This past weekend Joel and I attended a deacon formation seminar presented by Hospice of Southwest Iowa. The facilitators opened their presentation by asking, “What kind of experience have you had with hospice?” One by one, the deacon candidates and wives shared our stories. A few had little to no intimate experience; several recalled a story of how hospice provided comfort during the final weeks and days of a loved one’s life. The story I shared is a little unique, I imagine.
Dateline: September 30, 2009. My father was working in his backyard when a falling tree struck him. My mom wasn’t home at the time of the accident, but the neighbor couple down the road witnessed it and came rushing to dad’s aid. The husband, Todd, is an emergency medical technician/paramedic; his wife Angie is a hospice nurse. Can’t imagine two better people to be at my dad’s side in that moment. Should God’s will be for my dad to survive, an EMT was on the scene to provide life-saving first aid. And should God call my dad Home, who better than a hospice nurse to hold his hand and usher him from this life into the next? Hospice professionals may know death better than any other. Most medical professionals are in the business of saving lives. Hospice professionals attempt to facilitate a comfortable and peaceful death and dying experience for the terminally ill.
Todd and Angie recognized that my dad had experienced blunt-force trauma. Todd performed all the first aid he could, but it simply wasn’t God’s will for my dad to survive. Angie held dad’s hand and said something on the order of: “Lenny, if it’s your time to go meet Jesus, go. Your family will be taken care of. It’s okay. Go meet Jesus.” And my dad died there in his backyard at the scene of the accident.
I’ve since witnessed hospice in action several times since my dad’s death. There was the time a few friends and I prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet at the bedside of our friend’s mom, mere hours before she passed away. Another time I put on a “last concert” in the hospice house for a fellow parishioner dying of cancer. Or there’s this story about the young couple who called in perinatal hospice after being told their baby in the womb had, at best, only a few hours to live once delivered.
So many stories. So many tears. So many Hail Marys. And a hospice nurse was present in all of them to offer compassion, comfort, and holistic care. Certainly there must be a special place in Heaven for them!
St. Joseph is the patron of the dying. It’s been written that at the hour of his death, Jesus and Mary stood at his bedside. St. Joseph enjoyed the consolation of dying in the loving arms of Jesus. Can you even imagine, dying in the arms of the Son of God? That’s why many call upon St. Joseph’s intercession for a happy death. He experienced it perhaps like no other.
As Christians we must emulate Jesus, to be Christ-like in this world. You and I may never know what it’s like to have the Good Shepherd himself sitting by our deathbed. But for those who call upon the care of hospice, they generally have the next best thing: dying with someone by their side, holding their hand, whose primary concern is shepherding them from this life into the next. Just like Angie did for my dad.
What a gift.
As we near the end of National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, just a special note to express my gratitude for the hospice professionals who embrace and live their call, who provide compassion and comfort to the terminally ill, and remove barriers preventing a peaceful (or as peaceful as possible) death. Thank you, and God bless.
St. Joseph, patron of a happy death, pray for us!
* Remembrance hand molds are a loving tribute to and a permanent reminder of a loved one. A remembrance hand mold is a three-dimensional replica of the patient’s hand joined to another’s hand, so that after the patient is gone, their memory can live on.