Those who imagine that the work of a hospice chaplain is depressing should talk to Bonney Rega, a Forest Park resident and hospice chaplain with Lexington Health Network Hospice in Lombard, or read her recently published book Everyday Miracles, Tales of Life Beyond Life.
Rega talks about what she does with a sense of wonder and a kind of reverent joy.
“As a hospice chaplain,” she explained in the introduction to Everyday Miracles, “I’ve been privileged to be present with, and act as a midwife to, those who are about to cross the great divide into the next level of existence. Sitting in vigil with dying patients creates a sacred space where patients and family members can share their most profound experiences—sometimes tearfully, sometimes quietly, and sometimes joyously.”
She calls herself a spiritual midwife, because when we die, she said, “we drop our bodies and go on to the next birth.” She quoted one patient, who was “clinically dead” for a few minutes and then regained a pulse and normal functioning, as remarking, “Dying is so easy. You take one breath in this body and the next breath in a healthy body.”
Rega emphasized that empathy is critical to the work of a hospice chaplain. She said, “When I meet a patient I find out where they are in terms of religion and spirituality, and that’s where I go. I do not impose any of my theories thoughts beliefs or feelings on a patient or their family.”
After trust has been created and a sense of where the patient is at has been achieved, she said “I gently ease them into talking about death, what is it that you want or anticipate or expect or are afraid of. That’s what I’m after, and then I try to help them. If they don’t want to go there, that’s fine.”
Rega’s book is filled with her experiences which some might call paranormal and which confirm to her that there is no judgment or hell, that everyone will “cross over to the celestial realms” when they die. In the book’s introduction she wrote, “These stories—all of them true—tell of departed souls who comfort their loved ones, of angels and guides who impart wisdom and wit, and of archetypal beings who tease and teach those who reach out to them.”
The first chapter, for example, is about how people who have died communicate with loved ones through dreams. “One of the most common ways people connect from the other side,” she wrote, “is through dreams. The dreams through which souls contact their living loved ones are very different from ordinary dreams.”
These dreams, she explained, are vivid, rational, usually suffused with light and don’t fade away when the dreamer wakes up. Often the people in the dreams pass along information. For instance, Rega tells the story of a man who became depressed after his wife’s death and cried constantly for two months, till one day he told his daughter about a dream he had.
“Your mother came to me last night in a dream,” he said. “It was so real. She was partying with all her dead Scottish friends and relatives … and she waved good bye to me. I think she was telling me she’s moved on.”
“[After that dream] his extreme depression lifted,” said Rega.
Chaplain Rega is very aware that many people who read her book will respond with skepticism or even think she is crazy. She responds, usually with an understanding smile, by saying, “Even though our culture doesn’t particularly value stories like these, people keep having unusual experiences despite this cultural indifference and sometimes despite downright hostility.
“In the privacy of my grief groups,” she continued, “I’ve found that participants are eager to share their remarkable stories of life after life—and sometimes life before life.”
“These stories show us the many different ways souls choose to communicate in this rich, multidimensional universe,” she concluded. “Do we have explanations for all these events? Not really. I offer these tales because they happened; you can judge whether they resonate with your own experiences.”
As to why more people don’t have these paranormal experiences, she speculates that people don’t find what they aren’t looking for or open to. To explain she tells the story of two brothers who were with family members at their father’s wake. One brother spontaneously said out loud, “Give us a sign that you’re all right, Dad.”
Just then one of the flower arrangements around the coffin started shaking violently. Explaining to his brother why this happened, he said, “Maybe it’s because I’m open to these experiences.”
Rega began her working life teaching art at the college level and working in advertising, but she kept having these mystical experiences which she didn’t understand. To get at what this “gift” she had been given was, she studied under a series of meditation and spiritual teachers.
Contrasting her intuitive approach to connecting with the divine with western religions like Judaism, Christianity and Islam which depend more on revelation in their Scriptures, she said, “You learn to trust that inner voice. Your earthly desires are certainly linked to what I would call your heavenly desires, but you have to move through that to get to the deepest desires of your spirit. It took a lot of cosmic training for me to understand my intuitions and trust them.”
She found a spiritual home in the Church of All, in which she was ordained in 1987.
Rega ends Everyday Miracles by urging, “If you haven’t already done so, open your heart and mind—you, too, can have an exciting experience or two. A heavenly messenger, a disembodied friend or relation may be trying to reach you through your intuition, your dreams, or your five senses.”