By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published February 3, 2011
When Lilburn resident Bob Hauert was asked to find a ministry in which to serve as part of his diaconate formation for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, he knew right away he did not want to work in hospice care.
“I will do anything but hospice,” he told himself.
But just a few years later, now officially ordained for the archdiocese, Deacon Hauert is serving as the full-time resident chaplain for Hospice Atlanta, the largest nonprofit home health care and hospice provider in Georgia.
His “conversion” came after he was encouraged by a friend to volunteer at Hospice Atlanta, “just to try it out.” Deacon Hauert completed a weekend training session and began serving as a volunteer at Hospice Atlanta shortly afterward.
During one of his volunteer sessions, he remembers visiting with a patient who was unable to speak. A little unsure of how to handle the situation, he asked one of the nurses for advice. Just talk to him, the nurse said.
“That’s what I did. I talked to him, I sang to him, I prayed with him,” Deacon Hauert recalled. “Then I looked into his eyes and he looked into mine. There was a connection.”
“It was a very powerful spiritual moment,” he said.
‘I Got Hooked’
Following this spiritual encounter, Deacon Hauert began to pursue chaplaincy and started the prerequisite Clinical Pastoral Education units (CPEs) at Hospice Atlanta. Through this experience, he served the patients as a chaplain instead of a volunteer. Last October Hospice Atlanta asked him to become their full-time chaplain, serving all their patients.
“It was a whole different perspective,” he said. “And I got hooked on the grace of this ministry.”
Deacon Hauert has several years of professional experience in sales, but when he came into hospice ministry, he had to relearn how to use these skills. In the sales sector, you always go in prepared, knowing exactly what you will say to a client, he said.
“Part of chaplaincy is . . . not having the right words to say but actively listening to what others are conveying to you,” he said.
It is important to be prepared when ministering, however, Deacon Hauert added. By visiting with the nurses and other staff members, the chaplain can better understand the medical and spiritual situation of each patient and provide the appropriate care for that person and his or her family. As part of this, Deacon Hauert had the opportunity not only to learn about the medical side of hospice care but also to learn about other faith traditions as he ministers to people of all faiths and no faith.
“There is a strong connection between chaplaincy and the diaconate,” he said. “The diaconate is all about service, and that service takes on many forms.”
‘Preacher, You Done Good’
He especially recalls the story of a 59-year-old woman from the North Georgia mountains who recently came into Hospice Atlanta. She was raised in a Baptist family but only accepted Jesus into her life about six months prior to her diagnosis with a terminal illness.
The woman had not been very active since entering Hospice Atlanta, speaking and moving very little as she appeared to approach the end of her life. The woman’s son came to Deacon Hauert and said his mother had asked to be baptized.
“The whole family was gathered around the bed when I performed the baptism,” he said. “There were smiles all around.”
Deacon Hauert was surprised when he visited the room the following day to see the woman sitting up in her bed and talking more than she had since she arrived.
“Preacher, you done good, you done real good,” the son exclaimed to the chaplain.
Deacon Hauert smiled and said, “Well, it wasn’t me.”
The following day the woman died, but her family was comforted by her baptism and confident that she was spiritually ready when her death came.
When many people hear the term “hospice,” they simply associate the word with death or a place that people go to die. Deacon Hauert believes that it is much more than that as the entire staff at hospice is completely dedicated to providing comfort and care to anyone who walks through the door. It isn’t about letting someone die, but about helping the patients and families deal with stressful situations and comforting them in their time of suffering.
“At Hospice Atlanta, we provide care, comfort, love and compassion to the patients and families that we are blessed to serve,” he said. “Everyone is an active participant and has great concern for pain management and the spiritual needs of our patients and their families.”
Knowing Other Faiths Makes Chaplain Better
Through his experience with these patients and families at Hospice Atlanta, Deacon Hauert has become involved with interfaith meetings outside the walls of the hospice. He has served on ecumenical panel discussions and interfaith groups hoping to gain perspective on different faiths.
“I was surprised at all of the commonalities,” he said about these experiences. “That has helped me become a better chaplain.”
Deacon Hauert remains rooted in his Catholic faith as he ministers to people of all faiths. He encourages all Catholics, and especially his brother deacons, not to be afraid to go beyond the walls of the parish and reach out to the wider community.
“There is a lot of work to be done within parishes,” said Deacon Hauert. “But equally important is service outside the parish community. … Being open to a call outside the parish has made a huge difference.”
“I would encourage my brother deacons to engage in other ministries and allow themselves to be open,” he added. “As deacons, we are called to a wider view.”
Hospice Atlanta offers on-site and home hospice care for those who have a life expectancy of six months or less and where the patient and family are aware of the terminal diagnosis. In addition to having registered nurses on duty 24 hours a day, Hospice Atlanta also provides support services, such as emotional and spiritual counseling.
“(Hospice care) is a wonderful ministry. The graces are just amazing,” said Deacon Hauert. “This is a very safe and holy place.”