Compassion at its best
As the hospice chaplain for Sanford, I am often asked the question, “How can you stand to be around a dying person?”
Well, let me see if I can enlighten you, the reader, a little bit about this fear of being around the dying.
Death is a part of life and it does not go away. It happens to everyone and there are people who would rather sweep it “under the rug” and hope it will go away. It does not. It comes whether we want it or not. Whether it comes suddenly and there is not a chance to say good-bye or it lingers and there is a chance to bid those farewells … but it does come.
Now here comes the question I ask you … do you want to die alone? Being alone is lonely and death has some valleys and shadows to it and who wants to go through the valleys and shadows without some comfort and support? That is why Psalm 23 is such a comfort to read to the dying. There is no loneliness in that Psalm. There is a shepherd [Jesus] whose “rod and staff comfort you.” Psalm 23 is a visual picture of peace and displays tenderness.
The word hospice sometimes will strike a fear in a person’s heart because they equate the word with death. And who wants to be around death? For some people it is just too much sorrow, too much emotion of pain, and grief hangs around like a dense fog. Why do people call an ambulance? There is need, something has happened, and there is pain involved. The ambulance is on its way and the patient is comforted knowing he or she is not alone and a trained and skilled compassionate staff will prepare the patient for the journey ahead. For me hospice is compassion at its BEST. Hospice is the comfort measure for the journey ahead.
When the apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Colossians, he went on to say, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” It is a statement to all of humanity that we have been given these gifts from God and we are to use them in the situations of life. We who work with hospice know the compassion we give is the deep tenderness of the human heart to the patient who deserves the dignity of his/her life as it reaches the end. Hospice is the empathy of putting aside our own personal agendas to extend kindness and patience for the life ending. It is clothing ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.
When I sit with a hospice patient, particularly at the hospice cottage, I often find the family and the patient give more to me than I give to them. Families can recount those funny times together growing up as well as sharing their grief while the patient rests. Sometimes the room is loud and noisy with kids sitting on the floor putting puzzles together or coloring; or the room is quiet with soft music playing. Sometimes the blinds are drawn because the light is too bright and sometimes the window is open and the birds sing softly to one another. Hospice is the living life among the dying, and it is also a gift to those dying that they are not alone but being cared for with dignity and grace.
This week marks the annual Hospice Charity Banquet. It will be my first, and I look forward to it. This community has a very dedicated group of volunteers and staff who know firsthand how to deliver compassion at its best, and this is why I am part of this team. It is also part of who God has called me to be as “holy and beloved, clothed … with compassion.”
Hospice is walking with the dying to start their new life.