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Spiritual Care

More than one person has said that the New Hampshire Veterans Home (NHVH) should have a new name, and it should be "The Healing Place".

Resident receiving Spiritual Care Healing
Resident receiving Spiritual Care Healing

Not everyone gets physically healed at the Veterans Home; in fact, about 60 people a year die. After all, NHVH is a nursing home and people come to the Home towards the end of their lives because they need 24-hour a day care.

But "healing" has many meanings, and at the end of life, we need to resolve old issues. Some people find it very difficult to forgive themselves. Perhaps they did something in a war or had a strong disagreement within their family. Through our Spiritual Care Program we help the residents understand that God loves them and forgives them. Our goal is to help them enjoy whatever time they have left and to have a peaceful death. We work with families and try to strengthen relationships. We work with staff when they mourn the loss of a resident.

Our philosophy of care is holistic: We care for the body, mind, soul, and spirit of our residents. We deliver excellent medical care, but we don't stop there. Their other needs are equally important because we don't just treat disease; we treat people. Our Nursing, Social Services, Therapeutic Recreation, and Spiritual Care programs all contribute enormously to enhancing the quality of life of our residents.

The NHVH Spiritual Care Program is open to all residents, but no one is pressured into participating. The program brings together an impressive array of services designed to meet residents' needs. Numerous clergy of various religious denominations participate weekly. Some of the religions represented are: Greek Orthodox, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Spiritualist, Judaism, Methodist, Baptist, Congregational, and Presbyterian. Some of the clergy lead worship services; others do visitation. Catholic residents receive the Sacrament of the Sick when they are in the end stage of life. Lay persons and clergy will pray with residents, listen to them, provide guidance and counseling. The Chapel is available to families and friends of the veterans for a variety of occasions, like funerals, baptisms, and even weddings if the resident is unable to travel a distance outside of the Home.

The Veterans Home Chapel Choir, made up of residents, rehearses weekly and sings at Tuesday morning services. There are also special services throughout the year including "The Festival of Lessons and Carols" and an annual Service of Remembrance honoring not only residents who have passed away, but also family members and significant others. On Thanksgiving and Christmas there are special holiday services in the Chapel. Since some local churches do not have a service on those days, members of the community have attended services at the Veterans Home.

Caring for staff is also a very important part of the Spiritual Care mission. The residents and staff at the Veterans Home become very attached and when we lose a resident, it's like losing a close friend or a family member. Helping staff through the grieving process is essential. They need an opportunity to express, openly and honestly, what that person meant to them. Then the healing can begin.

We also help family members understand the dying process. Sometimes their loved one cannot talk, but we can help them communicate, even if the dying person appears unresponsive. When death does occur, the Spiritual Care Program continues to provide support for family members and staff.

The common practice when someone dies in a nursing home is to have the funeral home representative remove the resident's body and transport it to the hearse using a back door. Sadly, fellow residents and staff often do not have the opportunity to say good-bye, and the deceased resident is removed from the facility through a service entrance. Several years ago, one of our residents asked to be draped in an American flag for his last journey, and we complied. We then realized we could do more, so after consulting with residents and staff, we developed "The Final Salute".

The Final Salute, when a resident passes and the flag is presented to a family member
The Final Salute

Now, at our Home, when a resident passes away and the funeral home representative arrives, he or she is escorted to the resident's room by members of our Security Team, who drape the body with an American flag. Family members are often present in the room. Other residents and staff throughout the Home are notified of the deceased resident's passing by the chiming of three bells on the public address system. The person's name is read and those who wish to participate in the Final Salute gather on foot, in wheelchairs, or with walkers at the front elevator.

When the funeral home representative and the Security Team are ready, they and family members escort the deceased resident to the main elevator, where the President of the Resident Council calls the group to attention, and the Final Salute is given as follows: "(Resident's Name) is now leaving the Veterans Home on his/her heavenly departure. May (Resident's Name) rest in peace. We thank you for your honorable service to your country in its time of need." People stand at attention, if they are able, during the recitation.

The flag-draped body of the deceased resident is then taken downstairs in the main elevator, through the lobby, to the waiting hearse.

We believe this is a wonderful culture change. Death is nothing to be ashamed of—it is simply the last stage of life. The Final Salute helps us honor our residents by giving them the dignity of leaving the Home through the same doors they came in. It also publicly recognizes our sincere appreciation for their military service and the sacrifices they made for all of us.

Following a resident's death, the Spiritual Care Coordinator sends the family a sympathy card and when funeral services are held in the state, a representative from the Veterans Home attends. In addition, a Memorial Service is held at the Veterans Home each month to honor residents who recently passed away. Family members and friends are invited to attend.

NHVH's holistic commitment to long term care gives residents the best quality of life possible. This unique period in people's lives is filled with many challenges and opportunities. Our Spiritual Care Program plays a very important role in helping people come to terms with those challenges and explore opportunities. We are a community of people who care for and nurture each other.

New Hampshire Veterans Home
139 Winter Street  |  Tilton, NH 03276-5415  |  
(p) 603-527-4400  |  (f) 603-286-4242