Peace and comfort
Though not all people seek God when they're in their last moments, former pastor and chaplain Fred Vogel is with all people who choose Mt. Hood Hospice for their end-of-life care, helping them find peace and comfort regardless of their faith relationship.
Vogel has been a man of faith since a young age. He wasn't raised in a religious household but came by faith in high school when a friend invited him to their church. As such, he still never anticipated just how gratifying a position he'd have later in life helping people come to terms with death.
"I thought early on, even in high school, that I'd be a pastor," Vogel said. "I wanted to come alongside people and help them in a time of crisis. I imagined that to be a very fulfilling occupation and career."
Vogel's college experience only reinforced his passion for ministry as he gained experience leading a community of faith as a youth group leader.
"In college, I worked with a youth group and saw the difference it could make and that (positive experience) just kept spilling over," he said.
It was an offer to lead his own congregation that brought the Chicago-native to Sandy in 1982. Vogel spent 46 years at a Sandy-based church as a pastor, before signing on to serve as an on-call chaplain with Mt. Hood Hospice in 2008.
"We'd just had our fifth child when I got the job offer in Sandy and we thought 'what a great place to raise our kids,'" Vogel explained. His children all went through the local schools and grew up in the Sandy community.
"The congregation I pastored was very supportive of me and my wife and family," he added. "The community needs a pastor at different times, whether its during hospice, weddings or deaths. I was among other pastors who became like pastors to the greater community. I found that really rewarding."
In 2011, Vogel joined the board of Mt. Hood Hospice. He retired from the church in 2016 and became a part-time chaplain for the hospice, another position that he said has been extremely rewarding.
"In my role as a pastor, I came across hospice workers because I'd be with people who were on hospice," Vogel said. "I'd see the great work the hospice workers were doing. Then, when the hospice chaplain asked me to fill in, I got a taste for what it's like to come alongside those who are dying. I saw the great value of it and felt that with the gifts I've been given, it seemed to fit really well."
Vogel has sat with hundreds of people in their final hours over the past three years. Some were already religious, some were looking for salvation, and others simply needed a companion.
"When people are at the end of life, spiritual beliefs are often triggered and reawakened," Vogel said. "Some people decline seeing a chaplain because it's religions in nature but they're really not religious. But there are so many different ways to come alongside people. What we do is come alongside and journey with patients who are looking for comfort, for meaning, strength and hope. I've found hospice workers to have a certain reverence and compassion in relationships of trust," he added. "That makes hospice work really spiritual by nature. I've found I have to practice more mindfulness, awareness and listening in my position as chaplain. Those are vital. When I walk into the room of someone who doesn't have a future on Earth, that requires me to come completely into the present. I have to set my life aside and let go of what might be happening to me. I have to leave an agenda at the door. I'm not here to solve their problems. I'm here to be with them."
When Vogel is called upon to sit with someone who's not religious, he noted that he finds many ways to still be present and comforting for people.
"I've found I can connect with people with poetry or music," Vogel explained. He added that even those suffering from pronounced ailments and nearing death seem to find joy and comfort in music, even if they can't participate in it. "It doesn't have to be a prayer or a ritual or reading from the Bible."
From his experience with hospice, Vogel said that he's found a great respect for the people who make hospice their full-time career.
"I feel privileged to be able to be with an organization of people who've been doing this work for 40 years in our community," he said. "They say that when a person retires it's important they have a sense of purpose, and I've found my work in retirement to give me a tremendous sense of purpose and great friends to work with. I've met people who are dying who've really taught me how to live."
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