A Grace Filled Heart
To embrace life...
the joys and the sorrows
with All your heart
with All your mind
with All your soul...
Creates a Spirit
have an angelic quality
a collection of moments
A Grace Filled Heart.
— Sam Oliver
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Other articles by Sam Oliver:
What are Hospice Patients asking of Chaplains?
Over the years, I have reflected on the needs of the dying and their family members. From working in a Cancer Center for two years to working with Hospice over fifteen years now, I have changed my approach to care a great deal. While doing the work of Hospice Care, it has somehow worked on me as well. I realize that service to others has developed my character and my soul.
I remember leaving Seminary thinking that I was going to “do” ministry. After practicing what I knew for a brief time, I realized that what I knew was not going to get me very far with the patients and families that I serve in the field of palliative care. What I knew from Seminary didn’t matter to those who are dying. This was a big ego loss for myself that I did not anticipate.. I soon learned that my ministry would be one of listening to the sacred moments of a person’s life. Sometimes these sacred events meant family, church, hobbies, and much more.
There is a lived theology in each of us. A lived theology is the journey one takes into their inner most selves and brings forth a creative life from these depths of one’s soul. It is path into one’s most authentic expression of living he or she believes brings joy to themselves and the lives of others. It may be cooking, artwork, care giving, or the writing of a simple article. It is the place inside us whereby one knows such creativity comes through them and not from them. In essence, it is a person’s relationship to what is the most sacred in their lives.
As I have listened to the needs of the dying and their families, I have heard their cries of desperation to hold onto a sense of belonging and the hope that their loved one will somehow watch over them when they die. You hear many people in bereavement care say that they feel their loved one is near them after he or she has passed on into spirit. This kind of belonging enters into what I call an eternal relationship that will never die. I have often pondered on this level of understanding if a person really dies. It seems as though the deceased loved one travels to a place not far from those who have loved them. They travel into the hearts of those who have been left to face an existence apart from their loved one’s physical body. The relationship one enters simply takes on a emotional expression known as grief in our hearts. This grief pulls at our hearts and creates a longing to be with those who have died. It is as though we are drawn into a deeper aspect of ourselves. When the intensity of our grief subsides, we allow ourselves to be at peace with our grief. This movement allows us to imagine and feel what it is like to connect to those who have gone before us in a hope filled way. As such, the ministry to the dying and their families is a creative expression where one’s heart and imagination leads us into the path of introspection.
Introspection serves a purpose in our lives when the world around us no longer makes sense. It is a safe place for us to enter when loss becomes an uninvited friend. In so doing, we become what our imagination and heart desires in order to find wholeness and peace again. It is the realm of eternal relationships I am speaking of at this point. Here is where psychology, theology, philosophy, and metaphysical understanding of the dying experience have their limitations.
I remember the first couple of weeks in my Hospice Care that I became friends with a woman who told me that what she wanted from me was for us to sit in silence together and end in prayer. For weeks, I had an interesting conversation with myself while sitting next to the woman who was teaching me how to care for the dying. I entertained thoughts of wondering why I went to Seminary if all I was going to do was nothing for this woman.
Little did I know that I was being taught lessons in soul care that have inspired me to this day. She reminded me that what I knew meant nothing to a dying person, but my willingness to learn what is sacred to the dying meant a great deal. She reminded me that even my service to her meant nothing, but my willingness to serve her needs was everything. She reminded me that even my Holy Rituals and prayers could not come close to what she needed the most - a friend to sit with her and listen to the depths of our souls calling us home.
Rev. Sam Oliver, author of, “Angel of Promise”
Amedisys Hospice Services Chaplain and Bereavement Coordinator, Londonderry, NH