The Life Of A Servant: A Hospice Chaplain’s Journey With Shenaz Halverson

WRT 44 | Hospice Chaplain

 

In our grief journey, we need someone to meet us where we are and to love us unconditionally. But as a person transitioning into the spirit realm, we also need that spiritual and emotional support throughout the end-of-life journey. In this episode, as a Chaplain, Shenaz Halverson brings light into what a Hospice Chaplain does and how her grief helped her serve people with unconditional love. She also shares how she became a Hospice Chaplain. As she guides individuals and provides comfort and solace, Shenaz still sees herself continuing what she does. Let’s join Shenaz on her amazing journey as a Hospice Chaplain by tuning in to this episode today.

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.

I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others. 

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide

Watch the episode here

 

Listen to the podcast here

 

The Life Of A Servant: A Hospice Chaplain’s Journey With Shenaz Halverson

My conversation is with Shey. She is a chaplain. The perspective in which she brings is a little bit different because she represents the people that are in the room with you as your loved ones are transitioning into the space that is comforting you after the death of a loved one. She and I met at Regent University. I know that her conversation to be able to see the other side of what a chaplain’s life looks like, how they’re trained, who they are, and how they feel, will provide comfort maybe for someone whose loved one will transition, or maybe people that were there for you and have a concept of who they were as an individual, not just as they were serving you. Let’s get into the conversation now.

 

WRT 44 | Hospice Chaplain

 

My guest is my friend Shey, but Chaplain Shey to the world.

Thank you so much for having me. My name is Shey and I am a chaplain. I work at Bristol Hospice. I’m their chaplain and I’m also the volunteer coordinator. I’m excited to be here.

Thank you. Those are a lot of different words, but before we get into all professional Shey, who is Shey as a person?

I am married. On Tuesday, it will be for two years. I’m super excited. My husband is on active duty. He is now in Oceana. He is the last command.

What branch?

He’s with the Navy. We have two children. Our son, Elijah is 10 and our daughter, Skylar is about to be 9. I’m a mom, I’m a wife. I’m also a daughter. I have a mom. I lost my dad six years ago. I have an older sister, two younger brothers, and a lot of nieces and nephews.

Where are you from originally?

I’m originally from Minnesota.

How did you and your husband meet?

It’s a funny story. He’s a twin and I was best friends with his sister. We met in eighth grade, but he was the annoying brother. I was friends with her. Fast forward to we’re in college now. I was living with her and a bunch of other girls. We had a house that we all lived in. I was dating a couple of guys and she said that I should date her brother. I said, “That’s gross. That’s your brother. I don’t think so.” He lived here in Virginia while I was in Minnesota. Fast forward, we went on a date. It went well. We got married.

You all didn’t go on one date and then got married. How long did you date before that?

Six months.

How did you know him well enough for six months to say yes?

We knew each other. We had a history and I just knew. I always said that I would never be with someone in the military. I also said that I’d never do one of those, “Hi,” get married, and then they’re going to get shipped off. I did that.

You did do both of them?

I did both of them.

Was he in the Navy when you guys got married?

Yes.

You got married and then he gets deployed?

I’m the one who said, “Let’s get married before you leave.” That was my doing. I said, “Let’s get married.” We got married here in Virginia Beach because I told him I wanted a destination wedding. I wanted to be on the beach. He’s like, “I’m from Virginia Beach. I live on the beach.” I said, “That’s perfect.” It was myself and him, my parents and his parents. It was a nice intimate wedding on the beach during sunset. It’s a beautiful wedding you can ask for. We had a honeymoon right here. We stayed at one of the hotels here. We saw dolphins in the morning. It was fun.

Where did you go to see the dolphins? Where was that?

Virginia Beach. Right there on the strip. One of those hotels.

He ships off and what do you do then?

I went back home to Minnesota. My plan was to stay there the whole time. He was in and out during that timeframe. I was going to stay there for another whole year. However, he came back and he was going to be here for two months before he shipped out again. I moved here on October 31st.

Did you know anybody?

I knew people through Facebook. Her husband was on the same ship as mine.

Let’s back up a little bit. When you say Facebook, those are Facebook groups related to that ship?

No. It was a friend of a friend. My friend got married. She introduced me to her friend. Her friend knew another friend, and their friends were on the ship. It was an intertwined web thing. Me speaking to my friend, she’s like, “You should move out here because there’s a military culture here.” I was like, “I’m going to be away from my family.” She’s like, “You will be, but it’s a military culture.” I didn’t know what she meant.

What did you find that to be?

It’s amazing. I love my family, but they won’t ever understand until you live it and you’re here. It was amazing and so great to be here and to have those couple of months with them. He shipped out. I got a job. I started working. I worked at a daycare for a while. I worked in a preschool. I worked at the YMCA at Mt. Trashmore. He came back. We got pregnant. I quit my job. I went back to school to Regent where we met

Before that, we met in seminary. What prompted you to the seminary route? What was the road up to that?

He encouraged me to be an officer in the Navy because my background is in children’s ministry. I have a four-year degree and I was going to be a children’s pastor. However, there’s a lot of politics in the church. I did my internship back home in Minnesota and decided I didn’t want to be a pastor. I decided that was not for me and went a whole other route.

We’re going to put a pin on that. Some of the things that Shey thinks that she does want to do is what life is doing to her. We’re going to put a pin in that whole pastor thing. Go ahead.

He introduced me to Captain Wood, who was his chaplain at the time. He said, “You should talk to him,” because he also was in charge of the CREDO program.

What is that?

CREDO is something that they do for families. They do marriage things. They do retreats. It’s a bunch of fun things that they typically do for the family.

Everybody is not military-oriented so I want to make sure that some of the things we spit off quickly like, “What does that mean?”

That makes sense. I was originally planning on sitting down and talking to him about CREDO. We did. We talked for a long time. He told me what he did and what he does in the Navy as an active-duty chaplain. He was so passionate about it. His face lit up in story after story of so many people that he helped. I’m like, “I want to do that.”

Did it start with that conversation? What did you feel in your life that felt like it was leading up to or felt like God was directing you or how you got to that?

In all reality, my husband has mentioned that I should join the Navy forever. I said, “Yes.”

No. Your relationship with God. In that part to do that, not just the Navy portion, but feeling like serving God or working in that capacity in some way or another. Did it start in the chaplain part or was there a part where you were serving God in your church or doing other different things?

It would stem from when my dad died because he died in 2017 and he had this amazing legacy. He did so much. When he passed away, the funeral was packed full. People were standing. It was full. It was amazing. It’s like, “Look at how many different lives he’s impacted. Look at how many people that he has changed or helped.” They had a ministry called Building Bridges, where they were trying to help people, mainly those that were of other faiths.

If they were of the Islam faith, if they were to convert to Christianity, how to help them because a lot of people got either kicked out of their homes, they got thrown on the streets, or they got killed. They got ex-communicated out of their community out of their faith tradition. That’s a whole other story because that happened to him.

That’s what I wanted, some of those things. I remember you talking about that.

It happened to him but his family still did accept him after a while. It took some time. He married my mom. My dad was originally from Uganda, Africa. Born there, kicked out of the country by Idi Amin back in ‘72. When he was a teenager, there was a Christian Church that sponsored them and got them here. He went to high school and then he went to college for a short amount of time. He met my mom at Northwestern College. She is White, German, or Norwegian, that type of ethnicity.

European. That’s why I said my late husband was European White, depending on how you look.

At first, they were against that. However, my mom is amazing. She’s so nurturing that they eventually come around. They had children. We would be around my dad’s side of the family. We were always well-mannered and they did not understand why we were always so good.

I want to pause right there. It is amazing how people preconceive who someone is from what they see on television or what they’ve heard. Being an African-American woman, meeting my husband’s family, there was a preconceived idea of who this Black girl was from Chicago, and in time, I learned who Tina was. Not this concept of what you’ve seen on television that, “Cut me. I bleed red. I am a human being and see me for who I am.” I encourage us to do more of that because too many times, we make a concept of who someone is without getting to know them. Thank you for mentioning that.

They loved us. We loved them. We would sing Jesus Loves Me. We run around and sing. They had us visits not as frequently because it’s almost like we were being a good influence, but that wasn’t their culture. That wasn’t their religion.

You need to respect that.

We honored that. However, we would have them come to our house or cabin and we would have a special grill for them because they have halal meat. That was only for them.

That’s something else. I love the idea and more of what we need to do. I respect that this is your faith. This is the path that you’re taking. A lot of times, we miss the opportunity to become informed of what someone else’s faith is because someone is trying to push their agenda or what they believe instead of holding space for somebody else’s faith and respecting them to that level. They knew that they were welcome, not just, “Here they come.” It’s like, “I love you. We see this world differently and we can respect that.”

When we’re around them, we dress accordingly. We would wear loose-fit clothes. I didn’t wear the hijab because I didn’t need to. They said that. They would even say, “You can eat meat around us. You can eat whatever you want.” I was like, “No. You don’t do that so I’m going to be respectful of that.”

That is something in the Christian faith that talks about that. When you are around somebody, you are accommodating and respecting them. Not because you can do it, but if you want to love somebody, you show up like that. That’s what love looks like.

It doesn’t hurt me to eat a cheese pizza or eat vegetarian pizza. That’s not a big deal. That shows volumes that we love people. It doesn’t matter what they look like. It doesn’t matter what they believe or any of that other stuff. You just love them for who they are because that’s who we’re called to be. Where did my official call come from? I’m not 100% sure, but when my dad died, I wanted to make a difference like he made.

Love them for who they are because that's who we're called to be. Click To Tweet

You mentioned about your dad making a difference. What was he doing to make a difference? In what capacity?

He would go to colleges and he would speak and share a little bit about who he was and his ethnic background. The way he would tell stories and the way he would relate to people, everyone seemed to love him. We were the house that everyone would come and hang out at. It was the fun house that we all hung out at. We always had people in and out.

My parents were involved in ISF, International Student Fellowships. In the International Student Fellowships, they helped host refugees from other countries. Once they got here, there was a house for them and helped them get jobs. Helped them learn the language, all that kind of stuff where my dad had to learn it. He understood how hard it was and how important it was to have that. I was brought up culturally, trying different ethnic foods, and seeing people from different countries. That’s normal.

That would be a seed planted to be a chaplain in the military because correct me if I’m wrong, a person may have their own particular personal faith, but when you’re a chaplain, you have to support, love, and respect everybody. It’s good to hear how that seed was placed. It wasn’t something you had to lean into. It’s something already ingrained in how you were raised from a small child. Thank you for sharing that. How did you personally deal with your own grief of your dad passing?

That’s been an ongoing battle.

That right there is critical to say. I know that because I know you personally. People think that was years ago. You’re a chaplain. You are removed from being impacted by that. If you could share a little bit about that.

In part, I am here in Virginia and my family is in Minnesota. My dad was sick for quite some time. I was going to go home but I kept putting a, “Let’s wait until you get better. I don’t want my children to see you in the hospital like that.” He got better. He came home and I talked to him on the phone. It was very brief, but he told me he loved me and that he was doing well. He’s like, “Why don’t you come this summer with the kids? I’d love that.” I was like, “Okay.” I’m like, “This is going to be great. We’re going to go see him in the summer.” Three days later, he was back in the hospital.

I was like, “Maybe I need to go back.” I attempted to go back. However, while I was looking up my flight, he passed away. I had a lot of guilt that I did not go home. I did not go back. I had plenty of opportunities. I just didn’t do it. I didn’t get my official goodbye in person. I did get it over the phone. My siblings all got together a month or two prior, and they were all there by his bedside while he was awake enough and alert enough to talk a little bit. They all got their time to say goodbye.

I never officially got that time. I blamed myself for not going back and for not getting that extra time. I would call him every day. It was hard because I’d go to pick up the phone to call him and I’m like, “There’s no one to call.” That was frustrating, but I know that he’s in heaven. I know that he’s rejoicing. The crazy thing that my mom told me not too long ago, which I didn’t know this right away, is that before they intubated him again, he said, “I want to see Haven.” Haven is someone I never got to meet either. That is my brother’s daughter. She was a twin, Hunter and Haven. She passed away when she was eleven years old. I did not go back to her funeral. I didn’t have an opportunity to.

There’s more built on with my dad passing. My niece passed. I never officially got to meet her. If you want to go back even further, my grandma, who I was close to, passed away on my one-year anniversary. My husband and I flew back and lost his luggage. We didn’t get to my parents’ house until midnight. My mom goes, “Are you guys tired? Do you want to sleep? We’ll go right away in the morning.” We said, “Okay, fine.” We went to bed and we found out that morning that she passed. I was there.

You were close but didn’t make it.

I was in Minnesota. I was three and a half hours away. We didn’t make the drive yet. I missed the opportunity to say goodbye to her too. The lack of being able to say my final goodbyes is what gets me.

That’s fair because, for a lot of different reasons, we may not be there when that person dies. You may not have the answer, but how are you managing that guilt, or how are you dealing with that?

In all reality, from what I know now as a hospice chaplain, I’m well aware that sometimes people will wait until their loved one is out of the room and pass away. That is something that a lot of people do. They can be like, “Go get me a glass of water.” While you’re going to get them a glass of water, let’s say you’ve been by their bedside all the time. You want to always be there for them, but they can’t let go when you’re there. As soon as you leave the room is when they’ll leave. They’ll be at peace. I tell myself, “That’s the way it was supposed to be.” I wasn’t supposed to be there at the end.

I did get to talk to him. When I talked to him, he was happy. He was pleasant. He was his normal self that I could tell on the phone. I had seen my grandma not too long before that and I had a wonderful visit with her. I did not get to see my niece. My aunt passed away two years ago from brain cancer. She had breast cancer. She was cured of it. It came back a couple of years later and it’s brain cancer.

I went back in 2020 and had the most amazing visit with her. She was happy. She was go-lucky. She had energy. The Lord knows that I needed these ups in my life. I didn’t see my loved ones towards the end. I didn’t see them struggling. I didn’t see them right before they passed. Now as a hospice chaplain, it’s a little different.

I want to ask one other question. You said that you know now that you were not meant to be there, but as you mentioned about them managing that guilt, it tells me that self-talk still is something that comes to your mind that you have to put back in place. It’s not a one-and-done and that’s human nature. For the reality of that, I struggle with the guilt of this, but I know the answer is that. That’s hard to reconcile and it causes a lot of emotions. You’re having that even though you know what it is. The thought of that and then living life in the absence of your dad, who was this great person.

The hardest part is having children and having them not have their Bapa. They called him Bapa.

How did that name come about?

Nanabapa means grandpa. We call him Bapa. My daughter doesn’t do it as much anymore but when we do our nightly prayers, she’d say, “Bapa in heaven and Haven in heaven.” I encourage it. Let’s pray for them while they’re in heaven because we don’t want to forget his memory. We don’t want to forget their memories.

That’s about keeping him alive to the kids. Thank you for sharing that. The road to living out your dad’s legacy as a chaplain, what does that road look like for you? How has that road developed to the schooling, the training, and some things into where you’re at now?

It’s been an ongoing struggle. Let’s be real. It has not been easy but then I think of his life and what he endured. He didn’t share everything that he went through.

Parents usually don’t with their children for everything.

He has a book. I read his book again after he had passed.

Your dad’s book is?

It’s called Bittersweet Freedom. I don’t know. I’ll have to ask my mom because we don’t have it out to the public. Rereading it years after he passed, I’m like, “I didn’t realize a lot of that.” He did struggle, he went through a lot, and he was almost martyred for his faith. They didn’t kill him. It’s God’s grace that they didn’t kill him because when he was a new convert, he got beat up in a park. They took a knife out and they were about to slit his throat. They were telling him that he had to come back to his religion.

They said, “If you don’t, we’re going to kill you.” The only thing that came out of his mouth was, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. I have nothing to lose.” When he said that, the park filled up with ambulances and a ton of people. They took him to the emergency room and brought him to the hospital. You don’t always see it now, but then they had a Bible on the bedside table. He picked up the Bible and that’s where he saw that verse. He’s like, “I never knew that was a scripture in the Bible.”

 

 

There are little things like that that he has struggled with, that he’s endured, and that he’s gone through. These are nothing in comparison to what he’s gone through. He’s gone through a lot. Knowing that I can make a difference for my children and for those who are coming up, I want to have a life where I can be strong in my faith and know that no matter what I go through, He’s going to be there to protect me and help me.

He, being God.

Yes. Thank you for the clarification. Doing the seminary was a struggle. It was hard.

It’s supposed to be hard. I want to pause for a second and say that part of this conversation in dealing with grief is being able to talk to people of all different faith backgrounds because our faith impacts how we deal with life after this world. To be able to talk to someone who is supporting people in different faiths is different than someone solely from the perspective of their own particular belief. That is important to know because if not, we will discount and disrespect other people to a point where it’s so critical. They need you to show up and be present, not to bring your preconceived dispositions of what you believe in, and give them space to respect that.

That’s where you bring the love. That’s where you bring the kindness. As a chaplain, I have all sorts of different faiths that I work with. It doesn’t matter what their faith tradition is. I’m there to support and help them in their journey in what they’re walking through and what they’re going through. If they’re Christian, great. If they’re not, it’s all right too. There are other ways to work around it like the way I was brought up. You love people for who they are.

You bring the love and kindness as a chaplain. Click To Tweet

How do you feel seminary prepared you for what you’re doing now?

I would say a big part of it would be the chaplaincy classes that I took with Dr. Jumper because they were universal in their teaching. They’re pluralistic in their teaching, meaning different religions, and help you to think outside of the box. Along with my Ethics class, that class was so hard because I was so one-minded thinking, but Ethics can go so many different ways. Taking those Ethics classes and my chaplaincy classes opened my mind.

When you said box, was it your particular faith? What was the box that you were being expanded out of?

My faith and my mindset in general was open and broadened to see things from a different perspective. It’s not just an A and B conversation. It can be an A, B, or C conversation. There can be another angle that you had no idea about.

Things are just not this or that. There’s a lot of in-between.

What they like to say, there are three sides to every story. There’s his side, there’s her side, and then there’s the truth.

There are three sides to every story. There's his side, her side, and the truth. Click To Tweet

There is a little blend in between.

There’s an A and B side, and then there’s a truth, whatever that may be. Each person has their own perspective and that doesn’t necessarily mean their perspective is wrong because, to them, their perspective is 100% true. You need to come from another angle and see where they’re coming from.

Thank you. In your current capacity, there are some other roles that you’ve held also in this process. What do those look like?

I’ve also been working in a hospital. I did CPE at Maryview Bon Secours. That is a level-one trauma hospital. I saw a lot there. I also did a one-year residency at the VA Medical Center for CPE. In the hospital, it’s a different perspective. You will meet people of all sorts of different faiths, all sorts of different backgrounds, different genders, different everything. I’m supportive in every single aspect that I can be.

When you say gender, what are you referring to by that?

Sometimes you’ll have transgenders. Sometimes you might have gays and lesbians. You might have fill in the blank. You’re providing universal care to everyone is what I’m trying to say. I don’t want to put any labels out there, so I apologize if anyone is offended because that’s not what I was trying to do.

What I wanted to do was expand on that for someone to know that maybe this is a Shey that I’m talking to, that chaplain, that person that’s showing up in that space. To understand the level of training that someone has to have before they’ve been allowed to be in that space, and how they’re supposed to be set up and educated to truly love somebody in that space. Oftentimes, we see people from a religious perspective and I’ve already lined up, “They’re coming to me like this.” They’re supposed to be set up to come as you’re coming.

That’s why I wanted to expand on what that looks like. Instead of someone thinking, “I don’t believe what they believe. I can’t go to them for help,” they may see me as wrong or right, instead of saying, “They see me,” going back to our original conversation about seeing people where they are. That love and support is open for them to receive. Do you need love and support instead of feeling that you are alone in what that looks like? That’s why I wanted to expound, not so much to put a label, but to say that it’s open and available there to support people.

That came through a learning process because I did have my preconceived ideas. Not where they could see that. Internally, I have my own biases that I never showed anyone. When I met and talked to them, they surprised me. I was like, “My biases were completely wrong and I didn’t know that I even had any biases.”

Who does? We’re all perfect. We don’t think anything about anybody, but deep down inside, until we get to meet people, we find out things about ourselves. Now it’s the point to choose to grow or to stay where I’m at.

 

WRT 44 | Hospice Chaplain

 

The cool thing about CPE is that you have to write verbatim. You verbatim write your conversation, how it happened, and then you talk about what you said and what you didn’t say, what you were thinking. The whole group has an opportunity to help you see different things from different perspectives. My eyes were opened to where I didn’t realize some of those things until it was brought out.

You’re saying a conversation you had with someone you were supporting, you had to then write a dialogue of that discussion. Now a meeting of your peers to unpick that and say, “What about this?” and challenge you. The level of care in that.

There’s a lot of training that goes into being a chaplain.

That is painful.

That’s how you grow.

What if you didn’t do that? You would just be thrust out there in your own box. That’s large.

It was eye-opening. It wasn’t always great conversation.

Who likes to be picked apart? We’re all signing up for that. Nobody. Imagine if you never had that unpicking what you would’ve been if you showed up without that experience.

I don’t know but I’m glad to have had that experience. I’m glad that I have the opportunity to grow and to be able to be someone who loves others where they’re at. In the hospital, that’s not usually a place for people to be. There’s a lot of hurt. There’s a lot of sick. There’s a lot of pain. A lot of people don’t understand why they have certain diagnoses or they’re on their deathbed. I was there during COVID, so they couldn’t even have visitors. The chaplain was all they had. That brings a whole other blanket on top of it. I’m so thankful that I get to be in there and I get to show them love. I get to be a person that they can sit there and they can talk to that’s not a clinical doctor or nurse.

The idea of that level of loneliness and that level of separation. You are the only person there, to some regards, a complete stranger, but in a space where they need somebody so much. What was that like to be there during COVID or in the capacity of a hospice and family? Now you’re not there in your own emotions. You’re there supporting people who are losing their loved ones. Granted, you may have not been there when your own people died but now, you’re needing to hold that space for people who are losing their loved ones.

It’s humbling, knowing that I can be there and support them and knowing that I want to do as much as I possibly can for them because I wasn’t able to do what I wanted to do so I do it more.

I could see that reason. You weren’t there for that and that gives you the inspiration or motivation now. That came full circle.

It did. Thank you for helping me realize that because I didn’t realize that until now.

That inspiration comes from that. You’re welcome. Tough part in the room with someone dying. How do you hold that space? What does that look like?

To be truthful and honest, I have not yet been with someone as they’ve taken their last breath. However, it’s been close. I’ve come right after. I’ve had a patient, which is crazy. She was awesome. She was funny. She was feisty. She always wore her bright red lipstick. She liked bright colors. I went and visited her that day and she was laughing and joking with me like she normally does.

The day that she passed, she had this cute little bell that she would ring additional from. Because she lived in a nursing home, she had a call bell. She didn’t want that. They got her a little bell that she would ring. She looked over at me. She goes, “Pick that up.” I picked up her little bell and she said, “Ring that little bell.” I rang the bell. She’s like, “They hate when I do this.”

She got you to do it for her.

She goes, “Do you know what I do? I’d ring it louder. I ring it even louder.” We laughed. She was feisty. She was fun. I loved her. We always read the Book of Ruth. She wanted to read the Book of Ruth all the time. That was her favorite but I left her there. She was getting tired after we read the book. I helped her to lie down. I went to see some more patients.

My boss calls me and she says, “Are you available?” I was like, “I can talk.” She’s like, “Are you around people?” I’m like, “Yeah.” She’s like, “Okay.” I’m like, “Let me get away from people.” That’s when she told me she passed away. I’m like, “What do you mean she passed away? I was just there.” She passed away in the best way that you can pass away. She had gotten up. She was walking in the hallway. She went back to bed and she went to bed in her sleep and that’s the way to go.

Now with her, I came back and I was there. The family was there. I saw the funeral director come and take her body out. That was the first time I saw someone that I cared about and someone that I administered to leave the room. That was heartbreaking. I shed a lot of tears and I cried with the family. They cried and I cried. We had a beautiful moment.

It hurts when you lose someone that you love. I only knew her for maybe five months. It wasn’t a long time, but I am still in communication with the family. They asked me to do her funeral. I was able to do her funeral. I was able to share that story with everyone. I was able to share and I was able to love on the family and be that person to help lift them up and to help them walk through their journey.

One of the questions they had for me was, “What do we do now? Now what?” “Every Sunday at 3:00, we get a scone, we get tea, we get the paper, and we visit her. We go through the paper together. We don’t know what to do now. I don’t have my sister anymore,” she would say. I said, “That’s the beauty of it. You get to do whatever you want now. You can find a new hobby. You could do something in honor of her. You could travel. You could maybe go to one of her favorite restaurants. You now get to be you.”

 

 

You are showing them different ways to honor that love. You probably gave them permission to continue living. If not, it’s so easy to stay right in that space and not have to move out because you feel like maybe you violated this person that you loved, or you’re no longer doing this but life has changed. They needed to probably have validation on how to move forward in their life as she’s no longer here and how to continue living.

It’s so hard because that’s what they did for such a long time. There’s a void. There’s a hole. There’s an emptiness in what you do now. You feel lost. You feel hopeless. You feel like you can’t go on.

That fog. You know this person may be dying, but it seems instantaneously when it happens. You’ve been in this line of work for how long?

I started at the hospice at the end of February.

What tools or what things are put in place to keep you from hardening, becoming callous, or becoming routine with this to continually stay present? What are some things set up in your career path or the system to be mindful of that?

I’m such an empathic person. I care too much to where I don’t know if I could ever truly be calloused. I don’t know if I ever could because I love people, I’m relational, and I feel for them.

That’s fair. What is put in place so that you don’t take that burden and carry it too much on yourself and learn how to put it in perspective as you leave there to go home, to be the mother, the wife? What things are put in place in your career field to help with the balance of that?

There isn’t a lot there. However, I have other chaplain friends that I call.

You have a place to offload.

I have other hospice chaplains that I will connect with and we’ll share not names or anything like that. We respect the patients but allow me to debrief. Sometimes I will go on a longer walk. Take the dog on a walk. I don’t want to be around anyone. I don’t want to be with anyone. I just need to be.

You’ve created your own community?

I’ve created my own community. I’ve created my own routine of how I’m able to decompress.

That’s important.

I’ve had countless people tell me it’s heavy. It has been heavy because we’ve lost quite a few patients. I also have a wonderful team where I work. We are emotionally supportive of one another. They have a little room in there where there’s a nice chair. There are some essential oils. There’s a sound machine. There’s a relaxation room. If you’re having a tough day, a tough time, or a tough visit, you can go into that little decompression room, breathe, and take a load off. One of the things that they’ve been doing is trying to help us.

You have to think about that because you are carrying heavy weight for people. You may not be carrying it all, but you’re in that space with them and taking that on with them, and they need that help. That is thoughtful and that’s considerate to be able to create that space. How does this look differently than what you thought it would be? How does it line up with what you expected?

I never thought I’d be a hospice chaplain ever in my life. I need to stop saying, “I never.”

Every never has come up.

You don’t say never.

What about the pastor thing? What about that other never?

About the pastor thing, I’m acting as the Worship Pastor at Norfolk Chapel right now.

What’s the official name of it? Naval Station Norfolk. It used to be called NOB.

It’s the chapel, I’m based at. I’m not sure about the exact name of it, but I’m a civilian. I’m not in the Navy. However, that is in the works, believe it or not. I did say I’ll never join the Navy. I’ll never join any military. Don’t say never, because I’m trying to get in right now. It’s funny and God has a sense of humor. Whenever I say never, He’s like, “Did you? Really? Never? Okay. Let me write that down. That’s exactly what I want you to do.” It’s going well. Learning how to be a chaplain from that perspective is different.

How so?

It’s a congregation that you’re in charge of versus being with a bunch of different families. It’s the same in that regard where you do have families in the community.

What I hear you saying is that in the hospital, it’s who’s there at that moment. They come in and out. In a pastoral way, this is a continual relationship. Those people are coming on a regular basis. Now you’re becoming more engaged with them and being more involved with them on a regular basis. I can see that. It’s like a pastor of a clergy of a particular church. It just happens that yours is on base. What skillsets are you bringing to that that you weren’t using before in the hospital? Are they the same or just more?

Just more. I am able to do little mini-sermons or Bible studies for my residents. I do that weekly. It’s doing it more and doing it for a variety of age groups instead of people who are in a nursing home. The biggest difference is the variety of age groups.

A lot has changed. A lot has happened. Is it a requirement for you to continue education, continuing training, and doing this? How does that work for you?

I do plan on continuing my education at some point in time.

You’re like, “I freed myself.” I’m sure there’s continuing education and things to learn and training.

However, at some point in time, I wanted to get my doctorate.

I did not know this until now. I remember when we were in school and you were saying no.

Don’t ever say never. I don’t know how that’s going to happen but I would love to get a doctorate. I would like it to maybe possibly be in some type of counseling to some degree but again, I don’t know how that’s going to look. We’ll see. Education is important. You should always continue learn and to better yourself because the more you better yourself, the better person you are not only for yourself, for your family, for your congregation, but for everyone in general.

 

WRT 44 | Hospice Chaplain

 

You do all this training. How do you see it being different, being on active duty, being a chaplain, and everything you’ve done already?

My goal will be able to grow and I’ll be able to go places I’ve never been able to go to. I’ll have a clearance I’ve never had before. I’m crazy enough. I’m just putting this together now. It’s almost like Esther and how she was young and she was called. She was in such a place and time to make a huge difference. I have a feeling that something like that, not to that extreme, but something to where I will be able to make such a huge difference in that setting in that role that I would not be able to do otherwise.

I’m excited, nervous, and scared. It’s a lot to take in, but there’s so much that I can do. I think I’m going to grow so much as a person, let alone a chaplain, a wife, a friend, and a mom. You’re going to have so many hats. As a civilian right now and having an active-duty spouse, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen a lot of families go through so much. I know different perspectives that other people may not know as a spouse. I want to help as many people as I can. One of my sayings is to be the voice to the voiceless, to help those who can’t seem to get the help that they need. I want to be their advocate. I want to be the person to help them get where they need to be going.

That is good. Two more questions. If you could pick any age to meet younger Shey, what age would you pick? What would you tell her? You can pick an age range, 20s or 30s. You can do any of that. It doesn’t have to be as specific.

It would probably be right around the time my dad died, which is around 35-ish. Take more risks and be more willing to try new things, which is the same thing. I think that I was stuck where I was. Just to see things from a different perspective.

Take more risks. Be more willing to try new things. Click To Tweet

What gives you joy?

A lot of things give me joy. That’s also my middle name. Joy is my middle name. My family gives me a lot of joy. My personal family, my extended family, my friends, being around nature, being around the ocean, and knowing that I have a God who loves me for who I am. No matter what, He will always be there for me. That gives me joy.

I have done most of the questions. Any questions you have with me?

Not at the top of my head.

I’ll let you close this out. Maybe there was something you thought we would talk about that we didn’t speak about, or anything you want to say in closing to the widowhood.

There’s one thing that I do want to add. One thing that I did learn either through my books or through some of my training, I honestly don’t remember, but this is one thing that I share with my patients and with someone that I came in contact with that has nothing to do with anything. I’ll share this quick story with you that I shared with her.

I went to one of my buildings and she was sitting outside. I sat down next to her. She was a cook. We hung out and she started to share with me that she lost her dad four weeks ago when their birthdays were coming up. She’s like, “I don’t know what to do.” It was hard because she was so close to her dad. That’s what she told me. I said, “One thing you could do is maybe buy his favorite dessert, eat his favorite dessert, go to his favorite restaurant, or buy his favorite drink.” She said, “He drank a lot. I’m not going to do that.” I was like, “Maybe you don’t want to do that. That’s okay. Some people may buy the alcoholic beverage and pour it out in honor of them. You could do that.”

Another thing that is wonderful and that I share with people is to write a letter. Write a letter to your loved one. Write a letter to your friend, cousin, son, daughter, brother, sister, spouse, or whoever the person may be. Share with them what they meant to you. Share with them why you’re sad they’re gone. Share with them maybe that you’re angry with them. You’re upset that they’re not here and that’s okay. It’s okay to be angry that your loved one is not here with you. A lot of people have a hard time being okay with being angry.

It's okay to be angry that your loved one is not with you. Click To Tweet

They may have a hard time but it’s there.

When you write it, it gets it out.

You’re not fooling anybody because you may be putting on this façade, but you are struggling inside with all these emotions. People feel that if I don’t talk about it, deal with it, or say something, but it’s dealing with us. If you let it out by writing, it’s another step in your healing.

If you would like, you can respond back as that person. How would they respond to your letter?

That releases you from a lot of different things that you’re holding on to.

That’s what I would leave you guys with. Write a letter to your loved one. If you feel inclined to have them write back to you, have them write back to you, however you think they would respond to that letter.

That’s a good advice.

Thank you.

Thank you for being here.

Thank you for having me. Thank you, everyone.

Thank you, Widowhood.

Thank you for being here in this conversation with Shey. I am so glad that she was able to share about her own personal grief, how that has helped her serve other people, and how she’s able to hold a space for you with unconditional love because that’s what we need when we’re grieving. We need someone to meet us where we’re at and love us without judgment or criticism. I am sorry for the person that you have lost that has brought you to this place, but I’m glad that you have found us and you are part of our widowhood. Talk to you soon. Bye.

 

Important Links

 

About Shenaz Halverson

WRT 44 | Hospice ChaplainShenaz Joy (Hirji-Walji) Halverson was born in Fridley, Minnesota on November 11, 1981. She has a Muslim name that means princess or daughter of the King in Arabic. Her Dad was a converted Muslim who has since passed away on April 11, 2017. She attended Moody Bible Institute from 2000 to 2003 where she received a Minor in Biblical studies. Shortly after in 2004, she went on to accomplish a BA in Children’s Ministry at North Central University. She recently graduated with her Master of Divinity at Regent University with a concentration in chaplaincy May 2021.

Shenaz has had a call to ministry as teenager and has been actively participating in ministry since. Teaching various biblical curriculum to elementary girls groups and helping in the Children’s Ministry were among some of her areas of service. She was on Missions trips to Mexico with Border Crossers for Christ in 2005 and another to with NCU to Alaska in 2007. During her Mexico trip, she was able assist in such things as digging a well for a Church and teaching the gospel at a Men and Woman’s prison. She used to teach the elementary-aged children at her former church Real Family Fellowship. Shenaz was the Outreach Coordinator for the Crisis Pregnancy Center. She has been a member and actively involved at Bridge Church since 2019. She currently teaches in the preschool room at Bridge church and will be leading a small group.

Halverson has gained various skills and experience through her different areas of work. She worked in a group home for adults with disabilities for five years as an onsite care specialist. She was also a Program Specialist at a Day Program where the clients with Disabilities went to work. She was a CNA at Park Nicollet Hospital in the ICU. She worked as a teacher at the Mount Trashmore YMCA teaching their Pre-K classes. Halverson has also completed five units of CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education). The first unit at Bon Secure Maryview and the completed a residency at Hampton VA Medical Center in 2022. Halverson is currently work at Bristol Hospice as chaplain/volunteer coordinator and bereavement coordinator. Through this job Halverson has had the opportunity to be there and provide support for families after losing a loved one.

Halverson has just recently been commissioned as LT. JG. Chaplain in the Navy as of October 15, 2023. She is currently a Military spouse and knows firsthand the stress of deployments for families at home. She looks forward to Officer Development School and chaplain school in the new year along with where the Navy sends her.

Some of her favorite personal activities are playing, reading, and doing arts and crafts with her children. Spending quality time with her family is her most valued pass time. Halverson is married to active duty Senior Chief Peter Halverson who is stationed at Oceania. They have two children in grade school.

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.

I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide