Monday, April 7, 2014

Blessings Bring Comfort and Peace

By Hal Walzer

[Editor's Note: This year marks the 40th anniversary of National Volunteer Week (April 6 through 12), intended to inspire, recognize and encourage people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities. This guest post is written by one such dedicated volunteer.]

Be of service. Whether you make yourself available to a friend or co-worker, or you make time every month to do volunteer work, there is nothing that harvests more of a feeling of empowerment than being of service to someone in need.  ~ Gillian Anderson

When Hospice of the Valley patients are first admitted to a palliative care unit, they may arrive with a range of emotions. They may feel angry, afraid, disoriented and confused, or isolated, helpless and vulnerable. Caring staff members do their best to allay patients’ concerns and make them feel welcome, comfortable and “at home” in their new environment. Patient rooms at palliative care units are certainly more inviting than hospital patient rooms, but understandably lack the familiarity of patients’ own homes.

During the end-of-life period, patients go through a painful process of giving up control and losing autonomy. It seems as if every day one more thing is taken away from them. Some feel a loss of dignity and personal identity. But a person’s faith and spirituality, while often put to the test, remains steadfastly theirs to keep.

For Jewish patients, the observance of Shabbat on Friday evenings is comforting. It is often referred to as a “weekly spiritual oasis from pain and suffering.” The sight and warmth of glowing Shabbat candles, the taste of kosher wine, the smell of freshly baked challah, the feel of a white kippah on their head – combined with the melodious sound of familiar Hebrew blessings – fill each of the senses with joy and peace. For many, these sacred Shabbat traditions are an integral part of their religion and spiritual practice. It can cause deep distress if these traditions are not continued, particularly when patients recognize that this Shabbat could be their last. For others who have long since gone without enjoying these Shabbat rituals, the renewed memories of their parents’ observances may be personally heartwarming. I am particularly reminded of how my observant grandmother (of blessed memory) would say she “always feels good during Shabbat.”

These blessings are offered to patients as part of the Kivel-Hospice of the Valley Partnership in End-of-Life Care. It was established several years ago by the two organizations, which have long partnered together in providing quality care. Kivel Campus of Care in Phoenix has served the Jewish community for more than 50 years. It offers residents independent and assisted living care as well as recreational, social, cultural and religious services. Hospice of the Valley has cared for patients and families since its founding in 1977.

As a volunteer, I have been moved by patients – who otherwise seemed listless and uncommunicative – enthusiastically joining me in reciting Shabbat blessings. Often even patients with severe memory issues reminisce and describe in great detail celebrating joyous Sabbaths in their youth. Each meaningful KHOV visit ends with patients and their families extending a warm hug, as we share the parting words of “Shabbat Shalom” – Peaceful Sabbath.

About the Author: Hal Walzer serves as a volunteer and as an information services training and support specialist for Hospice of the Valley. For information about serving as a Shabbat Blessings volunteer, call 602-636-6336.

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