Meet Sherryl Shepard, Chaplain For Hospice Of Spokane | Health
Sheryll Shepard has been a chaplain and grief companion for 14 years. She has served Hospice of Spokane for seven years. In addition to her chaplain duties Sheryll facilitates a support group for loss due to suicide. She is a Spiritual Director, Life Celebrant and occasionally offers retreats and workshops on various ministry topics.
This is the first in my series of conversations with Sheryll on how Hospice works, how it can help your family and the best way to utilize the service.
Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to the ministry.
A: He stopped by our house daily, carrying his big bag. It was so heavy we could see that his posture was crooked. He never missed a day, just like they said—neither rain, sun, sleet or snow can halt the US mail! Our mailman was the kind you’d see on the Andy Griffith shows. Always smiling, friendly, engaging especially the kids of the neighborhood.
By the time he reached our house my sisters and I would have cookies and lemonade ready for him and he’d sit for a much deserved break and chat with the kids of the block. We waited for him, looked forward to his friendliness.
Years later as a young nurse aide, a mailman became a patient in the hospital where I was employed. He had a bad cancer and suffered a long time before death released him. This did not make sense to me. A beloved person who never seemed to have a cross word, who always had a friendly smile and a gentle way about him, suffered. Why would God do that? Why IS there suffering anyway? Big questions I suppose and questions that no doubt informed the path to where I find myself today. These are the questions of meaning. What is the meaning of our lives, of our dying? Questions that want to be explored even if there is no definitive answer and chaplaincy work is often being a listening presence to help facilitate such questions.
Twenty years ago when my husband changed careers and went to seminary I attended classes with him. I quickly discovered I was only really interested in courses related to people: ethics, pastoral care, preaching, liturgy. During those years I also began volunteering for Alta Bates Hospice in Berkeley CA. At that time AIDS was rampantly taking the lives of people. Through Hospice a psychologist and I began facilitating bereavement groups for such loss. Once again, the questions of meaning loomed large. Why would God allow for such a dreadful disease?
Following seminary, the head of the Pastoral Care Department in the local hospital asked me to join her department. She provided the opportunity for me to begin my studies in Clinical Pastoral Education. I finished 2000 hours of class and clinical time through Gonzaga University. This education has served me well as clergy spouse, hospital chaplain and chaplain for Hospice of Spokane.
In 1996 when my daughter took her own life, those questions of meaning surfaced yet again. My interest in bereavement began to grow and I sought out course work, seminars, available training, read many books and learned from other bereaved people by facilitating bereavement support groups. All of it helped me to understand myself better as well as those clients I served as chaplain. Now, as a recent widow, I am yet in another phase of learning. What I have come to know is that we spend much of our lives grieving some kind of loss and those losses beg to be listened to. When people are dying they have a multitude of loss to deal with. As a chaplain part of my role is to provide the listening space for such loss to be explored, grieved and at times, healed.
Q: How did you get the job at Hospice of Spokane?
A: I’ve been with Hospice of Spokane for 7 years and it has been a natural progression for me. It feels as though all my life experiences can be understood through the stories I hear from others and the stories I know from inside myself. Each of us is uniquely individual, and yet connected through our experience of being human. All of us have contributions to make; each of us has something to teach and something to learn whenever we encounter one another.
When people learn I work for Hospice they frequently comment “Oh I don’t know how you can do that, it must be so sad.” Of course there is sadness. But there is also joy, humor, reconnections, last wishes achieved, hopes, new understandings, new friendships—life, in the midst of dying. Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about Hospice service is that is it all about dying.
Hospice of Spokane is committed to helping people enjoy their lives to the extent they desire in the most comfortable way possible. We don’t just manage pain so people can die comfortably we manage pain so people can enjoy their lives until death comes. We will all at some point, face this final journey. Hospice of Spokane assures that journey will be live giving and life living for as long as it can be.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about Hospice?
A: Admission to Hospice presumes that a disease, if it progresses as predictably known, will likely result in death in 6 months time. That sort of prognosis can be alarming to hear. It is helpful if families can talk to each other about their end of life care wishes prior to such diagnosis. Five Wishes is a document that helps invite families into conversation about their end of life wishes and to choose a decision maker or health care agent. You can prepare your loved one for Hospice service by first assuring them you will not leave, and neither will we. Hospice of Spokane is a non-profit hospice and is therefore able to provide services to all people. Typically Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and private pay are the ways services are paid for. But, Hospice of Spokane does not turn people away based on their ability to pay and there is always equanimity of service regardless of gender, race, culture or financial status.
Q: Can people prepare their loved ones for Hospice care?
A: Generally when someone comes on our service they are surprised by all the provisions we offer. Clients have immediate 24-7 nursing care available to them. Additionally there is a professional interdisciplinary team comprised of a medical director, social worker, chaplain and nurse aide to assist with other needs. Hospice of Spokane is also proud of the many volunteers who share their time serving our clients. They offer respite for family members, do yardwork, housework, cooking, letter writing, dog walking, shopping and more.
Most people desire to be in their own home for this final journey. Hospice of Spokane comes to you in the comfort of your space and allows you to determine the level of care you wish to receive. We serve people in assisted living facilities and nursing and adult family homes as well. And we collaborate with the caregivers inside those facilities to assure that the best care can be provided.
Sometimes the level of care needed requires more than the home environment can support. Hospice of Spokane opened its doors to a 12 bed Hospice House in November of 2007. It is a peace-filled environment specifically designed for clients and their families in the final weeks or days of life. The original team follows the client inside the Hospice House to assure continuity of care and families often remark about the peace, beauty and comforting care the Hospice House creates.
Lastly, an added benefit of the services Hospice of Spokane provides is a 13 month follow up bereavement program after death occurs. We provide for individual grief counseling, have a variety of grief support groups and offer a free children’s camp each summer. Bereavement services are not limited to those who have used hospice services but is something Hospice of Spokane provides for the community free of charge.
Founded in 1977, Hospice of Spokane remains the oldest Hospice in our community and has been pleased to serve its residents in Spokane, Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties the past 35 years. If you or someone you know could benefit from our service, we can be reached at 509-456-0438. People who would benefit from supportive care like Hospice, but have a life expectancy longer than 6 months or want to pursue curative treatment should call and find out about our palliative care program. You can find out more about that on our website spokanepalliativecare.org or call 532-6737.