What Was I Thinking?
Summer break has commenced, but for many Wake Divinity students the summer is an ideal time to delve into internships that provide significant and meaningful opportunities for their vocational discernment and formation as future religious leaders. From working in hospice and palliative care, ministries supporting the imprisoned, homeless and burdened, assisting with art and restoration efforts of a living museum, to being immersed into the fullness of congregational life in a diverse array of churches, Wake Divinity students are dispersing across the country. This summer, the Unfolding blog will feature weekly posts from several students who are participating in an internship. Each story will speak to their expectations and experiences.
“What was I thinking?,” I lamented over coffee hour in the lower auditorium of Wake Forest Divinity School. I was just finishing up my last few weeks of an exhausting but rewarding, year-long Clinical Pastoral Education program at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, and had accepted a chaplaincy internship at the Hospice and Palliative Care Center of Greensboro (HPCG) for the summer. “Why did I think taking a chaplaincy internship with Hospice, right after a year-long stent at the hospital, was a good idea,” I voiced to friends who were sipping coffee and busily preparing for finals. Emily Lemoine, a first-year divinity student, looked up from her books and wisely said, “It’s a good idea, because chaplaincy is what you’re supposed to do.”
So, with Emily’s encouraging words echoing in my head, I hesitantly began my internship with HPCG. Going into my first week I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Thoughts and questions kept running through my mind as I drove into Greensboro. Can I really do this? What if I face burn-out? What if I can’t handle the emotional, physical, and spiritual toll of being a Hospice chaplain? Will I face death daily? I continued to mull over these questions as I pulled into the HPCG parking lot.
Immediately I was drawn to the beauty of the campus. This was not what I was expecting HPCG to look like. There was so much evidence of life all around me, when in all honestly, I had been expecting the atmosphere and space of HPCG to reflect the dreariness of death. Instead, I stood in awe of the beauty of the grounds. The natural landscape of the 15-acre campus boasted of lovely manicured courtyards brimming with flowers and trees in full bloom, quaint walking trails and peaceful outdoor patios, secluded meditation areas, and beautiful sculptures that adorned the campus. Quickly, I realized that here was a place of beauty, peace, and comfort for those nearing the end of life.
It may seem strange to notice the significance of beauty during end-of-life care, but it has become increasing clear that recognizing beauty, especially for those who have been given a prognosis of 6 months or less to live, is really important in Hospice work. As Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the modern Hospice movement emphasized:
“You matter because you are you. You matter to the last moment of your life. And we will do all we can, not only the help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die.”
My focus as a hospice chaplain has significantly changed since I have been working with HPCG. I initially wondered if I could deal with death every day because I had imagined in hospice work it would be a constant and overwhelming presence. I’m recognizing now, however, the focus of care is not to emphasize death, but instead to emphasize life. Our job is to help those under hospice care live out the remainder of their days well with beauty and radiance surrounding them.
Kristin is a rising third-year student from Winston Salem, N.C. While at Wake Divinity she has continued to be affirmed in her love of pastoral care and chaplaincy ministries, and hopes to continue pursuing this path in the following year. After graduation, Kristin hopes to receive a chaplaincy residency where she can specifically focus on the care of military service-men and women and their families.