Some of the hospice patients talk about their impending deaths, or about God. Most just talk about what people always talk about — unfinished business and unanswered questions: regrets over firing an employee 50 years ago; the pet no one has yet promised to adopt; feeling sick to death of being sick yet not ready to die. About Bach. “How did he dream up that music?” one woman asks.
Listening to final inquiries like these has long been the domain of a family priest or rabbi. But for a growing number of Americans who do not know a member of the clergy, that bedside auditor is increasingly likely to belong to an emerging professional class known in the hospice world as a pastoral counselor or chaplain, who may or may not be a clergy member.