Ask yourself this question: “If I was hospitalized next month and told I only had 6 months or less to live, how would I react?” This is not a query about the immediate reaction—shock, extreme grief, fear, etc. I’m referring to life within the dying process.
Yes, this is a gloomy topic for a jubilant Friday afternoon, but perhaps it’s more palatable now than say, a Monday morning.
Last night I trained a new “Friends in Faith” volunteer to care spiritually for patients at the hospice unit at Penrose Main. We made the rounds visiting people of various ages and various stages of dying. At the end of our time, I described the intense feeling when I encounter the rare soul who oozes Jesus in the midst suffering. I said to her, “It’s as if all of heaven is present in the room…”
I visited a man named Wes not too long ago. He was in his early 60s and had been diagnosed with colon cancer earlier that week. It had metastasized in his bones. Wes went from normal life one day to a death sentence the next—and now they attempted to stabilize him so he could leave the hospital and die at home.
His wife, and two daughters in from California, sat in chairs surrounding his bed. I picked up on heavy sorrow. But I also sensed peace. I asked a couple of questions, and learned that Wes and his wife ran a ministry here in town. They shared their plans for the immediate future and the miracles they had already witnessed that week. Then we all held hands and prayed. There were tears. I had walked onto holy ground and knew it.
Whenever I leave patients of strong faith, I do so with a perspective and closeness to God like none other I’ve known.
I visited two other folks after Wes, then stopped in the lobby to wash my hands. Wes’ daughter came up to me at the sink and mentioned that after I left her father talked about me and led the family in prayer for my ministry that night to other patients. Wow. As someone who is rarely at loss for words—I have a mouthy refrigerator magnet, “She wasn’t always right, but she was always articulate”—I scarcely knew what to say.
In the midst of his grief and shock, he had the wherewithal to lift me up in prayer. I thought—as I often think when I meet someone like him—“Man, how can I get there faith wise.” As I’ve talked about in other blogs, I’m tripped up more often than not. Peace is elusive at this point, and a deep, intimate walk with God seems just out of reach.
But there is a goal! It’s to live and die in light of this verse is what I want for myself:
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” 1 Corinthians 15:55-57.
My friends well know that working in hospice gives me a morbid air. I bring up death in the midst of everyday conversation. I tell one of my favorite pastors that if my favorite friend pastor from New Life, a woman, is not allowed to co-lead my funeral from the pulpit, I’m making alternative plans. (I like to work that topic in wherever possible…)
But facing the ravages of death each week and engaging the dying spiritually, continues to give me a growing perspective on my own life. How about you? How do you envision dealing with life inside of the dying process?