Reverend Herbert Aparanga is a local vicar and when he is not serving in his parish in Plumstead, you can find him in the ward and along the corridors of the hospice, supporting patients and staff.
Herbert is our Hospice Chaplain and joined the team seven years ago. In this time, he’s made a difference to so many; providing comfort, peace of mind and support to patients and their families, and helping us to strengthen vital links within our diverse community.
Like many, before he came to the hospice, Herbert reflects that he found the word ‘hospice’ very daunting and scary, but he remembers that “when I first came here, there was none of the fear that I was expecting. I saw people smiling and connected. There was no feeling that here is a place of sadness. I quickly saw it as a place where you’re helped to live until you die. You’re looked after, cared for, and receive the support you need.”
Chaplaincy isn’t just about religion
So, what does a Hospice Chaplain do?
A common misconception is that chaplaincy is all about religion, but Herbert explains that that is only a part of it. “Chaplaincy is about caring for the spiritual part of peoples’ lives” he said. “It’s more holistic than just praying with a patient, it’s everything. As much as I might give religious support, I help many patients with practical advice too.”
Most people think that you need to be religious to access chaplaincy support, but that’s not true. “The chaplaincy is about giving you peace of mind. Working with you, sitting with you and giving you peace of mind. Maybe you have the opportunity to say things you can’t say to your loved ones – perhaps because you don’t want to share your fears or thoughts with them because you don’t want to burden them.” He gives the example of a patient he supported who was finding it difficult to speak to her family about her death and because of this, her family were unaware of her wishes and plans were unable to be made. This was a real weight on the mind of the patient. After chatting with Herbert, he suggested that she write her wishes down and give it to her family – which she did, and this made it easier to start important conversations with her loved ones about what she wanted to happen, after her death, which was a huge relief.
When it comes to talking about death, Herbert comments that he notices a reluctance to talk about death in some cultures; in particular some people with a Pentecostal Christian faith hold strong beliefs in the power of miracles and the ability of God to heal. This may mean that they are reluctant to get support from the hospice – for example, help with symptom management or comfort, but it doesn’t have to be like that. The hospice team are all here to work with the patient on what is important to them, if they don’t want to talk about death and dying, we can still support them to ensure their symptoms are managed.
Multi-faith support is an important part of the chaplaincy. When patients do come to the hospice, Herbert is on hand to chat with them to find out if they need faith-related support, or if there are traditions that are practiced that the hospice team need to be aware of. This can also include contacting their own faith leader to visit the patient in the hospice. Whatever the need, he will help patients and their families to find the support they need and this has become easier thanks to the work he had done over the years, strengthening our links in the community.
In the community
When he first came to the hospice, Herbert commented that for a community hospice, certain people in our community weren’t represented. In the time that he has been with us, he has worked with the team to open doors to the community, meeting people of different faiths and contacting the leaders of the faiths and local groups, to help us to build relationships and spread the word about the hospice and its services to the people he meets. At first, he saw that people were unaware of the hospice and what help it gives, but now, people are much more familiar and there’s more understanding of who we are and what we do.
Herbert comments that there’s still a lot of work to be done. “I would like to see more people from all backgrounds accessing the hospice’s services earlier on in their diagnosis – not at the last minute. So there is still work to be done to reach the people who need help, but are reluctant to accept it because they don’t see the hospice as a place for them.”