Compassion in Palliative Care

Kathryn Perry '10
Kathryn Perry '10

The Rev. Kathryn Perry '10 steers head-on into what most of us shove aside until left without any choice: death—and prioritizing what is important during the transition from life to deaeth. As a palliative care chaplain at the University of Kentucky's Chandler Hospital, her days straddle this life and the next for families of every background and belief.

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Perry’s work requires putting the self aside to enter a sacred and exceedingly difficult place, listening carefully to the needs of the most vulnerable and being supportive of her peers on the palliative care team. Together they tend “the sickest of the sick” from around the state, meeting them at any point in an illness. “Pain is physical, emotional and spiritual,” she explains, which is why the palliative care team is interdisciplinary. Much of her work is about helping people with anxiety and providing emotional support.

“The listening component is one of the most beautiful things about what I get to do every day,” she says. “I invite people to tell me about their lives or what’s important to them, what they value.” More often than not, it isn’t a party affiliation or a particular argument that rises to the top—“it is spending time with the people they love, it is going fishing or watching television and eating ice cream—those very simple, seemingly ordinary pieces of life that really make us who we are.”

These end-of-life lessons are ripe for the living. For Perry, it’s about being willing to leave your preconceptions behind and to meet people where they are—the golden rule of hospital chaplains—“not necessarily to try to change that place, but to try to understand and see where they’re coming from.” Connecting to people through their stories is something she believes her Transy education prepared her to do.

Perry sees her Transy education as a whole. “All of the classes collectively taught me to be a certain kind of person and thinker,” she says, and professors, campus initiatives and alumni continue to inspire her. “They’re teaching people how to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”

Listening deeply, being curious, willing to challenge the familiar and learning to value others above ourselves, are testaments of who Pioneers become. “They’re teaching people how to live the values that Transy espouses and that brought me to Transy,” Perry adds. “They’re teaching by showing and by modeling what it means to live a generous life.