Imagine yourself in a room full of one hundred close family and friends, celebrating a life of an extraordinary woman. This remarkable woman was a tenacious fighter of Parkinson’s disease for twenty-six years, and you only knew her in the final months of her long fight. You are a stranger to nearly every person in the room, photographs appear on the slideshow of much healthier woman you barely recognize, and you sit next to a son you’ve only exchanged emails with regarding his mother’s care; yet you’ve never felt more at home. Completely welcomed in this room full of strangers, you are treated as if you were a life-long caregiver, because her final moments were as precious as her very first moments in this world. Sharing tears and stories of your work together, this hour brings a sense of closure and honor for the time spent caring for her.
As a hospice social worker, I provide comfort to those nearing the end of life. And in all cases, I feel closer to Christ in my ministry. “We” in the hospice world often ask ourselves, “How can we not feel closer to God in the work that we do?” It is undeniable that death is a spiritual experience.
I see hospice work as a true vocation; our tender care is nourishment for the journey from this life to eternal life in Heaven. How much more humbling can a job get? As the blessing from the Order of Christian Funerals provides a strengthening anointing to those nearing end of life, so too does the hospice team give nourishment for the journey. We provide dignity, comfort, and compassion to our patients’ final days of their earthly life. Thérèse of Lisieux reminds us that at the time of death, we are not dying; we are in fact entering life! Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we are given the gift of Heaven. When families let go of their loved one to enter into death, the peace that comes of that moment reminds me of Thérèse’s words, as they are indeed entering a perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity.
“Live each day to the fullest, as if it were our last one,” is a phrase many of us use. This cliché phrase is often underappreciated. How often do we truly live each moment? If every thought and action were executed with anticipation for death, how different would we actually live each moment? Wouldn’t our consciences seem much quieter? Talk of death is never easy, as it is a topic close to each of our hearts. Death most often is scary and comes “like a thief at night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). When we begin the conversation, let us remember that upon death, we are in fact entering new life in Heaven. Each person in my care is a gift, a reminder of my own mortality and the anticipation for the communion with God in Heaven.