What do you do as a hospice chaplain?

At 56 years old, plenty of people begin to think about the day when they will report to work for the final time and begin a more leisurely life. Not Branislav Dedic.

Twenty-two years ago, at the age of 56, Dedic was about to embark on a new job as hospice chaplain at AdventHealth St. Thomas Hospice. Today, the 78-year-old credits the job for keeping him young and for strengthening his faith.

As hospice chaplain, Dedic's job is to make a patient and their loved ones as comfortable and peaceful as possible as they await the inevitable. He said it isn't unusual to see a dying person smile and describe seeing their deceased loved ones just before taking their last breath.

"They look at peace," Dedic said.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been part of Dedic's life from the beginning. He grew up in the church, where his own father was a pastor. After leaving his native Yugoslavia in 1965 to study theology in France, he worked as a pastor in Yugoslavia and later as a missionary in Cameroon in Central Africa. Dedic said Cameroon and its people continue to hold a special place in his heart.

In 1987, Dedic arrived in Chicago, where he served as pastor of a Yugoslavian Adventist church for 14 years before accepting the position of hospice chaplain.

"I never consider this a job," Dedic said.

The headquarters for AdventHealth St. Thomas Hospice is in Hinsdale, but Dedic rarely spends time there. His days are spent driving from patient to patient, visiting homes, nursing facilities and other places where patients are spending their final days.

"I loved being pastor. I adored being a missionary," said Dedic.

But he said the ability to comfort someone in one of life's most difficult moments is a privilege he find humbling.

Dedic said he ministers only to families and patients who request his presence. Some, he said, seek to reconnect with their faith. Others have questions or simply want someone to pray with them.

His job is never to share his own beliefs. He is there to listen, to hold a person's hand, and like everyone on the hospice team, to offer comfort and support.

"If they express a desire for a chaplain, I am coming much more to listen than to preach," he said.

Dedic said he recalls a time when a Muslim patient asked him to pray with him. Dedic was hesitant, because he didn't know any prayers from that man's religion. The patient assured Dedic that a prayer to God to relieve his pain was all he needed, regardless of the words that were chosen.

"There is just one God," the man reminded Dedic.

"It was very touching for me," Dedic said.

Dedic married his wife Vera 53 years ago and credits a healthy lifestyle for making his long marriage, his long career and his long life possible. He eats a vegetarian diet of organic foods, has never had a single taste of alcohol, and begins each day with prayer while driving his daughter to school at the Seventh-day Adventist Academy in Hinsdale.

It's typical for Dedic to drive more than 100 miles each day as he travels from patient to patient, but he still can't see an end to his half-century-long career.

"I cannot imagine," he said.

- story by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean