Ken Cox is a Spiritual Care Lead at Pilgrims Hospices, based at the Thanet hospice.
He shares what he enjoys about his role, what spirituality means to him and how spiritual care makes an integral contribution to the holistic nature of hospice care.
What does your role involve and how did you come to it?
In my role at Pilgrims, I am called upon to give spiritual care and advice to anyone who needs it; patients, carers and staff are all included within my remit.
During training to become an ordained Church of England priest, we are required to undertake a pastoral placement. As I had no experience of hospice work, I thought it might be good to expand my knowledge and I managed to get a placement at the Canterbury hospice.
From then on, I felt a call that working in a hospice environment would be the area for me to continue in after my curacy was completed. I initially came to the hospice as a volunteer and was appointed to my current role as Spiritual Care Lead at our Thanet hospice in 2016.
I get a high level of satisfaction in helping people through emotionally hard times. I enjoy the interaction between myself and those I meet. Most of my working career has involved working as a team, so I am comfortable with and enjoy working with the other disciplines on the hospice multi-disciplinary team.
What does spirituality mean to you?
Human spirituality is a complex and difficult thing to nail down. The textbooks define it as relationships, values and life purpose. The main thing I concentrate on is relationships between myself and the people I come into contact with; the rest follows on. A basic relationship can grow into one where I can help the person come to terms with what is happening.
My views on spirituality have been informed by study and reading of various books during ordination training. The academic reading is backed up by experience of being at the frontline of peoples’ emotions and raw feelings at a difficult time in their lives. It was a distinct advantage to have been a volunteer for a few months before taking up the role as a paid job.
What role does spiritual care play in hospice care and why is it important?
From my point of view, spiritual care can play a vital part in a patient’s or carer’s pathway whilst being cared for by Pilgrims. It involves being alongside people, lending a listening ear at their darkest time and being a shoulder to lean on, to help smooth things that are getting a bit bumpy.
An integral part of working at Pilgrims is not to be judgemental. Some people suffer from guilt due to past actions as they come to the end of their life, and wish to atone or at least talk about this, which enables them to move forward.
Spiritual distress can happen at any time during a person’s association with the hospice. This is an area where the Spiritual Care Lead can help immensely, talking through what is causing the distress, not offering any solutions but allowing the person to work through things and clear their minds. Often, it is physical and sometimes emotional pain that can be sorted out. We also work with people who have changed their belief system, either losing faith or discovering a dormant belief that comes to the fore. Quite often, people find it difficult to adjust to their new way of thinking, but spiritual care can help with this.
A spiritual care lead is an integral part of Pilgrims’ multi-disciplinary team, which meets daily to discuss patients. At times, the spiritual care lead can have information that helps clinical staff gain an alternative insight into what a patient is feeling. As part of the team, we can be asked to follow up and provide another eye on the subject from a different perspective, which can be of great help.
Pilgrims Hospices celebrated Spiritual Care Awareness Month throughout January 2022, showcasing the many ways that spiritual care can make a positive difference to patients, their families, carers and loved ones.
There’s much more to death than we think; what if it isn’t just an ending, but an event we can plan for? Thinking beyond the four walls of hospices and hospitals, we have the chance to approach it with confidence and plan a good death. After Wards is a collection of insights and ideas from people who can help us all to re-imagine this essential part of life, and to live well until we die.
Continue the conversation at our Time to Talk events with film screenings, poetry readings, Death Cafes and much more.