September 23, 2015—Our feature this week is a bit different from the rest. It’s longer-form and it digs a bit deeper into what Dave does in his job—and namely, why he does it. The stories Dave shared were so poignant and heartfelt, that we decided to feature his interview in its entirety. Without further ado, we’d like to introduce you to Dave, Chaplain for Hospice, Palliative Care and Wyoming PACE.
WINDSWEPT TO THE TWILIGHT
Life is either a
To keep our faces
and behave like
free spirits in
the presence of
fate is strength
– Helen Keller
“I am Revered Dave Stratton and I am the Chaplain for Spiritual Care for Hospice, Palliative Care and P.A.C.E. (Program All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) at Cheyenne Regional. I have been with this healthcare system for about 23 years. My entire family—my wife of 33 years as well as my three sons—has been so blessed to be part of the community here at Cheyenne Regional and greater Cheyenne.
Not a day goes by without God helping me to understand the “daring adventure” of life and to experience the legacy of the heroes that have come before us and who are still with us today. The poem I’ve shared is close to my heart. It lives in my office, but more importantly, it lives in my soul. One of my personal heroes is Helen Keller, but in the work that I do I’m honored to meet heroes every single day.
One of the most moving and transformative experiences I have ever had was with one of our first Hospice patients, back in 1992. He was sharing a story from his life. We had touched on some very deep spiritual things and as he finished, there was a long pause and he looked right into my eyes—almost as if he was looking into my soul—and said, “Chaplain, that was just downright funny as &%$ and if you don’t start splitting a gut you can get the $%&# out of my life!”
Well, to make a long story short, he taught me a lesson that day: the importance of living in the present; that dying is not about death but rather about life—both the good times and the hard times. “You are taking life way too seriously, Chappy,” he said. We laughed until tears were rolling down our cheeks. Pleased, he said, “Now, that is much better. Same time, same channel next week, aye Chappy?” I still miss him to this day.
Our spiritual care is about practicing how to live in the presence of God’s grace. What a gift it truly is. While the spiritual care we provide is so very important, it would not be possible for us to provide it without the solid care provided by our Hospice, Palliative Care and Wyoming PACE interdisciplinary care teams (IDT). IDT is the cornerstone of our programs, which provides necessary, holistic care for the body, mind, heart and soul of our patients and their families. To have Doctors, managers, nurses, social workers, certified nurse aides, therapists, volunteer coordinators, administrative staff, volunteers, interns, nurse practitioners, grief counselors, pharmacists, chaplains, and more…WOW! It is such a blessing for everyone involved to be able to provide this level of comprehensive care to our beloved patients.
I began my work in healthcare Boulder, CO in the mid-80s. I was introduced to the world of hospice and hospital-based chaplaincy through my father. He served as the protestant chaplain at St. Mary’s Catholic Hospital in Tucson, AS. He worked there for quite some time and over the years he would share his experiences with me. In the fall of 1998, he became ill (with what we thought was a bad case of the flu). Well, it turned out to be a very fast-moving pancreatic cancer. In three months’ time, he passed away. His final days were spent being cared for in an inpatient hospice center—much like the Davis Hospice Center that we have here in Cheyenne. That experience deeply impacted my life. For me, this work that I do is much more than a profession—it’s personal.
Each year during the holiday season, we honor and remember our loved ones—both those that have passed away and those who are still with us—with the Tree of Remembrance. The community of Cheyenne comes out to celebrate the lives of their friends and families by placing a dove on the tree. This year, we will celebrate the 20th annual Tree of Remembrance. This has been a highlight for me during my time at Cheyenne Regional. Over the years, I’ve placed many doves on the tree—for my own loved ones, and those of our community members. Reading the names, sentimental words and prayers that are inscribed on the doves fills my heart and warms my soul.
On Thursday and Friday afternoons, I lead a program at PACE called, “T.G.I.F.” It stands for “Thank Goodness It’s Fun.” It’s quality time spent with the participants of PACE. We sing, play fun games, share an inspirational thought or two, share stories and encourage one another. To see the joy on our participants’ faces and to see the love in their hearts of our elderly being expressed (and the way that they teasingly poke fun at me!) is a gift to behold.
The work that I’m blessed to do each day continues to teach me how to live better. I’m constantly reminded that each day is a gift. Each breath is a breath from God. Each moment we have together is precious. Life is a daring adventure. Peace to all!”
You can also view Dave’s feature on Facebook!