Red River Valley Hospice chaplain pens book about her experienceLending a listening ear to dying patients has changed the way Janna Kontz looks at life. “I always tell my kids: ‘Live today the way you want people to remember you,’ ” said Kontz, chaplain at Hospice of the Red River Valley.
Lending a listening ear to dying patients has changed the way Janna Kontz looks at life.
“I always tell my kids: ‘Live today the way you want people to remember you,’ ” said Kontz, chaplain at Hospice of the Red River Valley. Knotz, who lives in Mayville, N.D., has worked for the organization since 2008. On average, she has a caseload of about 40 hospice clients, and on each visit, she offers a listening ear and — if they are seeking it — spiritual assistance to dying men, women and children.
Her time as a chaplain presented several real-life experiences, and earlier this year, Kontz wrote a book about those experiences.
“Journeys to Home” is a collection of narratives about some of her clients. The people featured include a baby Kontz calls Tyler and Mike, a young man who was Kontz’s first, to Ole, a 100-year-old man. (Kontz changed the names of her clients to protect their privacy.)
She didn’t set out to write a book but instead had written the stories as a way to process her clients’ deaths, Kontz said. She thought she would share the stories with others to help those who are working with the dying. But she didn’t intend to publish at first.
“It was me, writing for me,” she said.
But when Kontz noticed an advertisement in Guideposts magazine seeking a manuscript for a contest, she decided to submit her collection, even though it was shorter than the contest rules specified.
A representative from Guideposts called and told her the manuscript was too short, but that the publication wished to publish her collection as a book, Kontz said.
The time spent with the 16 people she wrote about and her many other clients — during the past five years — have made her comfortable with death.
“I see death as a transition from this world to the next. My faith allows me to do that. … The wall is so thin between this world and the next. I’ve never seen it as a scary thing.”
‘It wouldn’t leave me alone’
Kontz was serving a church in Mayville and waiting for a call from another in 2008 when she saw an advertisement for the Hospice of the Red River Valley chaplain position.
After Kontz read the ad, she put the classified section in her recycling bin. She didn’t think about it again until one week later when she was putting coffee mugs in storage. She fished the ad out of the bin, and this time, she cut it out and set it aside.
Part of her hesitation in pursuing the chaplain position was that it required a lot of travel. Kontz didn’t know if she wanted to spend so many hours behind the wheel or if she wanted to put that many miles on her car. But something kept nagging at her to apply.
“It wouldn’t leave me alone,” she said.
Kontz finally applied and within a week, she was interviewed for the job and accepted the position.
“I thought it was just an interim, a stopgap until a call comes,” she said.
But the job allowed her to do something she didn’t often get to do in her work as a church pastor — visit people in their homes.
“In a parish, visitation gets pushed to the bottom,” she said.
In Kontz’s job as hospice chaplain, she listens to people’s stories, she said. Although she is a pastor, she doesn’t bring religion into the conversation. She does seek to give them spiritual care and to be with them on their end-of-life journey.
The time that Kontz spends in the car, instead of being the burden that she feared, has become a sacred time for her, she said.
“I do a lot of praying. I have a list of patients in my car. I pray for the patients on that list every day.” The time that she is alone in the car also gives her the opportunity to mentally work through the grief she experiences after her clients’ deaths.
“I tend to spend a lot of grieving time in my car.” After Kontz grieves her clients’ deaths, she has to prepare herself to minister to the living.
“If there are two patients who die today, we have three more coming in tomorrow,” she said.
Photography, sewing and, most of all, her family help her relieve stress.
“Family is incredibly important. … Every day I journey home.”
Copyright 2013, Grand Forks Herald.