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When Pastor Larry Green, chaplain for Hospice of South Texas, visits Warren Windham, 73, he finds a place on the couch, and the two men talk like old friends.
Windham, a retired insurance agent from Victoria, started receiving hospice care in March when he learned he was terminally ill.
His daughter Kesha Wilkinson, 44, took him to the emergency room after a fall that left him with a broken arm, and he found out he was suffering from liver failure. “We talk about the situations in the world, and we talk about faith. He has a strong belief in God, and I do, too,” Windham said. “He helps reinforce what I believe and I know is right. It’s good for me, and gives me a little boost.”
Windham said he feels like members of the Hospice of South Texas staff would do anything to make him more comfortable, from engaging him in conversation to promptly delivering his medications.
“I wouldn’t trade them for the best doctor in New York City,” he said.
Wilkinson called Green a “sweetheart” who talks and laughs with her father, which is especially important during this time when leaving the house has become difficult for him. This is the first time Wilkinson has helped care for a loved one with a terminal illness, and she said everything revolves around the life altering situation.
“It changes life forever. I never know if he’s going to be here tomorrow,” she said. “It’s never the same again.”
Wilkinson said she appreciates all of the help that Hospice of South Texas provides for her family. From Green to the nurses and certified nursing assistants, the staff members are always there to help her with questions and concerns as well as her father’s care.
“All of hospice is just awesome, and very, very supportive,” she said. “The nurse goes above and beyond.”
When Green visits Windham twice a month, he typically stays for 15 to 30 minutes. As Windham’s health declines, those visits will become more frequent, Green said.
“I’m Warren’s friend. I’m more than just spiritual support, I’m also his friend, and we talk about life, not about dying,” Green said. “We talk about the condition of the world and the government, and it always leads to the spiritual aspect, that Jesus is coming.”
Green is the longest serving chaplain for Hospice of South Texas. January will mark his 15th year with the nonprofit that serves 11 counties. He visits an average of 60 patients per month ranging from babies only months old to adults in their hundreds. From 85% to 90% of the hospice patients, some religious and some not, welcome his visits, he said.
Hilary Lucas, advancement director for Hospice of South Texas, said the chaplain provides spiritual support for patients and their families. He prays, listens and connects them with faith community resources, if needed. He helps patients prepare for the end of life and find comfort and meaning in their lives. He also aids with planning funerals and grief support, she said.
“To me, Pastor Larry Green brings a keen sense of humor, an open ear and a loving, compassionate heart (to his role),” Lucas said.
In addition to his role as chaplain, Green is pastor of God’s Church of Restoration in Victoria, and the two jobs can be distinctly different.
“As a pastor, my job is to save people, and as chaplain, my job is to meet people,” he said.
For Hospice of South Texas, Green meets people of all faith denominations as well as non-believers on their journeys. He helps them find comfort at the end of their lives through a five-step process developed by Saul Ebema with Hospice Chaplaincy.
Green first collects all the relevant patient data, ranging from age to diagnosis, and he delves into their history to learn about important aspects of their lives.
“I get to know the patient. You need to know the patient so you can see who the person is and not just their sickness,” Green said.
Green then takes action. He listens to what the patient has to say and validates their feelings and emotions to encourage them and give them support.
“I validate and affirm what they believe,” Green said. “Though I want to save them, I am there to meet them where they are at.”
The third step is to record the results, or the outcomes produced by the support Green provides the patient. He then documents the observations that verify his results.
Finally, Green creates a plan that outlines the frequency of his visits and other future actions.
When patients want to talk, Green follows their lead and encourages them to share their ideas.
“I guide them, walk with them, on their journey, and help them find the answers they are looking for,” Green said. “I don’t give them the answers; I help them find the answers that satisfy them. It’s not about what I want them to have. I make it about the person and not about me.”
Green said some of his patients welcome the opportunity to laugh with him, while others simply enjoy his presence so they do not feel isolated or alone.
“We tell them, ‘We got you; we are here for you,'” Green said.
Green is thankful that he can help some patients who truly are struggling, such as a woman who told him that God would never forgive all of her sins. On other occasions, he is glad to simply provide company for patients. For example, he swapped military stories with one man as they drove around on the patient’s acreage in a pickup truck.
Dr. Ty Meyer, the medical director for Hospice of South Texas, inspires confidence in the patients and their families with his hands-on approach, whether he is caring for them in their homes or the Dornburg Center of Compassion, an inpatient unit, Green said.
“One of his priorities is to stay in contact with his patients and know their needs,” Green said. “It’s a team approach. We’re in constant communication, and that makes the care of the patients so much better.”
Green also is there to help family members. Hospice of South Texas keeps up with the families for 13 months after the passing of their loved ones. For the last couple of years, the pandemic has made end-of-life care even more challenging for hospice, the patients and the patients’ family members, Green said.
“Imagine family members having a mom in the hospital or nursing center, and they are not allowed in to see her. She dies, and you see their guilt, anger and frustration,” Green said. “COVID did a lot of damage. Many who lost loved ones are still grieving, and we try to be there for them. Sometimes you have to be an ear for those who want to vent.”
About 200 volunteers help Hospice of South Texas in a variety of ways, Green said. For example they make prayer shawls for every patient, and the tag reads, “You have been prayed for during the making of this prayer shawl. May this shawl help you feel the warmth of God’s love for you. By it, may you be reminded that there are people who care deeply about you and who hope to bring you comfort.”
Twice a year, Hospice of South Texas hosts a Service of Remembrance, which is a celebration of the lives lost during the months leading up to the service. Photos of those lost are projected onto a screen with music, singing and lighted candles, and family members are invited to attend.
Hospice’s interdisciplinary team strives for every patient to experience a comfortable death, and Green said one of the team’s goals is to care for everyone with a need.
“We meet them in their homes, nursing homes, cars, hotels, motels, wherever they are at,” Green said. “We are the only truly nonprofit hospice in Victoria, so we take patients when they can’t afford to pay. They get the same treatment as everyone else, not less or worse service. They get the best we’ve got, whether they are paying or not.”