Talking to the heart

Chaplains are trained in the art of conversation. Sometimes that conversation utilizes words; other times it uses photos, music, symbols, or a supportive presence. D.Min. student Rabbi Mona Decker, Chaplain at Community Hospice of Northeast Florida, is fluent in the language of compassion. She speaks with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients, those who are able to communicate only minimally.

By using what’s at hand—symbols that are spiritually based, scenes of home or places in which the person finds meaning, or pictures of family and friends—Decker finds a way to comfort those who aren’t able to ask for what they need. “For a person who can still hear and possibly comprehend, I’ll provide prayer, or offer readings. Singing is very important. Familiar songs can draw a person out and enable them to connect with the person providing spiritual care,” she says.

For her dissertation, Decker will hold focus groups, interviews, and teaching sessions with hospice chaplains to explore the different tools of spiritual care. “I’ll include teaching, experimentation, and role play in order to help chaplains see how they minister, and develop ideas as to where to go from here.”

Her view on this tender phase of some people’s lives brims with grace and humanity. “I love the opportunity to be with patients and their family members at a meaningful and transitional time. It’s an honor to accompany people when a loved one is coming to terms with an illness or approaching death. Often, questions about spirituality become very important, and I’m humbled to address those issues.”

Originally published in the 2014-2015 San Francisco Theological Seminary Annual Report