Serving Veterans in Hospice
During my time as a chaplain at Casa de la Luz Hospice, I have had the privilege of serving many veterans. It is an honor to participate in the Honoring Veterans Ceremonies where we present our patients who are veterans with a plaque and a blanket with the seal of the military branch in which they served. I’ve also had the benefit of hearing some of the stories that these veterans have about their time in service.
Vets tell me funny stories, like one who was issued a weapon he had not been trained to fire. Fortunately, he never had to use it. Another told me about how even during the worst part of the Vietnam war, his friends found creative and funny ways to play pranks on each other.
Other vets sometimes shared darker moments of their experiences. One veteran of World War II shared with me something that had bothered him for decades. “I just wanted to unload that to someone before I die,” he told me.
Most veterans don’t talk about their combat experiences. One talked with me about decorations others in his unit had received. I asked if he had been decorated. “Oh,” he said, “I got the standard ribbons for making my bed and brushing my teeth.” When this gentleman passed, his family asked me to officiate at his funeral, and it was then I found out about the many medals he had received and the many acts of selfless service and bravery he had performed in dangerous situations.
One highly decorated patient was unable to speak, but I had read about him several years prior. His family was pleased that I had known of him through that publication, and talked with me about some of his military experiences that were not listed in the book.
As I did not serve in the military, sometimes I am ignorant of the customs and courtesies that are required when a vet is honored at a funeral. The honor guard members and base personnel have been helpful and supportive when I have worked with them, and the family members are always appreciative of the efforts made to honor their loved ones.
When I meet with these men and women, I am always aware of their service and sacrifice for all of us, and aware of the living history they provide. Most veterans downplay their service; some do not even want to be recognized, but to honor them at the end of their lives is a special privilege that is part of our daily service to our patients and their loved ones.
By Tom Saunders, ChaplainBack to Articles