Category Archives: Nursing Home

When Funeral Directors and Church Conspire


Why Funeral Directors and Clergy Should Ally with the Chaplain.

Rev. Ch. Harold W. Vadney B.A., [M.A.], M.Div.
Bereavement Chaplain/Thanatologist/Psychospiritual Care Provider

In principle and practice, as a celebrant/officiant, the focus of my attention is the family, then the deceased, the assembly and finally the venue. As a bereavement chaplain my focus is correctly spelled “t-r-a-n-s-f-o-r-m-a-t-i-o-n” and its outcome is correctly called “growth.” It’s a vocation not a career; a specialist profession, not a job.

Today’s most communicable disease is called control. But as a chaplain, control is alien to me. True, when I appear people seem to quiet down, to be more in listening mode. They seem to be more receptive to hearing a message that might possibly ease the suffering, the acute pain they are experiencing. There’s a certain authority that I have to bear with self-effacing humility; while powerful it’s not power as such, and it’s much less control than it is co-being. It’s the aura of authenticity, of compassion; people trust me. I care for and about them.

I am in fact not in control, nor do I attempt to assume control of anything, not even the funeralization rites and ritual, the ceremonial, on which I may have worked for days to organize and to tweak right up to the point of greeting the assembly and pronouncing the words of dismissal, “Go in peace and love one another.” I am merely an instrument of comfort and healing; a mere master of ceremonies. A sometimes crisis manager. A paid consultant.

“This is about the family, your loved one; it’s not about me or anything else. I’m here to serve you.”

I receive the first call from the funeral director with gratitude and commitment; I contact the family and the arrangers with compassion and humility. My first words after introducing myself and expressing my condolences and assurances, are likely to be “This is about your family, your loved one; it’s not about me or anything else. I’m here to serve you.” Those words usually break the ice immediately, and the anxiety associated with the protocol of chatting with the chaplain about rites and ritual that might be as strange and mysterious as death itself, is dispelled, and we can talk about the deceased loved one and the service like family—or as close to being old friends as the situation will allow. Always in the back of my mind is that these are suffering people, each in his or her own way experiencing a loss and attempting to cope with the situation and to manage the bizarre, unfamiliar ball of emotions with whatever they might have at hand. It’s my job in this initial phase to sort through my armamentarium of training and experience, common sense and wisdom (my own and that received), listening skills and vocabulary, style and demeanor,  to find the right salves, ointments and incantations to assuage the acute pain, to prepare them for the chronic aches, and to ease, not remove, their suffering; it’s the suffering that will nurture their healing and growth, after all, you can’t harvest a good crop without wounding the earth and planting the seed.

But even after breaking open the earth and planting the seed, aftercare is essential. You must water and weed the rows to ensure that the seedlings prosper and grow. It’s what I call a resurrection experience, similar to the seed parables of the Christian Gospels and so many other sacred texts that deal with death and rebirth. So, too, in our funeralization rites and rituals, we can describe the bereavement experiences as being broken open, the seeds of transformation planted, receiving the waters of life experience, wisdom, and then resurrecting as transformed beings. The final transformed being that emerges from the ante-mortem, pre-bereavement person becoming the post-mortem mourner doing his or her grief work, implementing coping and support resources, and finally healing and growing, differs with each unique situation, and it’s what makes my vocation that much more exciting and rewarding because each call presents its own unique set of challenges and opportunities.

I’ve often taught that Death is not an enemy; we just have to embrace it and befriend it. We often look at things we can’t control as the enemy; that’s a modern mistake in our relationship with everything from relatives to the line at the supermarket to the neighbor’s dog to the mysteries of life, including death. Death is not the enemy; our modern tendency is to think that everything, including creation, needs to be controlled, dominated, subdued. As soon as we find that we can’t do that we avoid or deny the situation until it can no longer be denied, and then we curse it. That’s unfortunate because we could enjoy life so much more if only we would accept the humility that brings peace to our lives. To do so would mean that we have to be silent and most of today’s humanity has been taught that silence is bad; movement, no matter how frenetic, noise, no matter how cacophonous, is a sign of life. That’s how we have lost touch with our innermost self, the core of our humanity, and we have become animate tools, an insidious but real violation of a basic moral principle: Human beings should never be used as means to an end.

I have found that most families whom I have served over the years have lived in denial of the inevitability of our 100% mortality rate. As the result, when Death ultimately pays a visit they are caught 100% unprepared, are shocked by the fact that a death has occurred, are devastated that so many decisions have to be made NOW, completely confused by the bureaucratic complexities of just getting the deceased moved, and once moved, bombarded by a bombastic but “compassionate” salesperson dressed up as a funeral director, and floored by the financial burdens of just one death. “We know you want to honor your loved one. Now that’s what we would suggest, but if you’d like to keep it simpler, we can also offer…” Sound familiar? As a bereavement chaplain trained in spiritual care and thanatology, I often have to recall one of the first things my deathcare instructors repeated: “The bereaved should never make a major decision in the first year following the loss.” But arranging for the final disposition of a dead human being, a loved one who has died,  is a major decision, one of the most major decisions some of my clients will ever have to make, and that major decision — or perhaps more accurately stated, major decisions — have to be made within mere hours of the major loss and in the 2-3 days following the major loss. So now what do we do?

Would you like us to bring along our chaplain?”

Well, too few funeral homes, too few funeral directors and — to my personal knowledge and in my experience — no funeral service groups or corporations tend to involve a chaplain in the removal call, the initial family meeting or the arrangements conference. In fact, I know of none who involve a chaplain immediately after receiving the first call. Wouldn’t it be great if one of the questions asked during the first call conversation would be, “Would you like us to bring along our chaplain?” In the hours immediately following the death the family is most receptive to the idea of having a spiritual care provider in their midst — not necessarily to talk but just to be present, perhaps just to listen quietly, just to be there if needed — at least that’s been my experience in my hospital and nursing home chaplaincy work.

Too few funeral homes, too few funeral directors and — to my knowledge and in my experience — no funeral service groups or corporation arrangement meeting guidelines recommend that a chaplain be present at the arrangements conference. I’m usually called after the arrangements conference and have to put the family through the ordeal of repeating so much of what I could have gleaned from simply sitting next to the funeral director or the arranger during the arrangements conference. Quite frankly, it’s beyond me why this is so.

Worse still, too many amateurs are allowed to inject themselves into the incredibly complex mix of emotions, physical reactions, social intricacies, and spiritual questions, and amateurs tend to complicate things beyond anyone’s expectations. When I use the term “amateurs” I mean people who are only minimally trained in spirituality, in psychospiritual care, people who read a book or take a course and are miraculously transformed into a being with privileged and extraordinary knowledge. Worse still, we frequently find volunteers or CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) trainees — most egregiously in the acute care setting, the hospital — winging it through some of a family’s most difficult moments! Fact is, they’re amateurs. Fact is that they can cause a lot of damage, directly and collaterally, simply because they are well-intentioned people but dilettantes, amateurs.

Bereavement chaplaincy, psychospiritual care is a vocation and spans a wide range of interdisciplinary subject matter. Many of us have graduate degrees in at least two academic or scientific specialties. Most of us have degrees in pastoral care, theological studies, or even the gold standard, divinity. Many of us have degrees in psychology or/and the humanities. Many of us have either formally or informally studied mortuary science and understand and appreciate what the funeral director has been taught, how s/he has acquired his/her practical experience, and most importantly, their limitations; perhaps we are not licensed to embalm or to operate a funeral home but we have made every conceivable effort to know what goes no behind the scenes and what makes the funeral home staff tick.  Many of us attend regular continuing professional education (CPE) —not to be confused with CPE as in “Clinical Pastoral Education,” the training offered by some healthcare institutions under the aegis of a national or international accreditation program — courses and conferences, and maintain programs of continuing awareness and currency. Many of us are members of professional associations. And many of us study, study, study to be able to provide the most comprehensive and efficacious care possible.

As an on-call chaplain or chaplain “in residence” I have also made special efforts at understanding the protocols of hospice and the role of spiritual care in hospice environments; the same is true regarding palliative care. Hospice, palliative care, hospital, nursing home pastoral care providers differ considerably in their protocols and practices; as a bereavement chaplain serving funeral homes and providing post-funeralization aftercare, I have to pick up where hospice, palliative care, hospital and nursing home staff — some of them ordained amateurs —, and funeral directors have left off or, in some cases, dropped the ball!

Some funeral service operators, whether independent funeral homes or corporate funeral service groups, need to learn that the chaplain is not the enemy. Mainstream clergy — those priests, ministers who run parishes and congregations as part of a mainstream institutionalized religious community (I’ll call these collectively “pastoral ministers”) do view the bereavement chaplain as an interloper cutting into their revenues. But a more compassionate view would be to accept the chaplain as an ally, someone with whom they should be collaborating instead of undermining and disparaging. Why? Well tackling the first proposition that the chaplain cuts into their revenues, I can say that most clergy will show up with Holy Scripture tucked under one arm and swinging a rosary in the other hand, machine gun a couple of verses or race through a couple decades of a rosary and then be off, tucking a hefty check into their pockets. Even funeral masses and church services are cookie-cutter and generally unconvincing. But they bring in the bucks. Consequently, if a chaplain is engaged to perform the funeralization rites and rituals, the pastoral minister will have to forfeit his or her stipend, and that can add up over the shorter or longer term.

Funeral directors are not stupid either. Most will get real cozy with a local congregation or the local priests and ministers, wining and dining them, ensuring that they have the local clergy in their pockets and then putting out the funeral-home sponsored annual free calendar promoting their funeral home in the vestibule of the church or temple. The priest or pastor gets a call when a local family loses a loved one and recommends John Smith Funeral Home. Bingo! It’s a win-win for both the priest/pastor and the funeral director. The only real loser is the consumer.

So, given the choice between the 15-minute Wham! Bam! Amen! cookie-cutter wake service, commendation-committal combo offered by the local pastor and the hour-long in-house commendation or memorial service with the 20 minute graveside or committal service offered by the chaplain/officiant, the funeral director will play his best, winning hand regardless of the quality of the service or the therapeutic effects — or lack thereof — on the bereaved and the mourning community. After all, for both the funeral director and the pastor the adage “Time is Money” applies with few exceptions.

But the difference between the chaplain and the parish priest or deacon or the congregation minister is that the chaplain is a specialist in psychospiritual care, especially end-of-life and deathcare, something few pastors can claim. Furthermore, the chaplain has the knowledge and experience to guide the bereaved through a complicated process, which may take the investment of hours of time, something that few if any pastors will do unless there’s a bequest or an estate to consider, or the deceased was a community leader. The chaplain is not concerned with what the faith tradition prescribes or what the faith community expects; the chaplain’s concern is directed and focused on the care of the bereaved, how they are coping, navigating them through the grief work, the mourning process, healing, transformation, and reintegration. Neither the funeral director nor the pastor is in a position to tackle such a situation. In fact, most funeral directors and pastors are really not  interested in getting that involved in the process of grief work and forget aftercare altogether. The same applies to many pastoral ministers.

This means that the bereaved and the mourning community are short-changed; they’re cheated out of the full transformational experience of offered by the personalized funeral ritual that offers profound psychospiritual support and paves the way to healing and transformation, making grief less traumatic and life more promising.

When secular funeral professionals and pastoral ministers collude and conspire together under any pretense or for any reason whatsoever, they betray the trust traditionally conferred upon them by the community, they cheat the bereaved and the mourning community, and worse still, they set an fundamentally evil precedent! The resulting situation is not only regrettable, it’s reprehensible. Why? Because most persons who are in the traumatic throes of acute grief are in an altered psychospiritual state; they are not thinking right and see the world in a confused vision. They tend to grasp trustingly at any straw coming their way and think that it will save them. Regrettably, most funeral service providers and clergy take fullest advantage of that to spew their respective “pitches” whether it be merchandising or pabulum preaching. Both disguise a cookie cutter as a life preserver!

In reality, the funeral director, whether independent or corporate, is interested in getting the case processed and closed within the shortest time possible without traumatizing the bereaveds’ sense of decency — assuming that the bereaved have any such sense — and getting on with the next removal. The pastor has to prepare his sermon, supervise the bible study groups, plan the religious education curriculum, discuss Sunday’s worship music with the music director, meet with the parish council, look for a new car, check the obits, and make time to have dinner with the local funeral director(s). Tough life for both, right?

My message, if I may presume to state it in so many words, is that funeral directors and pastoral ministers or spiritual care providers must take their fiduciary duties and obligations ethically seriously, they must play fairly and remember their privileged role in the community. When I say they must play fairly and remember their privileged role in the community I mean that they must respect boundaries, admit their limitations, and practice true humility in compassion. Funeral directors and pastoral ministers must be ready to admit that they can’t do everything, that they don’t have the training or experience to do some things, and that they have to stop deceiving their respective publics by shamelessly representing or misrepresenting that that are masters of all trades.

While I would like to pass on some of the responsibility for this deplorable state of affairs, essentially  caused and exploited by spurious funeralization practices and the greed of pastoral ministers in institutionalized religion, each at times illicitly operating both on the profane and the psychospiritual planes, on the shoulders of the consumer of funeralization and religious services, I can’t do that with very great confidence or credibility. The reason I can’t do that in the majority of cases is stated at the beginning of this essay, in a nutshell: They are simply so traumatized and confused by the complexity of circumstances surrounding a death that they have to legally, physically, practically and spiritually rely on others to help them through it all. It is here that the so-called professionals fail in their basic duties and obligations, and not only the bereaved, but all of society suffer the deleterious effects caused by these two professions, the funeral director and the clergy, alone.

Death is not just natural. Death is not just inevitable. Death is not just a loss. Death is a set of circumstances that sets into motion a vast array of complex responses and reactions in a process that can either be destructively or constructively transformational at the personal, community and societal levels. It is the vocation of the bereavement chaplain to provide the psychospiritual armamentarium to ensure that the transformation is constructive, healing, and nurtures positive growth and reintegration into life.

To read or download the original article please click Accepting Our Roles Respecting Our Limitations.

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Several Blogs Take up The Ministry Slack


danger wrong wayThe era in which we now live has been called many things, including post-modern and even post-Christian. Perhaps that’s true, and perhaps we, especially we Americans, are the authors of our own crises.

If it isn’t happy-happy, a pseudo-love fest, shiny, new, attractive, or electronic, we deny it or dispose of it. Just like we do to our once-venerated elderly. Just like we do to our once reverenced dead.

The last nature we will control is our own human nature and then we shall have destroyed humankind as we know it. (C.S. Lewis, Abolition of Man)

As C.S. Lewis writes in his Abolition of Man, we have gone from stewards to controllers to destroyers of Nature. As C.S. Lewis writes, we were once stewards of Nature, and then we strove and are striving to control Nature. The last nature we will control is our own human nature and then we shall have destroyed humankind as we know it. Humanity will have been abolished. Are we approaching that point now, where, as in C.S. Lewis, we have lost all sense of morality and elect few are making the rules, defining the morality by which we live? We have the great modern prophets but only very few of us read them.

The great age of horror films and modern morality plays on screen have been filed away in the archives of cinematology; they made us think about the unthinkable, our own souls, our fears, our itinerary through life cycles. There was crass exposé but also beauty and elegance. What do we have today but the product of computer algorithms and sound mixing, “entertaining” or rather “distracting” from the real issues and blunting human intelligence and sensuality with a pornography of death, a pornography of violence, and a degradation of the human spirit. You have become a means to the materialist capitalist end; you have become examples of ethics most abhorrent violation: A human being should never become a means to an end. But you say, some of this travesty of humanity does some good. We do some good in the Third World. Blind. Horribly blind. Another ethical principle states that an evil act shall not be used to achieve a good end. We make too many excuses for our bad behaviour and we correct pitifully little. Can we still make a claim to a moral high ground? Do we even remember what the moral high ground is? At what price do we take the post-modern, post-Christian high ground?

“We arrive at the destination without every having experienced the trip.”  (Anthony DeMello, S.J.)

postmodern humanityThe late Jesuit psychiatrist and motivational speaker, Anthony DeMello, described our human condition so aptly in his little parable about the people on a train. DeMello: “We are like people riding on a train to a final destination. The train is passing through some breathtakingly beautiful scenery but we have the shades drawn on the windows and don’t appreciate what’s outside of the car. We are all very busy arguing and discussing what we will do when we arrive, and who will be in charge. We arrive at the destination without every having experienced the trip.” We’re too busy doing and not being, no living.

I am a professional bereavement chaplain, a thanatologist. I deal with the dead, both the reposing and the walking ones. I see firsthand how shallow, lost, afraid people are when faced with mystery. I also see how institutionalized religion has failed them. Religion has failed them in the past because it attempted to use spurious and unconscionable means to control the faithful by fear, ignorance, and coercion. In today’s world, institutionalized religion attempts to control by more insidious means, more hypocritical means. Relativism has entered the Church through a small crack, just as Paul VI warned about the liturgical reforms instituted by Vatican II, “The smoke of Satan has entered the Temple through a small crack.”  We are paying a steep spiritual price for trying to renew something that is not in need of renovation.

In his masterwork, The Space of Death, Jean Ragon quotes Jean Ziegler (Les Vivants et la Mort, 1975), “The dead are human beings who have ceased to function…They no longer produce or consume.” How poignant. How thought-provoking. Ragon continues in his chapter on “Functionalism and Death”:

“The men of the Renaissance and the classical age saw the human body as architecture; the men of our industrial civilization tend rather to compare it to a machine; a machine which wears out, parts of which may be replaced, and which one day will become unusable.”

needleIn 1969, in Great Britain, a bill was proposed intended to legalize social euthanesia on the grounds that no useful purpose was served by prolonging human life beyond a certain age. The legislators fixed the “useful age” at eighty. Think of it this way: the post-modern elites will brainwash you from age 5 to 17 or 18, impoverish you by “educating” you from 18-24, use you until age 65, then retire you until age 80. At 80 you get the needle. Nice? The bill may not have passed in 1969, but in 1970 the English translation of the Vatican II documents were completed and reached the English-speaking world. Spiritual euthanesia followed. After spiritual euthanesia, moral and political depravity followed: we have abortion, even partial-birth abortion; we have been stuck with the biomedical model of health and healthcare for more than 100 years; we have assisted suicide in which even physicians participate; we are ruled by a corporate elite; we have been insidiously desensitized, dehumanized, blunted. Relativism has become our guiding light.

In the mid-19th century Friedrich Nietsche announced that “God is dead.” A new god had to be created. A race of superhumans would arise to create that god and to rule over the masses. Guess what?

Where have we left our children?

Where have we left our children?

As a thanatologist I can freely say that for most, their flavor of a god is either dead or dying. I can include the general pubic as well as clergy in that statement. We no longer have a model of morality or saintliness. Even popes have become politicians … wait, did I write “have become?” Mea culpa!

By denying the destination we deny the journey; by denying death, we deny life.

We need to throw open the shades on our train and take in the landscape through which we are passing…before it’s too late.  for many of my readers, they’ve already missed most of it and for some, well, they’re already detraining. We are conceived in sleep, we are born in sleep, we go through life asleep and we die…ASLEEP. By denying the destination we deny the journey; by denying death, we deny life.

That’s why I’d like to encourage you, my dear readers, to visit the Thanatology Café resource.
A New Feature: Articles and Essays
skulls

Learn More about Death and Dying.

I am Principal Facilitator at Thanatology Café and I write about a number of subjects relating to death, dying, grief, and the funeral services profession. Published on several blogs these articles have stimulated interest among people who never thought they’d be talking about the dread subject of death, and those readers and participants in local Thanatology Cafés have asked for more about the subject of thanatology; so many readers have requested copies of “the Chaplain’s” essays and articles;  responding to every individual request has been quite a task. To make it easier for anyone interested in reading my essays and articles (my homilies are published on Homiletics and Spiritual Care), I’ve decided to create an online page on the Thanatology Café blog, where you can click on the essay title and either read the article online or download it. It’s that easy!

The article “Interfaith Bereavement Chaplain — An Essential Asset” is actually an article written for the benefit of funeral homes and funeral directors, and gives them a good talking-to about how they are failing to provide the bereaved with essential grief services and aftercare. It’s a must read if you are going to make pre-arrangements or are making arrangements for a loved one. Local funeral homes like Babcock Funeral Home (Ravena), especially (!) with their expensive and shoddy services, and A.J. Cunningham (Greenville and Ravena), the Capital District’s very own “factory funeral home”, Newcomer Funeral Home, could learn a lot from that articel.

deathThe article, “Why is Funeralization Desirable and Necessary” is directed more to the consumer than to the funeral director, although funeral directors could benefit considerably from this article. It focuses mainly on the benefits of the traditional funeral for survivors and mourners. It’s a must-read for anyone who is or will be involved in funeral arrangements — that means everyone!

One of the most interesting articles is “Plain Talk About Cremation,” which is a real eye-opener for anyone considering cremation as a final disposition of their mortal remains.

Those articles and more are available on the Thanatology Cafe Blog page, “Articles & Essays.”

Click this link to go directly to New Feature: Articles and Essays.

As soon as we have it, we’ll also be publishing the September and October Thanatology Café program for the RCS area. Stay tuned and stay informed! That’s the best place to talk about death, dying, grief, mourning and other death-related topics.

Please let me know how you like “the Chaplain’s” new service.

Happy reading! The Editor

Happy reading!
The Editor

Source: A New Feature: Articles and Essays

Other blogs by the Chaplain include:

 


Thanatology Café: A Community Service and a Bereavement Ministry


Pastoral aspects, especially in terms of bereavement ministries, are part of the Thanatology Café experience.

crying-dying

This past May 7,  the second video in the “Death: A personal understanding” series started the discussion of what is the dying person and how that person transforms to him or herself and to those around them when a diagnosis of terminal disease is made, and death is a short time away. How did these three women react to the diagnosis of their terminal cancers? How did their loved ones react? What were their hopes for themselves and for their loved ones?

Click this link to read the Thanatology Café blog and follow the blog to get regular updates.

The next regular monthly meeting of Thantology Café is planned for June 11, 2016, at the RCS Community Library, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. Please let the organizers know if you plan to attend by either sending an email to thanatology.cafe@gmail.com or by signing up at the RCS Community Library (just ask a staffer for the sign-up sheet). The public is welcome. Refreshments will be available.

flowers+gravestone


The Conversation is about Death: Thanatology Café.


Thanatology Café will meet on Saturday, April 9, 2016, at 2:00 p.m. at the RCS Community Library, 95 Main Street, Ravena, New York.


The experience of a death brings with it a host of emotions including anxiety, loss, sadness, depression, and anger, and many more. You need to talk to someone about these experiences but it has to be someone who is nonjudgmental, who knows how to listen, who has had similar experience and wants to share your pain. We call that person a wounded helper.

heart to heart


When my husband was killed, I felt an overwhelming sense of isolation, anxiety, anger. As I made my way through my daily and weekly routines, I felt weighed down by something I really couldn’t put my finger on it. Then I heard about Thanatology Café and decided to give it a try even though I was never one to sit and share in a discussion group. Now I am amazed by how much I look forward to the monthly two-hour gathering and to the occasional “extraordinary” session when I can sit in a room with others who truly understand are want to hear about what I am going through. We wounded healers have met have become so special to each other and share such strength and support. I don’t feel so alone because I realize others suffer, too, but differently. In this room with our facilitator and my companions, I have the courage to face life and death, to talk about it, to heal, and to laugh again.” [Anonymous]


The quote above describes a very common sentiment, one that you may be experiencing when thinking about joining the Thanatology Café group. The death of someone close to you suddenly and violently changes your life. You are faced with a multitude of emotions all at once, with unpleasant experiences, hard decisions, and unexpected changes that need to be confronted and managed; the unthinkable has to be assimilated into what was once a normal life but is now a life changed forever.

To read, print or download my complete essay, click this link A discussion group_who needs it_handout.

Thanatology Café Rev. Ch. Harold Principal Facilitator

Thanatology Café
Rev. Ch. Harold
Principal Facilitator


Register Now for the RCS Thanatology Café Event on April 9, 2016!


Please Note: We have just been informed by the RCS Community library that the Thanatology Café sign-up sheets at the RCS Community Library are kept in a binder behind the check-out desk. You must ask a staff member for the book to sign up. 

register-nowWe recently announced an exciting new program coming to the RCS Community Library. The program, which plans to meet regularly monthly and will be supplemented by extraordinary meetings for smaller groups to discuss special topics focusing on death, dying, coping, grief, and death-related topics, has published its Initial Registration Form that can be completed before the Saturday, April 9, 2016, session at the RCS Community Library, from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

The organizers encourage interested participants to download and printout the form and to bring it the the April 9 session; that will save time and will leave more time for the conversations.

Sign-up sheets are also available at the RCS Community library, but interested persons can also R.S.V.P. their intention to attend by sending an e-mail to thanatology.cafe@gmail.com.

We are informed that local churches, fire and rescue departments, police departments, EMS, schools and local funeral directors have been contacted and urged to send representatives.

It’s an important program and will deal with a subject that really needs to be talked about more. It promises to be an outstanding opportunity for sharing, learning and information. Don’t miss it.

register now_red

Initial Registration Form

Of course, if you have any questions, please e-mail the organizers at thanatology.cafe@gmail.com. They will get right back to you with an answer.

Please click the Register Now image to display and download or print out the Initial Registration from, fill it out as completely as possible, and bring it with you to the Thanatology Cafe session on April 9, 2016, at the RCS Community Library, 95 Main Street, Ravena, New York. The session starts promptly at 2 p.m. so please be on time.

And in the meantime, visit the Thanatolgy Café blog.

Well be there and we hope you will be too; we are looking forward to meeting and chatting with you on April 9th!

The Editor

The Editor

 


Thanatology Café: Where the conversation is about death.


Church and clergy have fallen flat on their faces when it comes to supporting the bereaved in their difficult moments of loss. Scripted, cookie-cutter rituals and services, bland remarks, formulaic prayers all serve to leave the bereaved high-and-dry at a time when they need empathy and presence. A new opportunity for bereavement ministry is being offered in a unique program called Thanatology Café.

Thanatology Café: Where the conversation is about death, is being launched in Ravena, at the RCS Community library, 95 Main Street, Ravena, New York.

Be sure to mark the date: Saturday, April 9, 2016, 2-4 p.m. The program starts promptly at 2:00 p.m. so don’t be late. There will be light refreshments.

The organizers do ask that you sign up at the RCS Community Library using the sign-up sheets available there. You can also sign up at thanatology.cafe@gmail.com. When you sign up via email, you’ll receive an initial registration form that you should fill out and bring with you to the program on April 9.

What is Thanatology Café?

We thought you’d never ask!

joke's over


Thanatology: [than-uh-tol-uh-jee] the study of death and dying, and bereavement, especially the study of ways to understand the coping mechanisms, meaning-making, transcendence and transformation to support the bereaved and mourners, and to lessen suffering and address the needs of the dying and their survivors.


It’s a  totally unique program and it’s called

Thanatology Café.

It’s a place where anyone can come in and talk about their thoughts, concerns, and interests centering on death and dying, bereavement, grief, society and death, spirituality and death, the death industry, our responsibilities as human beings who will die some day.

Thanatology Café is a safe place to talk about the ultimate mystery and to share thoughts and concerns about death and dying. It’s a place where you won’t be judged, no agenda will try to convert you or attempt to sell you something. It’s neutral ground, a sacred space where you can open your heart and mind to benefit everyone.

Thanatology Café will also be a source of valuable information from professionals who work in the field of death and dying. The program will include speakers, presenters, or even a film for discussion. But most of the time it will simply be a place to freely express ideas and thoughts, to share with the entire group or in smaller groups working off their own energies, monitored by a facilitator.

Thanatology Café is going to be offered in at least four counties: Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Greene to start. Since community libraries are centers for education and information and are central to most communities, the organizers will be holding the regular monthly sessions in community libraries throughout the area. There will also be other sessions for special interests or to organize special events like tours etc. to historic sites. One such site is Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, where Uncle Sam is buried along with a slew of other historic figures. But the crematorium chapel is a must see and TC is working on a tour for sometime in May or June 2016.

Thanatology Café is an important resource for first responders, church bereavement groups, bereavement ministries, and even funeral directors (TC will host several presentations by funeral directors with Q&A sessions).

Thanatology Café is for everyone and the invitation is open to anyone who needs or wants to talk about death, dying, grief, mourning, spirituality, traditions and superstitions, the funeral business. The field and conversation is wide open. Only the participants will decide.

Click the link to visit the Thanatology Café blog.

Don't be one. Join us at Thanatology Café on April 9th, RCS Community Library. The Editor

Don’t be one. Join us at Thanatology Café on April 9th, RCS Community Library.

The Editor


Pastor or Chaplain, or Both?


Is There a Distinction that Needs to be Drawn Between a Practicioner’s Playing the Role of Pastor or that of Chaplain?

I was a bit bemused by the persistence of the tendency to Bible-thump one’s way through any such discussion

I recently engaged several colleagues on the question of chaplaincy or pastoring. I was a bit bemused by the persistence of the tendency to Bible-thump one’s way through any such discussion, while advocating an interfaith approach as advanced by the adherents of the CPE agenda. I thought I’d share my contribution to the discussion.

listen-with-heartIt is my contention that we should not advance the notion of a “versus” or “as opposed to” when discussing chaplaincy or pastoring. While it is true that some traditions, the Hebrew and Islamic, for example, eschew the notion of “pastor” or “shepherd” for cultural or traditional, even ethical reasons, in the broader sense all chaplains are in fact “pastors,” while all pastors (in the conventional sense) are not necessarily “chaplains” (or critically speaking, even pastors!). In fact, I object in principal to the biased terminology we so frequently use in our vocations, “pastoral care” department, because it tends to be exclusive. I personally prefer spriritual care provider (although in my professional materials I do use pastoral care). Moreover, most people, even those in the vocation, tend to associate pastoral with pastors and thus with some sort of clergy or ordained service provider (usually with no questions asked and we all know about the profanation of ordination); that in itself is a misfortune for all concerned. But the much-touted CPE doesn’t do much to clarify the issues for interns or residents, and we still see chaplains “certified” by the self-proclaimed arbitors of chaplaincy who are just as ignorant after several years of “education” as they were before.

A case in point is taken from the scenario presented by the initiator of the discussion who describes walking into a Jewish patient’s room with a Christian clerical collar, which I characterized as benign “ignorance” but in reality was outright insensitive and would indicate that the “chaplain” in question did not do any initial preparation before launching out on rounds or visitations.clerical collar pc I might fraternally suggest that in future, whether you are a chaplain or a pastoral care associate, to check the chart briefly or dialogue with the nurse assigned to that patient before you visit. The offending chaplain actually says that he was aware that the patient was dying and had no family, so it seems rather odd that the chaplain did not appreciate the patient’s faith tradition and, if it wasn’t in the chart, that he didn’t consult with the immediate caregiver (nurse or LPN).

I also questioned the fact that the visiting chaplain was aware that the man was “Jewish”. Being Jewish immediately identifies one as being associated with a certain cultural, socio-religious tradition, after all, one does not call one’s self “Jewish” except to identify one’s self as a Jew. So this also raises the question of whether the chaplain in question was indifferent to the possibility that this dying man might have welcomed a visit by a rabbi, or that the chaplain did not make or offer to make a referral. Such sensitivity may have been a great comfort to the man, who might have found great refuge in his tradition and prayers. So I identify a boundary issue in this behavior, too; an issue of knowing one’s limits.

This situation also sends up red flags in that it clearly indicates that the institution did not do a spiritual assessment of this patient, much less a spiritual evaluation or history, which also reveals a glaring ignorance of the now widely inaugurated JCAHO and HIPA scoring categories relating to patient spiritual care.

The scenario I describe above should be instructive to us all and I thank the so-called chaplain for the inadvertent teaching/learning moment he has provided.

Finally, in the dying process I don’t feel there’s a heck of a lot of “pastoring” left to be done, unless it’s for the survivors. In my experience, in end-of-life situations I am more of a presence and spiritual guide/companion. While that may arguably be part of pastoring in a general sense, I feel that the actual mission of pastoring contrasts in praxis with the mission of spiritual accompaniment at end-of-life or in an existential crisis.

plant in handIt’s rather like the difference between evangelization and catechesis, if you have that in your tradition. One takes care of the basics and gets the seed started (evangelization), the other (catechesis) ends in the care and nurturing to harvest time.

Listening to hearAnother colleague mentioned in a rather cliché fashion with which we are all familiar when listening to the CPE crowd, that CPE trains one to listen. I disagree with such responses such as “CPE “teaches” one to listen.” I’m not quite sure how that works but in my divinity training and three years of supervised pastoral formation, and my participation in and disappointment with a rather popular CPE program in a large trauma center in Albany, New York, which fell far short of even my minimum aspirations, I don’t think that people can be “taught to listen” they may listen, but they don’t listen deeply. I know that from experience the deep listening skill comes from deep within one’s self, once one is comfortable with one’s self, and can leave one’s self for the time it takes to absorb and process the patient’s narrative. It’s that kind of listening that might be part of qualifying an aspirant to be spiritual care provider but it certainly isn’t the be all and end all.

The serene face of the large Buddha his long wise curvaceous ears at once loving and open to the woes of the world: Compassionate.

The serene face of the Buddha, his long wise curvaceous ears at once loving and open to the woes of the world: Compassionate.

Deep listening is the act of sinking into a serene quiet place, and awakening a receptive awareness of the other. By entering quiet and becoming aware of the other, we move out of and beyond our ego-driven chaos to become open to the divine messages within us and shared with us by the other. Imagine the irony here is that we so often complain of the pain of not having been heard, but we are so guilty ourselves of being deaf to, not hearing the innate wisdom from within ourselves and shared with us by others. When we learn to accept emptiness, when quiet, we instinctively trust in the guidance of sacred voices far more profoundly than what our bullying brains and the busy buzz of life would have us hear. And we listen, respond with silence.

In fact, having examined quite a number of CPE curricula and having developed continuing quality improvement curricula for the healthcare chaplaincy department, I find that the current CPE programs and their associated certification elements serve only to promote a burocratic and very branded form of “pastoral” care, and that branded product falls short of most suffering persons’ real needs. helpingIt’s the proprietary nature and standardization (viz. uniformization, homogenization) of the learning that deals the death blow to an appreciation (1) of the universal truths and values shared by all human beings, (2) the beauty in the diversity of traditions and how to appreciate and be enriched by a certain mutuality, (3) the possible pitfalls of an interfaith approach to faith traditions that may adhere very loyally to their dogmas. There are other reasons I could enumerate but regrettably (or fortunately for the readers) space is limited.

I think that an overwhelming majority, too, of CPE students come with excess baggage and too little self-death–I’ve observed interns, residents, even certified chaplains who have a great potential to do considerable damage…and do. The situation is not unlike seminary, you can do much to scrutinize, to form, to standardize but Whoa! when you turn them loose on the world, watch out! (A Roman Catholic diocesan priest, who also serves in the chancery tribunal, remarked ironically to me one day, “They’ll ordain anybody these days.” Which is probably true given the shortage of priests today.)

The so-called supervisors of the CPE programs almost invariable have their own biases and agendas, and these tend to impair good formation.
In some, not all instances, too, CPE programs have become “pay-to-work” programs in which minimally screened individuals, wet behind the ears and green, are turned loose on the floors to deal with sophisticated staff and human beings in existential crisis. I don’t feel that’s right. And I have also observed that interns are exposed to the same curriculum content for three or four years, and unless they have the academic predisposition to independently advance their armamentarium of experience through narrative and study, many don’t build their foundations. Some interns do not have theology or pastoral studies to help them through the necessary processing, and almost all have a depraved Western bias to their spirituality that tends to act as a speed bump when offering care to Non-western recipients. These programs tend to be “chaplain mills.” CPE does not fit the bill on its own to form professional, well-rounded spiritual care providers, but does excel in churning out multitudes of volunteers for greedy institutions. That may be one of the reasons it has survived this long.

On another level, some practitioners involved in the discussion advocated that the “Gospel” or, by extension, holy scriptures, has no firm place in chaplaincy. I do differ in that the fundamental ethics of the “Gospel” (not as understood principally by the evangelicals or fundamentalist among us) is a major part of chaplaincy. servant leadershipI cite particularly the beatitudes and the teaching of discipleship and servant leadership (chaplaincy is certainly not limited to the sick and dying but to the suffering generally). While I abhor the notion, and even more so the practice of proselytizing to captive audiences, and would hasten to emphasize that evangelization and catechization is not a fundamental role of the chaplain, ethics, discipleship, and servant leadership all play a special role in the myriad activities of the professional chaplain. (Note also that I do distinguish between the “professional chaplain”, the pastoral/spiritual care associate, and the visitor providing spiritual support.) To advocate that the truths and values espoused by the “Gospel”, the holy scriptures of any faith or spiritual tradition might have no place in chaplaincy is to advocate a position, I believe, of a chaplaincy practice devoid of ethics (and religion) (I do realize that this is a particularly “Christian” approach and my Judaic, Islamic and Buddhist colleagues may not necessarily agree with the religion-ethics statement, but I make the statement here somewhat loosely for convenience sake).

I’m not judging colleagues in chaplaincy or Clinical Pastoral Education too severely at all. In fact, I’m simply sharing my own observations and opinions based on personal experience. I am not a bit surprised when some readers tend to take these observations personally, as if they were meant to make an ad hominem stab at the straw[wo]men of CPE; I usually anticipate that persons in our line of work have a bit more self-awareness not to take every facially severe remark as a lancet thrust to the heart, however.

Rather than play an offended person’s role, perhaps we all would benefit by admitting that we may have learnt something about one’s self as through another’s eyes.

We Respond, We don't React.

We Respond, We don’t React.

Our role is to humbly respond, not to knee-jerk react. After all, to paraphrase the prophet Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘We are all wrapped in the same cloth…when we directly hurt another we indirectly hurt ourselves.” (I do hope I did that statement justice!). So, when one party to the conversation called such a response arrogant, and a failure to simply accept some responsibility in relationship to colleagues’ responses, I merely responded, “My point indeed. The mouth loves the feel of words.” Instead we minimize, rationalize and justify our behavior, making certain to protect one’s self. This particular correspondent insists that “our patients have thick enough skins to handle a collar.”panda overload My response was tantamount to the fact that I don’t think that we have any right to expect patients to have “thick skins.” Some practitioners in pastoral care seem to admit patients’ strengths but underestimate their sensitivity and vulnerability. Many of the patients I see have lost their thick skins and in fact are pretty bruised in terms of dignity, autonomy, fortitude, patience, etc. I see no reason to add another straw to the pile. And Yes! It’s not about us, it’s about patient-centered, family-focused, inter- and multi-disciplinary care.

bedside prayerWhen we adopt such an approach we appreciate that, whereas many of our colleagues practice their spiritual care ministry in acute care settings or in crisis settings, many colleagues may find themselves–particularly in the scenario of the long-term care setting–in the position of playing both the role of chaplain and pastor to some residents in those longer-term care facilities. Regrettably, many of these residents lived their lives unchurched or churched with infrequent interaction with their faith community; more regrettably, some faith communities have disappeared or simply no longer continue a ministry of visitation of the sick and homebound who were once part of their faith community. It’s in such situations that the chaplain may very well become the pastor, and have to function in both roles. I don’t feel that this should be a major stumbling block nor even a concern to the well-formed spiritual care provider, who is responding to a true call to spiritual care ministry.

We're all wrapped in the same cloth...

We’re all wrapped in the same cloth…


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