For Bonny Versboncoeur, her work as chaplain of Waldo County Home Health & Hospice is “a very rich reminder for me that each moment is precious.”

A Soto Zen Buddhist priest, she studied with the late master Katagiri Roshi (“Roshi” is a title of respect given to certain Zen masters) in Minnesota, whom she described as “the first full human being I ever saw.” Versboncoeur now has an interfaith ministry to hospice patients, family, staff and volunteers. She is also volunteer chaplain for Hospice Volunteers of Waldo County.

Having grown up Roman Catholic in Wisconsin, she began questioning Catholic teachings in her 20s. She first came to Belfast 25 years ago because “I missed a turn on the road” from Kingston, Ontario, to Nova Scotia. She said she felt at home in Belfast right away.

In August 2009 she started with Home Health & Hospice and the Hospice Volunteers. She said she’s still assessing the needs of the organizations and their patients. Meanwhile, she talks to families on the phone, visits hospice patients at their homes and in the hospital, and supports hospice staff and volunteers. She also helps train volunteers to offer patients spiritual support. Doing this work, she said, “allows me to be much more in touch with the fragility of life.”

One of the important lessons she teaches volunteers, staff and family members is that “when we are care taking, it’s vital to remember that we’re still one of the people we’re taking care of.” She emphasized that the needs of patients and families can change from one visit to the next, so attentive, empathetic listening is crucial.

The main difference between offering support to patients who are dying, as opposed to those who expect to recover, has to do with the sense of a “looming endpoint,” said Versboncoeur, and having business to finish.

“For some people [terminal illness] is an amazing opportunity to appreciate each morning they wake up,” she said. She is struck by the “nobility of patients accepting the preciousness of life,” and of medical staff and family members walking beside them.

To contact Waldo County Home Health & Hospice, call 338-2268.