My very first Hindu Memorial Service

In the field of hospital chaplaincy, one of the best aspects (among many) is that opportunities are presented continually that challenge the chaplain to go above and beyond the type of care he or she can provide to the patient, family and hospital staff.

Also, in hospital chaplaincy, you meet people with a whole spectrum of personalities and faith traditions. In all of this, there are certain encounters that leave an impeccable imprint in the chaplain’s life and the chaplain is no longer the same again.

I had the honor of meeting someone [let’s refer to the person as DEji] like that and get to know and serve DEji in the last few months. In the days leading up to DEji’s death, our conversations revolved more and more around Hindu philosophy. It was clear to me that DEji was convinced of the Soul’s Immortality – a core Hindu belief. DEji would be beaming with joy as we recited and meditated on the Shanti Mantra DEji had chosen at the beginning of the visit.

Little did I know that I will end up having the honor to conduct a Hindu Memorial Service to celebrate DEji’s life. I’ve always assisted with other memorial services at the hospital but had not put together a Hindu Memorial Service, let alone conduct it in a hospital setting. Saying that I was extremely nervous is an understatement.

I began reflecting upon my conversations with DEji and started jotting down notes as to how I envisioned a Hindu Memorial Service in the hospital sanctuary would look like. DEji had really made it easy for me to pick which scriptural verses I would use but I also had to design the service in a manner that would stay true to its Hindu-ness while serving the largely non-Hindu attendees.

I was able to design the service, design the service program and set up the sanctuary in time for the service this evening. I was nervous when I arrived this morning at the hospital  but continually reminded myself to refocus and meditate internally on the chants and verses I had picked for the service. This helped a lot. So did the support and confidence exhibited in me by my coworkers and family.

I did not want to let DEji down. There is an inexplicable shift that happens within when one is in the presence of an actively dying person. DEji taught me a lot in the last days of life.

Almost two years ago to this day, I was very close to quitting Clinical Pastoral Education as I underwent something personally traumatic. That same day, I had been assigned to participate and decorate a (relatively) joyous occasion at the same place in which today I held my first Hindu Memorial Service.

As I picked up the rose petals two years ago, I was fighting with God. Oh, I was so angry. Today, two years later, as I picked up the rose petals, I expressed deep gratitude for the honor to celebrate someone as amazing as DEji, to be able to stand in a place of worship at a hospital and recite Shanti Mantras.

If anyone had said to me two years ago that today I would be able to pull this off, I would have definitely laughed. – not at the idea of it but due to the size of self-doubt I harbored within.

The Divine works in most amazing, incredibly surprising ways. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve as a hospital chaplain, as a chaplain of the Hindu faith and as a Hindu chaplain. I am also deeply grateful for every single person who continue to support me in any way or form.

Until next time,

Namaste

पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पुर्णमुदच्यते
पूर्णश्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते
शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः

oṃ pūrṇamadaḥ pūrṇamidam pūrṇāt pūrṇamudacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇamādāya pūrṇamevāvaśiṣyate
oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ

That is Whole. This is Whole.Wholeness arises out of Wholeness. If Wholeness is taken away from Wholeness, Wholeness remains. OM Peace, Peace, Peace

Native Languages and Communication – The Spiritual Need to Belong

During my very first unit of clinical training, we were taught about the spiritual needs that are part of being human. One of them is the need to belong – Of belonging to something, to someone, to a community, to a nation, to the Universe. And of course, the sense of belonging and what it looks or feels like is different for each individual.

As the clinical training is geared towards exposing oneself to one’s own self, I went through (at times voluntarily, most times involuntarily) the journey to explore my sense of belonging. What makes me feel that I belong?

I began to walk this path and began to pay attention to what made me feel comfortable. To do this, I had to think of what made me feel uncomfortable. How did I express myself? This led me to really realize for myself that I enjoy talking. A lot. Even though I talk to a lot of people on an everyday basis, I felt something amiss. 

When I brought this to the attention of my supervisor, he insisted that I explore this more. While this is in no way a comprehensive list of my feelings, here’s what I discovered for myself: 

The last two years have highlighted major personal losses for me. It’s been very hard to realize that two people I was very close will no longer be a part of my everyday life. It’s been very hard to realize that I can no longer pick up the phone and talk and share my love for the latest Hindi song or a beautiful piece of writing in Hindi or Gujarati or the most random thing that happened at work today. Of course, I continue to miss their presence in my life but, thanks to CPE (sigh!), I’ve had to explore this further.

I miss talking in my native languages (Gujarati and Hindi). I miss having friends my age with whom I could converse any time of the day about anything in my language. I miss sharing my emotions through Hindi songs and knowing that the person will understand. I still do this with my family but I do not have anyone outside my home that I can share my time with.

I realized how much I love my native languages. Someone shared this video by Patricia Ryan (a long time English teacher) titled ‘Don’t insist on English’ on Facebook. I was in tears as I watched this video because I realize the importance of being able to communicate in my own language. I also realize that everything that Patricia Ryan states in this video is very true. A quick example was when I talked about puya in my theological reflection paper. I realized that there is no English word for it. Puṇya is a concept that does not really have an exact word in English. The explanation turned into a paragraph. 

This is just one word. The thought about how many world languages currently exist and how many concepts cannot be translated in to English really boggles my mind.

Yes, I am very aware that I live in North America. Yes, I have friends who are not Indian and do not speak Indian languages and I do love them. But, as my supervisor insisted me to explore, I am finding out that this is a huge piece of my sense of being that I miss in my daily life. At times, I think it feels like limited living. How can I even translate the Hindi lyrics of a Gulzar song or a poem in Gujarati by Narsinh Mehta to English and still expect that its soul remains intact?

This realization helped me see that there are so many instances in my daily life that innately feel as if I do not belong. A reason why I just cannot relate to certain type of music or writing or conversation.

So, how does this translate to caregiving as a chaplain? 

  • A person’s native language is important. The language brings with it a sense of our-ness, a familiarity, and yes, a sense of belonging. This helps me understand the limited conversations with a patient whose first language is not English and the unlimited talks with a patient who speaks a mutual language.
  • It makes me aware that I need to find more language appropriate resources as I am able to ensure that my caregiving can be as rounded as possible.
  • It brings me to realization that I may not always come close to helping a person feel that they belong but at least I can relate to the person in knowing how it feels to not belong. 
  • It shows how much a language impacts perception. For example – the anger and rude behavior from some English speakers towards people conversing in their native language amongst themselves. The angry response is probably due to a heightened sense of not belonging, not knowing. And we know, not knowing is scary. Right?
  • It reminds me how important and vast the need is for native languages speakers, especially as it relates to the larger South Asian community who predominantly speak Hindu/Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Tamil, Bengali and other major languages as spoken in the Indian subcontinent.
  • Another reminder that grieving is complex. Grief is complex.

Losing someone (in any way or form) has many layers of feelings and emotions attached to it. It is very painful. It is very hard. And most of all, it is very lonely. Being able to truly communicate all of those things is definitely the first step towards accepting this loss. 

My question to you : What does belonging look like for you? Let me know.

Until next time,

Namaste

One can translate an editorial but not a poem. For one can go across the border naked but not without one’s skin; for, unlike clothes, one cannot get a new skin. ~Karl Kraus, translated from German by Harry Zohn

What Does It Mean To Be A Chaplain? — II

What does it mean to be a Chaplain? Read the first part here. My goal in writing these posts is to expose the field of chaplaincy to communities that have little or no idea about this profession. This is especially true for the larger Hindu community where the concept of chaplaincy has not really existed until now.

What more to expect from a professional chaplain:

  • Help find your own answers: In my opinion, one of the most important things that we do, as chaplains, is to help someone find their own answers instead of telling someone what their answer should be. It is part of listening where a chaplain rephrases what is being said by the patient. This helps the patient/client understand their own emotions better.
  • Being Present : This literally just means being present with someone. It is the act of being a physical presence where no words may be exchanged, only silent presence. Another layer of this presence is also mental presence. This means that one is present with another mentally where there are no thoughts that are not related to the current situation at hand. For example, when a chaplain is paged to be with someone who has been given a new or tough diagnosis, there is not much to be said. This is where presence comes in. Just really truly being with someone as they share their tears, stories or just being part of their silence.
  • Help find strength within one’s own religious and/or spiritual center : When a person is going through a rough time, it is possible that one questions his or her own faith and look for God’s hand in their situation. This is conditional to one’s own religious or spiritual preference. There are people for whom this is not true. Even people who do not identify with a particular religion tend to question the meaning and purpose in their personal situation. A chaplain’s role here is to assess and help identify what helps a particular person deal with obstacles and tough times. There is no space for proselytizing or converting others in the realm of chaplaincy. To me, this is of utmost importance.
  • Education and Continuing Professional Training : To become a Board Certified Chaplain, a candidate is required to have a minimum of a Master’s degree. A lot of chaplains have a Master’s in Divinity, most likely from a seminary. There are also a lot of chaplains who have a doctorate, a D.Min (Doctor of Ministry) and some also have a PhD. Also, as required in any professional licensure/certification, there is a requirement of getting Continued Education credits.

I still remember the day in my first unit of Clinical Pastoral Education where I was being given a tour of the hospital by my supervisor and as we waited for the elevator, one of the doctors asked my supervisor whether there was a particular training needed to become a professional chaplain. When my supervisor explained, the doctor was so surprised to know of all the work that went into becoming a trained chaplain and he said : Oh and here I am thinking, chaplains just prayed with people.

While praying is a part of chaplaincy, being a chaplain is far more than that. Far far more than that. A good chaplain is committed to constantly growing in his or her own faith and professionalism to continue to serve better. 

There are also roles that some chaplains tend to take up with respect to being a public advocate in interfaith and professional settings as well as networking and outreach within the chaplaincy community and outside of it.

With this concludes a (really) brief overview about the work of a chaplain. If there is anything I may have missed, do let me know in the comments below and I will add that to this overview.

Until next time,

Namaste.

Your own self-realization is the greatest service you can render the world – Sri Ramana Maharishi