Caleb has a warm, calming presence that has served him well in his decades of work as a hospice chaplain.
While he is quick to share stories of his own, his first instinct is to find a connection with everyone he meets. After that, it is all about listening. What he likes most about his job is that he has no agenda.
“I am there to be and do whatever they would like, whether it be for the patient or family members,” he said.
Caleb has been ordained for over 30 years and has worked for Enhabit Home Health & Hospice since 2020.
When he reflected on how he ended up working as a hospice chaplain, Caleb recalled that the seed was planted many years ago. When he graduated from seminary, Caleb had a friend who was a hospice chaplain.
As his friend shared stories about his experience, he began to consider whether working in hospice might be in his future. And when Caleb moved to a new city years later, he asked the same friend for help finding a job.
“It just all fell into place,” he said.
He has been working with hospice patients and their loved ones ever since.
Setting a strong foundation as a hospice chaplain
The hospice environment can sometimes be in stark contrast to today’s fast-paced world. For Caleb especially, it’s important not to be in a hurry with patients and their loved ones.
“The more time I spend that first visit, the better the relationship will be in the long run,” he said.
Caleb makes sure he takes his time, focuses on listening and doesn’t make any assumptions about his patients or their loved ones.
“For those of us who have worked in hospice for a long time, it’s hard to not go into the ‘this is what you do’ mode,” he admitted.
Caleb always reminds himself that this may be the first time a family has experienced hospice. To meet patients and families where they are, his philosophy is to approach each patient’s hospice journey as if they are experiencing it for the very first time.
Working with families as a hospice chaplain
“I’m always trying to remember that this is an opportunity for a family to get as prepared as one can, as best as one can,” Caleb said.
If there’s one thing Caleb has learned as a hospice chaplain, it’s that although we all know the end of life is coming, we can never be truly ready.
When a person enters hospice care, the grieving process typically begins. Anticipatory grief usually starts while the patient is still alive.
“Then, when they die, they are at peace,” he said. “It’s not that there’s not pain, but the family is more at peace.”
Caleb remembered the first visit he made to a specific patient’s home. He remembers this patient greeting him by his first name and saying, “I’m so glad you’re here!”
That’s not the reception Caleb is accustomed to receiving from working in hospice, but he was happy to get such a warm welcome.
Caleb recalled that the patient’s husband and three daughters were sitting together at a table. Before he had the chance to introduce himself, the patient expressed her gratitude for his situation.
“I’m so glad to be in hospice care because now I have the opportunity, because I know I am going to die, to tell everybody what I need to tell them,” the patient shared.
This experience taught Caleb about the hospice journey. He found that hospice provides patients with the opportunity to tell people they love them. It also provides an opportunity for forgiveness — whether the patient needs to be forgiven or they need to forgive someone else.
Experience in hospice care
In Caleb’s experience as a hospice chaplain, a person coming into hospice care usually knows they are dying. While patients may never say it out loud, he feels that they know their bodies better than anyone else.
And while hospice is a positive experience for many families, at times it can be incredibly difficult for a patient’s loved ones. Caleb tries to address this directly during his visits.
“It’s important to name it,” he mentioned. “There’s nothing good about cancer. There’s nothing good about Alzheimer’s. And there’s nothing good about temporal dementia. This is just a terrible time.”
Meeting amazing people
During his time as a hospice chaplain, Caleb has worked with patients and their loved ones representing all belief systems. Just as there are misconceptions about hospice, there are also misconceptions about what a hospice chaplain does.
Caleb finds patients and their loved ones can sometimes be angry at God, angry at their church or feel as though God has abandoned them. Or, in some cases, Caleb feels as if he represents every bad preacher, pastor, rabbi or imam they have ever had.
To counter these feelings, Caleb works to make sure patients and their families realize that he is there with them, wherever they are in their struggles. When he meets patients for the first time, he makes it clear that they are in the driver’s seat.
“I don’t want to say, ‘This is what I’m going to do,’” he shared. Instead, he leads with, “It’s up to you. What would you like?”
For some patients, Caleb comes to the home every week. For others, it’s every other week or even once a month.
He finds that almost every family, at some point, shares the same sentiment: “Oh, your work must be so depressing.”
Each and every time, Caleb responds the same way: “No, actually, it’s wonderful because I get to meet amazing people like you.”
At Enhabit our patients are our number one priority. From providing the latest medical practices to building deep personal connections, we’re focused on upholding every patient’s dignity, humanity and sense of control on their health care journey.
Our home health services give patients access to the care they deserve in the comfort of their own homes. From disease and injury management to recovery from surgery, our clinicians help patients confidently achieve their health care goals.
Our hospice care services place importance on the comfort of every patient living with a terminal illness. Our caring professionals are dedicated to providing not just physical care, but spiritual and emotional support to every patient and their loved ones.