Sometimes learning where God needs you to be in life requires good listening skills.
Clarinet player Sister Pam Nosbusch discovered that not only does she have an ear for music, she’s got the Franciscan heart of a Hospice Chaplain.
“My short definition of Hospice is to help the dying and their loved ones be comfortable and to do all we can to respect their dignity for whatever time they have on earth,” Sister Pam explains, adding, “It’s a very Franciscan thing to do.”
“People ask me how I do this. I was called to do this,” Sister Pam smiles.
God took Sister Pam on a circuitous route to get her into her current ministry. Looking back, she appreciates each step of the way even more for the range of experience and understanding she’s able to bring to the bedside of the dying through Hospice.
Sister Pam planned to be a music teacher. After graduating from Arkansas State University, she began teaching elementary school and middle school music classes.
She first met Sylvania Franciscans at a women’s retreat in Kentucky when she was in her 30’s. The seed to become a Sister was planted by a Sister on the staff of the church she attended in the late 80’s. After meeting the Sylvania Franciscans through this retreat Sister Pam then met Sister Ann Carmen who helped guide Sister Pam through the discernment process which led Sister Pam to entering the Sylvania Franciscans. Although always a devout Catholic, she had never thought of joining a convent by any means. After four years of praying and listening, she answered God’s call and moved to the Motherhouse as a Candidate.
“Sister Pam’s clarinet, or licorice stick, as I call it, had found a new home with us in Sylvania. Her musical talent and sense of humor opened the door to many friendships,” recalls Sister Ann Carmen, who served as Vocational Director at the time.
Sister Pam entered the convent in 1991 and made first profession in 1995. While completing her studies, she taught music appreciation at Lourdes University and later spent fifteen years of ministry in Pastoral Care. After completing her CPE Studies she began her ministry by working as a Chaplain in two health networks before transitioning in 2013 to Hospice care with Gentiva Hospice in Nashville, TN.
Now, as she enters her fifth year as part of a Kindred Hospice care team that tends to all of the needs of the individual and family, Sister Pam works with a patient care team consisting of a Registered Nurse, Social Worker and Hospice Aide. Sister Pam provides emotional or spiritual support all who invite her to be part of their journey. She has been welcomed by many, including those of Jewish, Hindi, Muslim and Bahá’í faith traditions.
“It’s a very humbling experience to be there with people as they journey towards God,” she says. “I listen to what they choose to share and I just take the person where they are right in that moment.”
When the patient is not conscious, she sits by them and prays.
“Part of the ‘dignity’ thing,” Sister Pam says, “is always acknowledging that they should be informed what is happening, even if they are not awake at the time. I always tell them that I am there and what I am doing.”
She explains to family members that just because their loved one cannot communicate with them doesn’t mean that their presence isn’t felt. “God is helping the important stuff to get through,” she counsels them.
Sometimes the patient talks very openly and spends time sharing their memories.
“I am there, helping them to understand how much their life has mattered, and will continue to matter, long after they have gone to God.”
Other times, the person might need to receive permission to leave, Sister Pam says. “Giving permission from you that it is okay to go is often all they are waiting to hear.”
Sometimes she senses there might be something else and she listens for God to guide her.
“If there is anything you feel you need forgiveness for, don’t worry. God has already forgiven you,” she has murmured to the dying man or woman and within the day they have gone to meet Christ.
“There are so many days when I’ll leave someone’s bedside and I thank God for helping me to know what to say. Sometimes you have no idea how you are going to handle a situation and you have to trust that God will give you what you need to give to that person at the right time,” Sister Pam says gratefully.
Originally published in the Sylvania Franciscan, 2017