Finding New Life As A Hospice Chaplain


Today’s episode focuses on someone I’ve known for a long time. Don Hessemer and I were part of a Saturday morning running group when I lived in Central New Jersey. He had a 38-year career as an environmental consultant in New York and New Jersey. But in 2018, Don decided it was time for a change.

So at the age of 61, a time when many people are counting the days to retirement, Don decided to switch careers and become a hospice chaplain. Everyday he works with patients and their families as they approach the end of life. 

When I read Don’s announcement about this new position on Facebook, I remember thinking to myself, “What an awful and difficult job.” But Don doesn’t think of it awful or difficult. And in some ways, he doesn’t even think of it as a job. It took him nearly 40 years but he feels that he has found his true calling.

Don’s path to his work as a hospice chaplain began shortly after his ordination as a deacon in the Catholic Church. “One of the priests in our parish would frequent the Center for Hope Hospice in Scotch Plains right here in town. And he would say mass maybe once a month. And he kind of introduced me to the whole hospice world. I mean, I really knew nothing about hospice. Hospice was a place where people went to die.”

Today, Don works 40 hours a week helping patients and families negotiate difficult, “end of life” challenges.

Don’s role as a deacon allowed him to officiate at his daughter Brittany’s wedding. He walked her down the aisle in a three-piece suit, made a “superman change” into his vestments in the sacristy and then conducted the ceremony.

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