Spiritual care: Helping patients find peace

by Rachel Rosenberg, Spiritual Counselor

Many people are surprised to learn the range of services we offer as Spiritual Counselors. Our role on the hospice team is to assess patients’ spiritual and emotional needs and barriers to peace.

What this means is different for each person. Some express their spirituality through religion; others express it through nature, the arts, or in ways that help them find their place in the universe.

When people are facing death, they may find solace in sharing life stories and expressing gratitude and hope. This was the case for our hospice patient Pedro.

When we met, Pedro was sitting on the couch in the modest Redwood City apartment he shared with his wife and two daughters. His arms, muscular from years of construction work, hung idly at his sides. He told me he missed working and being able to provide for his family. We agreed that it can be hard to accept so much help.

Over the course of several months, Pedro and I explored his many concerns, including whether he would return to his native Guatemala to die. When I asked him, “what is most important to you now,” a question that reflected his diminishing time on earth, Pedro did not hesitate. He wanted to have peace in his family, and leave his daughters, ages 16 and 18, with positive memories.

With his goal in mind, Pedro and I set out to draft legacy letters for his daughters. He thought about his relationship with them, and his hopes for a future that he would not live to see.

As he found words to express his love, I recorded his thoughts on paper. His cancer had made it difficult to write and think clearly.

Despite these struggles, Pedro had the determination of a man who knew this would be one of his final acts. We both knew that when he is gone, these letters will remain as a testimony to his life and the love he holds for his family.

He thanked his daughters for being the center of his attention. He wished them the same blessing of enjoyment in this life that he was able to have. He bestowed words of fatherly advice, allowing himself to give them guidance one last time.

After we’d finished the letter, Pedro told me he felt liberated. This process of expressing his final wishes made his heart lighter and more peaceful. In a time governed by pain, fatigue, and loss of control, Pedro’s letter writing gave him the gift of choosing his legacy and the space in which to unburden his heavy heart.