GPH hospice chaplain stepping down from volunteer position

Richard Karr, Great Plains Health hospice chaplain, laughs as he is interviewed ahead of a reception honoring his work over the past nine years.

One of the basic questions hospice chaplain Richard Karr asks is: “Are you afraid and what can we do to change that?”

Karr has been volunteering since 2006 and serving as hospice chaplain since 2010 at Great Plains Health. He will be closing out this chapter in his life Oct. 31.

“You have to have a calling to be on the hospice team, definitely,” Karr said with strong emotion in his voice. “It’s hard to explain. You’re in there where God’s working and it’s just difficult to explain. But you know, you know that you know.”

Former hospital chaplain Terry Cook, who has since passed away, sent Karr an email inviting him to become a hospice volunteer.

“After four years, I guess Terry was having trouble keeping up with all the hospital employees, and everything and the hospice people were concerned they weren’t getting weekly visits, which Medicare requires,” Karr said. “So they dubbed me to be the hospice chaplain and it’s been perfect for me. Just one-on-one ministry, it’s just so awesome.”

He said it is amazing how many families he’s had contact with over the years.

“You walk in a stranger and hope you walk out as a trusted friend, which usually happens,” Karr said. “I never open the door spiritually. They have to open the door and then I’ll walk in. I don’t tell them what I believe, but ‘tell me what you believe,’ and I go from there.”

Renee Callaghan, a hospice volunteer and bereavement coordinator, said she has learned a lot from Karr.

“I’ve learned ‘be still,’” Callaghan said. “He’s really good at that.”

She said Karr lets people talk instead of thinking he needs to.

“Silence is OK, and he’s taught me that and a lot of other things,” Callaghan said. “He knows how to be still and let other people talk.”

Karr said he has had to be a good listener.

“They’re the ones that need to do the talking,” Karr said. “Sometimes they tell you things they don’t even tell their families. They just need to get things out.”

With Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, where there is often no response, Karr said, silence is effective.

“I’m not sure how they process what they hear, but they’re aware of presence, and sometimes it’s easy to say, why should I stay here,” Karr said. “But presence is very meaningful to people. It’s a gift to people, even if there’s not communication going on.”

Karr said it is time for him to move on.

“I just came to the place four or five months ago where something changed,” Karr said. “I think I just burned out. I didn’t have the same zeal, and if you don’t have that, you need to walk away.”

He doesn’t know what he is going to do next.

“I think God knows, but he hasn’t told me yet,” Karr said. “I’m waiting and listening.”

Karr said he believes there’s another ministry out there for him.

“It’s been a great privilege to be a part of the hospice team,” Karr said.

The hospice team will host a retirement party for Karr from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 31 at Great Plains Health Conference Room B. Callaghan said people who know Karr can come and share in the event with him.

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