Reiki at the End of Life (Part 1)

Bill StevensEnglish 11 Comments

Bill story


I would like to share a little bit about myself and how Reiki came into my life. In 1980 after teaching 25 years in the Christian Brothers schools, I trained as a chaplain at the Hospital of St. Raphael in West Haven, CT. This type of training is called Clinical Pastoral Education, and it is a 9 month residency program, exposing you to patients in life threatening situations, while being supported by intense supervision and peer review.

I can clearly remember my first day on the hospital floor. You were sent on the floor to learn by experience. That was the way it was. This was not book learning. In the first room I walked into, on the Pulmonary Intensive Care Unit, my first assignment, I discovered the patient was actively dying. His spouse was with him, anxiously watching his final moments. I am not proud of what I did next. I talked myself into moving to other visits on my floor. I was completely unaware of my fear, of my own anxiety, my own unresolved issues around death. And so I moved on to another room. A few moments later a nurse found me and sent me back into the room.

And I got the message, all the spouse needed was someone to BE with her.

We wrote verbatims during the training. Verbatims are exact accounts of our visits – preferably the most troublesome ones. Then we sat down with our supervisor and 6 peers and we went over that visit moment by moment. Here we began to learn what was going on inside of us during the visit, most of which we were unconscious of – getting in touch with those unconscious things which drove our actions and responses. We did this five days a week for 9 months. You can imagine the stuff that came up for each of us, looking at issues we would never have had the courage or skills to look at by ourselves.

One such example was, after the first three months, it was suggested to me, that I no longer wear my black suit and collar in the hospital. Wow, how terrifying that was for me. Nothing for me to hide behind anymore. 

I can remember walking over to the hospital the next day in my red plaid jacket and tie. No one batted an eye – greeted me as if nothing had changed. But something changed in me – I never wore the black suit and collar again.

I came to realize that when I walked into a room, all the person saw was the collar and all the stuff they carried about that – good and bad. But they did not see me. When I had visited with my collar, some people would throw me out as I appeared at the door. Now I was able to walk a few steps into the room and let them who I was, before they threw me out.

One of the deep lessons I learned in the Chaplaincy training experience was that Bill was enough. My role as chaplain was merely a ticket to enter the room. And then I had to learn to be quiet enough to be aware of my desire to run away and later sit with that and discover why. It was an ongoing process. One of my later teachers gave us instructions on how to be with a dying patient:

  • Come into the room
  • Sit down
  • Feel your body and breathe
  • Watch the tendency you have to make something happen
  • Talk less
  • Listen more
  • Touch when appropriate
  • Respond to what is actually happening in front of you

Henry Nouwen, a well known spiritual writer of that day, was a professor at Yale University at the time I was at the hospital. He wrote a book called, The Wounded Healer. He said each of us is called to be a wounded healer. Not because we have no pain, but because of our pain

It was helpful to learn that it is because of my woundedness that I can know and understand and have compassion for another.

So this training, which continues to be used today for chaplains of all denominations, taught me:

That I am enough – All I need to do is fully show up at the bedsie of the person and just bring my human presence and my undivided attention. These are the greatest gifts I can offer another person.

Bill Stevens is a Christian Brother who taught in their schools for 25 years before working for 10 years in three different hospitals as a Chaplain. This led him to work with the HIV/AIDS community for the next 12 years during which time he created a non-profit organization called Chrysalis Ministry to reach out to those affected by this epidemic. He learned Reiki at this time which started him on his 20 year journey with Reiki. He presently is a Reiki Master and has taught Reiki for the past ten years and studied with seven Reiki Masters. He presently works with the VNA Hospice in Central Jersey as a Reiki practitioner and was recognized by the NJHPCO in 2010 as Hospice Reiki Practitioner of the Year.

Bill is a Shinpiden Reiki III graduate of the International House of Reiki and is a Reiki teacher and practitioner for the Shelter Animal Reiki Association which was founded to bring Reiki to animal shelters across the country.

Comments 11

  1. Avatar of Frans Stiene
  2. Avatar of Heiné de Waal

    Thank you Bill for sharing valuable information with us Reiki practitioners.

    As a Reiki practitioner of more than 15 years I had my fair share of working with terminally ill clients. I had to learn by “trial and error”.

  3. Avatar of Dale Payne
  4. Avatar of Paula Michal-Johnson

    We are planning an in-service for our Reiki Clinic volunteers for tomorrow.  What a gift to offer them!  Thank you for your commitment AND your willingness to share from the depths of your heart.  It was great to hear this in New York first hand and see and feel the heart in action.

  5. Avatar of Shivcoomar Baichoo

    Thank you Bill for sharing your experience. Healing is our inherent legacy in this physical body. As a retired medical practitioner I have witnessed deaths and the ensuing agony of relatives and health care workers alike. My first experience was very traumatic. My training did not help to face the reality of life. Realization dawned upon me that life and death are the two sides of the same coin. We rejoice at the new arrival. The exit from this physical body do not demand much from us. Compassion, love, a few tender touch and the positive thoughts during that critical time is perhaps not too much to expect from anybody.
    Love & best wishes.

  6. Avatar of Frans Stiene
  7. Avatar of Ken Thomson

    Thank you for sharing your story Bill, the role that Reiki can play at end-of-life is an area that I am very interested in. I have often reflected on wether or not I am a ‘wounded healer’ and your story has promoted me to revisit it again. You comment “because of my woundedness that I can know and understand and have compassion for another” has resonated with me deeply.
    Thank you

  8. Avatar of bill stevens

    I appreciate all the comments.  The book written by Henri Nouwen called “The Wounded Healer” was a big seller because we could easily relate to it and feel less inadequate as we became aware of our vulnerability.

  9. Avatar of Frans Stiene
  10. Avatar of Susan

    As always, my friend, mentor and healing companion, you are the best!
    I am deeply grateful that you were looking for help a few years ago, at the same time as I was looking to serve in hospice.  It’s been a joy working with and being guided by you.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

  11. Avatar of JJ

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