The goal of Hernando-Pasco Hospice is stated succinctly on its brochure: "A Light When All Seems Dark."
The group served more than 2,000 dying patients and their families last year, and Darrel Goad helped to shine a light for them.
Goad supervises seven chaplains and eight bereavement counselors for the hospice.
Before arriving there four years ago, Goad served community churches in New York state for more than a decade. Then he felt a divine calling to the Florida area.
"I remember praying to God, "I will do whatever you want me to do, but I want to do something related to ministry.'
At first, the idea of ministering to the terminally ill didn't hold much attraction for Goad. "What an irony," he says. "I remembering saying to my congregation, "Don't any of you go and die on me.' "
But during his church-related hospital visits, Goad discovered he had the gift of empathy.
"There is an incredible sense of fulfillment as you help someone through one of the most difficult times in life. I receive a sense of fulfillment personally, and then also as a member of the Hospice team. I discovered that Hospice is made up of a team of dedicated professionals who give of themselves; and because we are a team, we realize that we are participating in something bigger than any of us singly."
Robin Kocher, community relations coordinator, is another part of that team. She describes the team's first response to a request for services:
"First a nurse assesses the physical needs of the patient. Then we send a social worker to assess the needs as a family. Our philosophy is that we meet them where they are. We don't go in to change anything that is going on in that house. We ask them what they need and we find a way to meet that need."
Kocher said the average patient receives 7.4 visits per week, which is more than double the nationwide average. The patient will see a nurse about three times a week. Two or three times a week, a home health aide will provide a bath and a shave, brush teeth or dentures, change linens or do light housekeeping. The social worker generally visits once a week.
"One of the questions we ask," Kocher says, "would you like to see a member of our clergy staff? Sometimes they say no at the beginning. But sometimes at the end of life, they decide that they want to see someone."
Goad explains that the chaplains are looking for areas of spiritual pain.
"Maybe a patient feels guilt for something they did or did not do. Our chaplain will use their spiritual tools to gain some spiritual relief. Our chaplains understand that when a patient asks for spiritual support, the primary support is that patient's church. We see ourselves as secondary."
Often, however, the patient has moved to Florida from up North _ and then the chaplains become primary.
"The chaplains do not get into any denominational questions," Goad says. "They know they are not in there to push their own preference. They ask the patient where they are in their spiritual journey and ask how they can help. They are like chaplains in the military. If they are outside the comfort zone, they will defer to another local church. With Jewish patients, we will connect them with a local Jewish rabbi."
Another aspect of the Hospice experience is the Children's Assistance Program, or CAP. More than 600 children are receiving bereavement counseling because of the loss of a parent, grandparent, brother or sister. A weekend bereavement camp for kids also has been successful. The last camp had 67 children.
In 1987 the AIDS program was organized. An AIDS coordinator provides specialized care as well as all the other services of Hospice.
In 1993 Hospice House was opened. It provides a home for six patients who have no family members nearby and who can't live on their own. Various support groups are scheduled weekly in both Hernando and Pasco counties.
Other big things are planned, including more Hospice houses.
It takes a big team to provide all these services. More than 200 full-timers, 100 part-timers and more than 500 volunteers help ease the burden. Volunteer training programs are scheduled frequently and inquiries are welcome. Volunteers might run errands for the family or be a good listener for an hour of conversation. Call (800) 486-8784 for information.
Goad expects to remain full time with Hospice but he also hopes to establish a branch of his current church, Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Tampa. He calls it becoming "bi-vocational."
He says the Association of Vineyard Churches features a wedding of two traditions, evangelical theology with more of a Pentecostal experience. The church movement began in 1978, and there are now 500 churches worldwide. Goad says that television's Peter Jennings included the churches in a recent profile on religion in America.
"We worship God primarily through contemporary Christian music. We don't have the traditional piano and organ and hymns, but have a band, drums, guitars, vocalists and Christian pop music."
In West Pasco, small Vineyard groups meet weekday evenings. If you are interested, contact Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Tampa at (813) 968-5533.
Goad and his wife, Bonnie, soon will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. They already might be familiar to you. On June 5, 1994, the Times chronicled their story about home-schooling their five children _ Danielle, 14, Nathan, 12, Tiffany, 9, Christa, 4, and Michaela, 14 months.