When my father-in-law died several years ago he was approaching 92 and had been living on his own in a small apartment designed for independent senior adult living. Dad had some heart problems, but was generally healthy and active until a few days before he died. Then one morning he fell in his apartment and the EMTs were called. His doctor ran a series of tests. Dad was suffering from congestive heart failure and it was serious. The doctor suggested hospice care. The hospice nurse helped us to absorb the fact that Dad was dying. The nurse also helped Dad, a strong man who found the thought of having to depend on others for care humiliating, retain some sense of independence, even as he prepared for death.
My mother died a few years later just a few days short of her 90th birthday. She was living in Phoenix at the time and had been in adult care facilities for several years. A few weeks before her death her caregivers called me and suggested that it might be time to consider hospice care. I flew out to Arizona to make arrangements and met the hospice nurses who would be coming to care for Mom. They were wonderful, and over the next few weeks they formed a deep and caring relationship with my mother, her caregivers, and with me. Mom was coming to the end of her journey and she was carrying a difficult cross. The hospice nurses helped her to carry it with dignity.
When I read this passage from John’s Gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only son …,” I find myself adding under my breath “… and hospice caregivers … .” Signs of God’s healing, these men and women empty themselves so that when their patients are “… worn out by the journey …” they might find in their final days some foretaste of eternal life. With skill and gentleness they offer the work of their human hands. Perhaps it is no wonder, then, that when death finally comes, God works through those same hands to lift the dying up to glory.
Van Benthem is a member of the Secular Franciscan Order and a longtime pastoral minister, retreat leader, spiritual director and published writer and poet.