By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published August 2, 2012
Deacon Bob Hauert, chaplain at Hospice Atlanta and deacon at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, spoke on death, dying and the importance of hospice care at the North American Interfaith Network conference held in Atlanta July 15-18.
Deacon Hauert, ordained a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 2010, shared his story with workshop attendees and explained the importance of hospice care and the necessity of providing a strong support system for patients and families dealing with end-of-life issues.
“Sometimes the cure is not a physical cure but an emotional cure or a spiritual cure or the curing of a broken relationship,” said Deacon Hauert about healing and hospice care patients. He explained how important it is to be a supportive presence for the patients and their families and how respecting the faith of another is an important facet of successful hospice care.
“It’s really all about meeting people where they are. It’s not about conversion, it’s not about proselytizing or evangelization,” he said. “It’s not so much about what you say. It’s not about the prayers or the rituals. It’s about being with them personally, allowing them to share who they are with you.”
The environment surrounding death has changed dramatically as medical advances allow people to live much longer, he said. The trade-off is that many patients and families have difficulty letting go when a person is terminally ill. This makes spiritual support even more important in hospice settings.
While most people once died in their own homes, “over the past 100 years, the environment around end-of-life has changed dramatically,” said Deacon Hauert. “The changes in medical technology, in drugs, have caused that to evolve so that now 90 percent of people … die in a hospital or a nursing home or other such facility.”
One of the important things to note about hospice care is that the hospice experience is not about extending life or shortening life, but rather its focus is on helping people die naturally.
Gillian Anderson, president of RCI Media Training, who has worked with Deacon Hauert at Hospice Atlanta, also spoke on the current medical environment, which she believes does not afford doctors and health care providers enough opportunity to provide the supportive care many patients need.
Between having more patients, less time, an increasingly complex list of treatment options and fear of malpractice, among other things, physicians often struggle to provide the care and comfort that patients seek.
“Despite increasing evidence that patients would like physicians to do so, spiritual issues are rarely addressed,” said Anderson, referring to studies provided by Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, a Franciscan friar who is a medical doctor and ethicist.
There is also evidence that patients would like their physicians to pray with them or to ask about their spiritual needs, even if those needs are not directly addressed by the physician.
Both Anderson and Deacon Hauert expressed the need for more people to become involved in end-of-life care, especially more clergy.
The topic of death and dying was just one of many issues discussed during the event. The conference, NAIN Connect 2012, was held in Atlanta for the first time and gave leaders from various faiths the opportunity to provide information and perspective on their beliefs and specialties within the spiritual and professional world.Topics included such as environmental ethics, engaging communities in interfaith activities, storytelling, disabilities, aging and hospitality. The conference at the Renaissance Concourse Hotel also included presentations by Atlanta’s historic civil rights figures and on the international work of the Carter Center with visits to the King and Carter centers.
NAIN is a nonprofit association made up of interfaith organizations and agencies in Canada, Mexico and the United States. This year’s theme was creating interfaith-friendly cities.
“The metro Atlanta area enjoys a vibrant and extensive interfaith community, a unity of purpose in more than a dozen unique organizations and groups,” wrote Our Lady of Lourdes parishioner Cathy Crosby, in a letter to conference attendees. Crosby served on the local team who helped organize the event. “The opportunity afforded us in hosting the 2012 NAIN Connect has been delightful and fruitful for the city of Atlanta and for each of us personally.”