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Chaplains support hospice staff and volunteers

By Mary Stamp

Through a ministry of presence, Hospice of Spokane’s staff chaplains Jim Edwards, Sheryll Shepard and Maggie Albo engage spiritual care needs of clients and families of many faiths or no faith.

Hospice Chaplains
Maggie Albo, Jim Edwards and Sheryll Shepard serve as chaplains for hospice clients.

They also help 21 volunteer chaplains and Hospice staff deal with spiritual aspects of living, dying and grieving.

Hospice of Spokane, a nonprofit organization, has 152 part-time and full-time staff providing end-of-life care. 

It serves more than 300 people on an average day, said Dale Hammond, director of development and communications.  In 2012, there were about 137 deaths per month, he added.

More than 250 volunteers share their skills of singing, reading, playing guitar, bringing animals, doing light housework, providing respite care, leading grief groups and being with someone who is dying.

Interdisciplinary teams of nurses, physicians, social workers, nurses aides, volunteers, chaplains, bereavement counselors and other professionals seek to alleviate the suffering and honor the dignity of the terminally ill people they serve.

Jim Edwards
Jim Edwards

Jim, who earned a degree in religion at George Fox College in 1979, earned a master of divinity degree in 1983 from the Anabaptist-Mennonite Biblical Seminary, and then took clinical pastoral education (CPE).  In 1987, he and his wife, Doreen, moved to Rathdrum, where she grew up.

He worked as a social worker with Elder Services, while earning a master’s in social work at Eastern Washington University.  He served three years as a social worker in Idaho before coming to Hospice of Spokane as a social worker, then as volunteer director for 13 years and as chaplain for four years.

A graduate of Holy Names Academy, Maggie lost a management job at a downtown plasma center when she became ill with multiple sclerosis. She went back to school online and finished a business degree in 1992 from City University.

Facing difficulty attending worship at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in a wheelchair, she entered Gonzaga University and earned a master’s degree in pastoral ministry in 2000, believing that would give her a credible voice about accessibility to worship spaces.  She has consulted with several churches, including her own, to make their worship spaces more accessible for people with all kinds of disabilities.  Since then, she has progressed to a scooter, a walker and now “one stick.”

In 2000, she started volunteering at Hospice and then became staff chaplain, working part-time because of her own health and because she is caregiver for her husband, a stroke victim.

Sheryll Shepard
Sheryll Shepard

Sheryll, who has been involved in Presbyterian, Methodist, Lutheran and Episcopal churches, has volunteered and worked in hospitals from kitchen helper to pink lady to respiratory therapy.

While her late husband, John, attended Church Divinity School of the Pacific to become a priest, Sheryll audited classes and began volunteering with Hospice in the late 1980s.  She facilitated bereavement groups for survivors of people who died of AIDS.

While John was an Episcopal priest in Pierre, S.D., she did pastoral care at a hospital and began clinical pastoral education in 1996 to train to be a chaplain.  She completed it at Gonzaga University after they came to Spokane in 1998 for John to serve St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.  She recently completed a two-year program in spiritual direction at Gonzaga.

In 2002, she became a chaplain at Deaconess Hospital and came to Hospice of Spokane as a chaplain in 2005.  Her daughter took her own life in 1996 and Sheryll now facilitates bereavement support for survivors of loss from suicide group at 5:30 p.m., Tuesdays, at Hospice of Spokane. 


Spiritual care is about presence

Sheryll:  The spiritual care we provide is primarily about being present to a person who is dying and to the family based on their need, listening, prayer or presence. If families need reconciliation, we facilitate that.

Maggie:  When my father was dying, our family was splintered.  I called Hospice.  Within days we pulled together.  I was impressed.

Sheryll: We also do graveside, memorial, funeral and celebration-of-life services to help families with bereavement. I’m certified as a life celebrant for such services.

Spiritual care overlaps care of staff and volunteers

Maggie Albo
Maggie Albo

Maggie:  Hospice nurses care for physical needs and control pain.  Social workers care for family and financial needs.  We seek to bring people to a place of peace before death and to bring a family to a peace after the death. 

Jim:  Spiritual care overlaps with what other Hospice staff and volunteers do.  Everyone is to know when to refer clients or families to us.  They also are attentive to spiritual pain and listen to stories, so everyone does spiritual care.  Some may not want a chaplain because of their spiritual journey or church relationship.

Chaplains serve and respect all faiths

Sheryll:  We serve people of all faiths and walks of life, however they identify their spirituality.  Often at the end of life, transcendent questions arise. The Northwest historically has many unaffiliated people, so we do not come with a religious agenda, but meet clients where they are on their journey to walk with them as companions.  Most want to know their lives mattered.  Through attentive listening, chaplains validate a person’s worth.  We facilitate their questions about belief, so people arrive at their own conclusions.

Jim: Some clients of Christian backgrounds may not have attended church for years, but ask for a chaplain.  We offer Bible readings and prayer.  Sometimes we anoint the sick or contact a priest or pastor to do that.  We also have contacts in the Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and other faith communities.

Volunteer chaplains are spiritual companions. Some are ordained.  Some are trained as chaplains.  Some have had Hospice training.  We meet regularly for continuing education through speakers, book studies and dialogue on our experiences with cases.

Maggie: Jim brings people from different cultures and faiths, so we can understand clients of diverse backgrounds, including those with no religious background.

Jim:  While most clients are from Christian backgrounds, what I have studied of Buddhism gives me added tools for compassion. 

Being with others is an opportunity to grow.  Intimacy happens quickly.  We come to know clients and help them process their lives and make sense of their dying.  Sometimes they share with us things they are not able to share with their family.  We learn not to judge others or ourselves.

Each teaches and each learns

Sheryll:  We each have something to teach and something to learn.  Talking about the end of life, dying, loss and grief, there are no boundaries.  It’s part of everyone’s lives, regardless of our faith, education or economic background.  We will all die and we all grieve when we lose something or someone.   

Maggie:  “I have grown in my catholicity, with small ‘c,’ meaning “universality.”  I can align my faith with anyone, Hindu, Muslim, Jew or other faith or orientation.  It’s not about doctrine but about being a person with people.

Chaplains respect client’s faith needs

Sheryll:  Doctrine is important to some at the end of life.  Some want to be anointed.  For some, it’s important to reconnect with faith they held early in life.

Maggie: As a lay Eucharistic minister, I can bring Communion, consecrated by a priest, to Catholics.  Priests also come. 

Sheryll:  When someone who has been away from church requests a chaplain, we help them assess if it’s useful to reconnect with a former church and invite the pastor to come.  It also gives the family support from the faith community after the death.

My experience of deaths in my family helps me in unspoken ways.  People sense I understand without my sharing my story. 

The suicide survivors support group is only for people who face that loss to support each other.  They are able to talk with each other without fear others will be critical.  People come and go.  Some come once, some for six weeks and some for five years.  There is no average time. 

I also do education and support on grief for people working and living in nursing and assisted-living homes. 

We do a ceremony for staff, residents and family to honor people who died.  Staff in care facilities become attached to people, but may be unable to leave work to go to services.

Chaplains support hospice staff and volunteers

Maggie:  Our weekly Light and Life services help staff deal with losses of clients.

Jim:  They share how people had impact on their lives.  We discuss theological issues, and read reflections or poems.

Maggie:  Our office is located centrally, so staff can come through to talk with us. 

Chaplains educate community

Sheryll:  We also offer the community and congregations a three-part education series—three one-hour sessions or one three-hour session—on being with people who are dying and grieving.  We help people reflect on their feelings about death and dying.

Maggie:  We help them talk about their experience of being with people who are dying and of taking care of themselves while helping others.

Sheryll:  We also discuss how to be a supportive presence for people who are bereaved. 

Maggie:  Being a Hospice chaplain has taught me how to live and hopefully how to die.

When I visit people who have no food and no heat, I find creative ways to help with those needs.

Some at the hospice house at 7th and Chandler are homeless. 

In 2003, I spearheaded a project to bury the remains of 108 unidentified indigent people. 

Holy Cross Cemetery has now established the Garden of Peace and buries about eight containers of unclaimed remains twice a year.

Sheryll:  Nothing is surprising, shocking, scary or awful.  It is about being present to what is.  I consider it joy, not work. 

For information, call 456-0438 or email, or

Copyright © May 2013 - The Fig Tree