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Hospice organizations earn healing award

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The Interfaith Alliance of Hawaii celebrated more than 40 years of hospice care in Hawaii on Sunday at its ninth annual awards dinner, recognizing St. Francis Hospice and five other organizations in the field with its "Healing Role in Hawaii" honor.

Sister Maureen Keleher established palliative care in Hawaii in 1968 by opening five rooms at St. Francis Hospital to help people with terminal cancer live out their lives comfortably in a homelike setting, said Sister Joan Chatfield of the Interfaith Alliance.

Sharing the healing award were Hospice Hawaii, Gregory House, Islands Hospice, Bristol Hospice-Hawaii and Kokua Mau.

The 2011 community awards were presented at the Interfaith Alliance’s annual recognition dinner at the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii.

The keynote speaker was Clarence Liu, chaplain at Hospice Hawaii, who joined the organization in 2000 to better learn how to support his aging parents. Liu was a priest for 20 years in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu before leaving to work with homeless people and at the Hawaii State Hospital.

In an interview, Liu said that as he grew older "I learned the lessons we all have to learn, that it’s not really about death. It’s about facing life’s changes — how fragile life is, how important it is to live life fully today."

Many of the hospice patients he has spoken with have expressed tremendous regret over what they have not said to loved ones, Liu said. He said people often say something like, "‘If I only had my husband here for one more hour,’" and he urges, "Do it now. Do it today."

The problem most people have is, "We don’t live in the present; it’s always tomorrow — ‘manana.’ But there should be an urgency to live with the awareness that this may be my last breath," Liu said.

"You should welcome the joy, but welcome the sorrow, too, because sorrow is going to leave, too."

Liu cited as an example Viktor Frankl, a neurologist and psychiatrist from Vienna who survived Nazi concentration camps in World War II because he wanted to see his wife again.

With so many cultures and religions represented in Hawaii’s diverse population, Liu said he will bring in a minister of the patient’s faith if it differs from his Christian perspective.

"My role is as a spiritual caregiver," he said. "I deal with universal questions. The ultimate question (patients have) is, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen.’"

Some people’s concept of religion is that if they are good, they are going to heaven and if they are bad, they are going to hell, he said.

"It doesn’t take much faith to believe in a religion in which bad guys are punished, which sounds like what I — and what humans— would do. My point is it takes great faith to love and care no matter what happens," Liu said.

After 40 years in the ministry, "I still can’t tell you what’s going to happen (after death). Faith is simply trusting even though there’s no proof. All you can do is to hope and trust and love. There is no guarantee about the outcome of everything. Life is not a bargain with God. I trust that there is something more."

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