life, will my family be okay when I'm gone? Other times, patients and families need someone to talk to.
"It's my job to listen, educate and encourage," Brokaw said. "I don't go in with an agenda. I go with experience and training, wanting to offer whatever the family says they need."
Brokaw often hears patients and families describe their life as a rollercoaster with many ups and downs.
"People are so used to controlling everything, organizing and planning," he said. "You can't control the end of life, so I encourage patients and families to be flexible and embrace the time they have with each other."
Arbor Hospice Spiritual Care Coordinators acknowledge and explain that what a patient or family is going through is normal, and they do not have to endure alone. Patients need to know their loved ones understand and are going to be okay. Tim and his counterparts encourage spouses to tell their loved one that he or she will be okay - "the kids will take care of me," or "don't worry about me."
Brokaw says you can never assume you know what someone needs. He always asks and encourages others to do the same.
"When I asked one man what he wanted when he was dying, he told me he didn't want people whispering around his bed. He wanted to hear his family chatting loudly, enjoying life. His family was happy to know he wasn't afraid and how they should act. That's what spiritual care is all about - bringing patients and families comfort."