By Paul Riddle

A blog posting entitled “We Don’t Know Death: 7 Assumptions We Make About Dying,” by Lizzie Miles, a hospice social worker in Ohio (Pallimed: A Hospice & Palliative Medicine Blog, Aug 15, 2014), recently came to my attention.

Miles lists seven assumptions about dying that families, love ones, and even professionals who work with the dying often make, and how these assumptions can get in the way of good patient care. Her post is a worthwhile read, and she provides what I believe to be a healthy corrective to some notions about the dying, and about the dying process, that are true in some cases, but not in all cases. If you would like to read her post, you can find it at http://www.pallimed.org/2014/08/we-dont-know-death-7-assumptions-we.html.

This article got me to thinking not only about my own assumptions about dying, but also about assumptions in general. Assumptions are ideas accepted as self-evidently true – taken for granted without proof. We make them all the time, about all sorts of things. For the most part, we come by them honestly – based on experience, common sense, testimony from people we consider credible. Assumptions are mental short cuts, and, like short cuts in navigation, they have their limits. Sometimes short cuts help us get to our destination faster, but sometimes they can throw us off course.

I’m grateful to Lizzie Miles for reminding me that, in spiritual care encounters (and elsewhere in life as well), I need to hold my assumptions lightly. When I’m with a patient or family member, or some other person in distress, I’m with a unique individual in a unique situation. No matter how much experience I have, I can’t assume that I know what this person feels or needs, and I can’t walk into a room with a pre-planned response in mind. I can only learn about this person’s feelings and needs, and respond appropriately, by coming alongside the person in his or her uniqueness.

Jesus had a gift for dealing with people in their uniqueness. For example, in his encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, he engaged her not as a member of the Samaritan race, nor as a member of the female gender, nor as a member of the class of persons with complex marital histories, but as an a unique person – as herself. And that made all the difference.

May God grant each of us eyes to see others as they are, not as we imagine them to be, and ears to hear truly their hopes and fears, joys and concerns, as we listen to the stories they share with us.



By Paul Riddle

One recent Tuesday afternoon, my wife, Rebekah, came home sick to her stomach with what she thought was food poisoning. Several hours of worsening symptoms, a phone consultation with our family doctor, and two trips to the emergency room later, the root problem (not food poisoning) was identified, and she was admitted to the hospital for emergency surgery. Surgery brought almost immediate relief, and she began a healing process that would take a couple of weeks.

My work as a hospital chaplain takes me into patient rooms every day, but in this episode I found myself in an unfamiliar role – that of family caregiver to a hospital patient. I came away from this experience with a deeper appreciation for what patients and their loved ones go through when their lives are upended by a sudden, unexpected illness.

Here are a few lessons I learned as a family caregiver, in no particular order:

  1. Before leaving the house to go to the emergency room, make sure you have the following:
  • Patient’s photo ID.
  • Patient’s insurance and prescription drug cards
  • A list of all medications the patient is taking, or the medications themselves.
  • Cell phone and charger
  • Phone numbers of patient’s primary physician, key family members, and close friends you may need to communicate with
  • A sweater or other warm clothing (Hospitals are often very cold!)
  • Reading material (Be prepared for long periods of waiting.)
  1. Know who is authorized to make medical decisions on behalf of the patient if the patient is unable to do so. In most cases this will be the patient’s next of kin (spouse, etc.). In other cases the patient may have designated a surrogate to make such decisions. If you are not the patient’s authorized surrogate, ensure that this person is informed that the patient is headed to the ER.
  1. Establish a good working relationship with the nurses, doctors, and other staff members attending to the patient. Know their names.
  1. Advocate for the patient. Pay close attention to everything that is said and done. Ask questions. Take notes if you need to. If something seems to be amiss, bring it to the attention of the patient’s nurse or other staff.
  2. Attend to your basic physical needs, especially warmth and hydration. The temperature in hospitals is often much cooler than at home, and the air is often much dryer, so it’s easy to get chilled and dehydrated. Have a sweater handy, and drink plenty of water.
  1. Be mindful of your emotional needs. In the midst of the crisis, you are likely to be keyed up, “on alert.” Once the situation is resolved or stabilized, you may find yourself needing extra rest. Allow yourself time and space to “decompress.”

When Rebekah and I woke up that Tuesday morning, neither of us could have known what that day would bring. We are thankful for the care she received from many people along the way, and for all the ways God was with us through this crisis. I hope these “lessons learned” will be of help to you, should you one day have to accompany a loved one to the hospital on short notice.

The Importance of our Compassionate Touch Program

Leo F. Buscaglia wrote: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”


STORY 1: Methodist Hospital Social Services

I would like ask for help for my patient. He is a 49 year old widowed male admitted to The Methodist Hospital with cancer. He lives in San Diego, California. He was working as an over the road truck driver when he became ill in the Houston area and was subsequently admitted. The man he was driving with left the area with the truck and he found out afterwards that his job terminated him due to his medical condition and inability to drive safely. He is planning on being discharged from the hospital tomorrow and wants to return immediately to his home in California. He has no family available to assist him so he called a friend to ask for a small amount of cash towards his bus ticket to get back home. He explains that his wife and 5 year old daughter were struck and killed by a drunk driver last Thanksgiving Day. He has since suffered from depression for which he sought counseling services through a post-traumatic stress group at the VA and a bereavement group. He has a few friends where he lives but relies mainly on himself. He expects to apply for social security disability soon. He says when he becomes too ill to care for himself, he will have to go into a hospice facility where he lives. He is asking for help in getting some funds to pay for the balance of his bus fare and for a small amount of food along the way. It will take him about 2 ½ days to go home via bus but he prefers this mode of transport since he can stop at hospitals along the way of he needs to. Thanks in advance for your assistance.

Story 2: Texas Children’s Hospital

A social worker writes -

A four year old child suffering from heart failure was admitted to the hospital to await a heart transplant. His hospitalization involves IV medications which will keep him here until he receives a heart and recovers. His mother has been at his bedside every day since his admission. Her husband and children lives out of town and must carry on without her while she waits here in Houston for a chance at life for her son. The family has very limited resources, so they cannot visit often. However, they would like to come to celebrate a special occasion with the child and mother. We are requesting your assistance with travel expense to help this family come together. This will help to encourage the mother as she copes with increasing difficulty of the separation.         –TMC Social Services Department                  


At Parkland Health & Hospital System, we’re known for having one of the most critical and destitute patient populations in the Dallas area, Texas and the nation. We are encouraged by your willingness to help us in our efforts. The parking permits that the Compassionate Touch program has recently provided are already serving Parkland patients and families. Now, a family that comes to see their loved one at Parkland can use their money previously spent on parking for other critical needs.

Historically, Parkland employees have had to “pass the hat” to raise the money to help families pay for these basic non-medical costs related to caring for someone in the hospital.  With the exception of a few small funds that assist a small portion of our patient population, Compassionate Touch is the only program that helps as long as the resources are available and hospital social workers see the need for the patient.

Compassionate Touch may be able to measure the dollars spent and the number of families served, but we’re the fortunate ones at Parkland to be able to see the other immeasurable ways the patients and families benefit from their generosity. We thank you for the opportunities you’ve provided for us and our patients.

Kirk Workman, LMSW

Parkland Health & Hospital System

Social Work Manager


Acknowledgment: Texas Children’s Social Services Department

We are writing on behalf of Compassionate Touch. We are Social Workers at Texas Children’s Hospital. We utilize Compassionate Touch on a daily basis in order to help our patients and their families.

Compassionate Touch fills a vital need for our patients. The financial assistance they provide helps with expenses which families incur while their children are in the hospital or when coming to clinic appointments. These expenses include housing for out of town patients, transportation, parking and meals for a parent staying with their child in the hospital.

Compassionate Touch fills a gap for those patients who have a legitimate need and do not have any other way to get that need met. The family does not qualify for other resources, such as Medicaid’s food or housing allowance, nor do they have personal resources to cover these expenses.

Compassionate Touch and the Social Workers work hard hand-in-hand so that funds are spent wisely and the people served have true needs. Because of Compassionate Touch’s support, many parents are able to stay with their young children in the hospital without fear of how they will pay for parking or feed themselves. As Social Workers who frequently run out of community resources to help our patients and their families, Compassionate Touch is our Lifesaver.

Many Thanks to All of You,

Texas Children’s Hospital Social Workers- Texas Medical Center


Acknowledgment: Methodist Liver Transplant Team

On behalf of the Methodist Hospital Liver Transplant Team, I wish to thank you for your assistance with lodging and parking for a number of the liver transplant patients. Your timely responsiveness to the social workers’ requests and willingness to assist a number of patients is most appreciated.

Liver Transplant patients often need to stay within a short distance of the Methodist Hospital during the transplant evaluation process and after transplant and discharge. This is often financially impossible for a number of the patients who have extensive out of pocket expenses related to transplant.

Thank you.

Philip Seu, M.D.

Director, Liver Transplant Center

Providing a Touch of Hope

Providing a Touch of Hope

By: Rosa Winfrey

“ What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?   – George Eliot

Compassionate Touch has no idea how many lives have been touched through funding of hotel rooms, parking smart chips, meals, or other special needs since its inception. We simply know that our work is gratifying. We are sincerely grateful to the social workers, hospital representatives, and our generous supporters who continue to provide a touch of hope to patients in several Texas area hospitals. Letters like the one submitted below from a social worker helps to validate why my job is so meaningful and rewarding.


Dear Lifeline Chaplaincy:


  As this fiscal year nears its close, I just wanted to take a moment to thank Compassionate Touch for all the help you’ve given our patients this year! You have truly been a God-send! Every patient and patient family you’ve helped has been so very appreciative. Many times it’s meant the difference between the family being able to visit the patient regularly or not. It certainly has helped with their quality of life by not having to choose whether to spend their limited monies on food and other needed expenses.

Many, many thanks from the bottom of our heart!

 Penelope Loughhead, LCSW, CCTSW Memorial Hermann Hospital – Social Work Department





MAY 15 – AUGUST 7, 2015



For program description, qualifications, and information on how to apply, go to http://www.lifelinechaplaincy.org/intern.htm.

According to Lifeline’s mission statement, we are: Dedicated to providing compassionate support to the seriously ill, their families and caregivers, and to being an educational resource for crisis ministry.

One of the ways we fulfill our teaching mission is through our summer intern program. Students come to Houston to gain first-hand experience providing pastoral care in the Texas Medical Center Hospitals supervised by Dr. Paul Riddle, Director of Spiritual Care, Houston. Likewise, we have students coming to Fort Worth, to gain first-hand experience providing pastoral care in the Fort Worth area hospitals under the supervision of Dr. David Martin, Director of Spiritual Care for Lifeline Tarrant County.

Our interns learn by doing, and then by reflecting on what they have done. Each is assigned to a particular hospital and gets to know that hospital intimately through daily visitation with patients and caregivers, and through regular contact with hospital staff members and Lifeline volunteers assigned to that hospital.

Interns spend half their day in classroom instruction and the other half visiting patients in their assigned hospitals. Classroom sessions include case studies, discussions of books and articles pertaining to spiritual care, and other activities.

Weekly reflection essays and periodic case studies drawn from interns’ visits provide opportunities for them to integrate what they learn in the classroom with their ministry practice and their personal spiritual growth. In addition to these activities, the interns spend a week at Camp Star Trails, a camp for children with cancer sponsored by M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Even though our interns are with us for only twelve weeks, they enrich the permanent Lifeline community – staff and volunteers alike – immeasurably. We trust that their experience with us will enrich them as well.

A Promise of Hope

Today, many hearts are turning to that fateful moment of 9/11 when the unthinkable happened on American soil. It’s good to reflect, remember, and to hope.

Though we cannot underestimate the pain that many are reminded of today, it is my prayer that we might also remember the One who is the giver of life, and breath, and is still Sovereign over the universe. There is nothing the causes God to “blink,” nor anything that escapes His notice. This alone gives us reason to hope, even in the midst of trouble.

I subscribe to an online newsletter edited by Jim Gentil. His thoughts today are worthy of sharing…
As we remember the tragedy of 9/11 the following Hymn of Promise
gives us hope for the future.
Hymn Of Promise

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;

In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!

In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;

There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.

From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;

In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,

In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

(From Jim Gentil, Positive Spiritual Living Newsletter, September 11, 2014)

May God bless you with hope and Jesus give you peace in believing.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul-Heb 6:19


Tom Nuckels

A Big Bang in the Hospital Room

A  Big Bang in the Hospital Room

Very few people today dispute the fact that the universe began with a Big Bang, and before that there was a singularity, a point of power from which that Big Bang derived.  The only disagreement seems to be what or Who put the singularity there.   Many good hearted people, skeptical of God’s existence, have to take the position that a benign, extra dimensional force set off the Big Bang, without intent or design.    Those who believe in a personal Creator assume that God took some of His own power and created that singularity for a purpose that was benevolent.  By this I mean, that God created… because He meant it to be good, for us and for Him.*

Now how does this play out in the hospital room?  I offer you the example of an elderly woman I visited today.  She had taught Sunday school for decades, and though she was in the hospital for a serious illness, scarcely mentioned it in passing, but spoke instead of her faith with passion and enthusiasm.  As the visit continued, she regaled me with one story after another of her work with the church, sprinkled with liberal quotations from Scripture.  Her face shone with what I can only describe as angelic joy.  In her nursing home, where she has resided for the last ten years, she serves other residents their meals, since they cannot walk.  (She can barely walk herself).

This woman saw a purpose in her circumstances that grew from her theology of creation.  She believed in a personal God who, with intent and purpose, had created the world.  She continued His act of creation, by creating beauty through service to others.   I am not saying an atheist is incapable of showing compassion to others, as this woman does.  I am saying that it is surely easier to engage in purposeful behavior when you believe you have been purposely created.   I would certainly be less motivated to serve others, if I came into being by random chance, a great cosmic accident.  Ultimately, what would be the point?

I offer the opinion today that it is better to face life with faith, than without it.  It is better to face illness with hope, than without it.  It is better to face death believing that it is a transition to the next life, than to face demise without that same belief.  There is more to life than what surrounds my flesh (the material world).

I want to meet this Being that created the universe from a single point of His power, and then brings joy to an elderly hospitalized woman.  She is fearless as she nears the end of her life.  I wish to follow her example.

May God create within me, and you, the kind of courage that does not tremble in the face of death.

*The first paragraph of this blog was extrapolated from an article, “The Laws of Thermodynamics,” by John N. Clayton, Does God Exist, July/August 2009, Vol. 36, No. 4.