Saturday, May 17, 2014

Chaplains, Veterans: End-of-Life Spirituality (Research)

Spiritually, many veterans near the end-of-life have a need to resolve suffering caused by combat-related events that conflict with their personal beliefs. During my weekly visits with him, my hospice patient Nat and I had several conversations about his military service. His comments reflected his unresolved pain:

“I fought in a war years ago. Gave the best I could give. I’ve seen and done things you couldn’t imagine. Some of them were horrible, I mean really horrible. Don’t ask me to tell you what they were. I can’t talk about it. They say time heals all wounds, but it’s a lie. I left Viet Nam, but Viet Nam never left me. I carry it with me everywhere I go. All these years later, I still have nightmares like you wouldn’t believe. The doctor says it’s post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. I wake up shaking, gasping for breath with tears in my eyes. In my dreams, I’m always running hard trying to escape. Sometimes my enemies are close enough for me to touch. I almost stop breathing to keep them from hearing me. I’m constantly thinking I’m not going to make it. Some nights they kill me before I wake up. My dreams are so raw, so real they turn my soul inside out.”

(Excerpt above from Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes)

A pilot study with veterans and chaplains focused on understanding chaplains’ perspectives regarding the spiritual needs of veterans like Nat and the spiritual support chaplains can offer them. Having provided spiritual care to veterans at the end-of-life in a Veterans Administration hospital, these chaplains offered this information after being interviewed:

1)    Chaplains frequently encounter veterans at the end of life who are still suffering from thoughts or images of events that occurred during their military career.

2)    Although some veterans are hesitant to discuss their experiences, chaplains are successful with helping the veterans to open up.

3)    Chaplains use both religious (e.g. confessing sins) and nonreligious approaches (e.g. recording military experience) to help veterans heal.

This pilot study information is helpful because little research exists on the combat experiences of veterans as they relate to veterans' spirituality. Further studies are needed to examine the value of integrating the chaplain service more into mental health care for veterans. Including clergy and spiritual counselors, particularly those with specific PTSD training, on care teams for veterans can improve the end-of-life journeys for patients like Nat.

Many healthcare staff members who work with dying patients will tell you they have had patients share stories about seeing dead people, ghosts, spirits they recognize, and angels. View this post for my personal story and an informative video:

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback and e-book editions in America and other countries at online and offline booksellers.

No comments:

Post a Comment