Hospice Is Hope: Honoring the work of hospice chaplains

By Lin Sue Cooney
Hospice of the Valley Director of Community Engagement

Hospice of the Valley chaplain Ken Collins remembers visiting a patient with ALS who was no longer able to speak but used eye contact to type on a computer.

Ken had no idea she would pass away soon afterward and was stunned when the woman’s husband revealed one of her last wishes — I want Ken to lead my memorial service.

“What a great lesson she taught me — never underestimate the impact of providing spiritual care, even if it is just one visit,” Ken says with a smile. “This is why I love being a chaplain.”

Stories like this one illustrate poignant moments that draw men and women to chaplaincy. In October, National Chaplain Month, Hospice of the Valley is honored to recognize the 18 chaplains on staff who provide comfort and peace across our community, each and every day.

They support in many ways — holding hands, praying and singing — and they support people from all faiths and cultural backgrounds. They are a vital part of the care team.

“We are called upon to accurately communicate what our senses are telling us about our patient’s condition and needs,” chaplain Keith Voss explains. “And we pay close attention to what family members are feeling so we can support them, too.”

Intuition is key. The best chaplains have an innate ability to perceive what each family is feeling. “It’s a timely sense of presence — an inner instinct that understands when patients and families are at their most vulnerable and need compassion, respect, acceptance and forgiveness,” says Deborah DiBiase, a home care team leader. 

It comes naturally to David Kaminski, who joined Hospice of the Valley as a chaplain in 1998.

“I love helping patients arrive at a sense of peace regarding their life journey,” he says.

When unemployment peaked during the pandemic, David and several colleagues bought 450 pounds of food for St. Mary’s Food Bank  — enough to feed 45 families. “We wanted to do something to help those in our community who are struggling. As we dropped off food boxes, we saw a line of people waiting for groceries. It was so rewarding to know we had made a difference,” David recalls.

Occasionally, the chaplains at Hospice of the Valley are even able to make dreams come true.

When chaplain Nick Martrain and his colleague, social worker Debi Stevens, heard how much their hospice patient wanted to marry his fiancée, they jumped into action. They helped the couple fill out the marriage license, asked the courts to expedite and, amazingly, procured the license on the spot. Then they got donations to cover the license fee, cake and flowers — and Nick was honored to perform the poolside ceremony at the groom’s home.

“It was one of the most memorable and satisfying weddings of my pastoral career,” Nick shares with emotion. “When it was over, they embraced me to thank me and Hospice of the Valley for the miraculous event.”

Ultimately, being a chaplain means touching hearts and making connections. At Hospice of the Valley, those connections are with patients as well as their spouses, children and close friends who are part of the journey. Along the way, these ministers of the spirit encounter rare and courageous people they will never forget.

“I have met many people in this very special work we do who made major contributions in shaping this world,” chaplain Jerry Hillman says. “It’s a joy to hear their stories.”

For information on Hospice of the Valley program and services, call 602-530-6900 or visit hov.org.