End of Life Caregiving

It doesn’t happen much anymore in our modern era of automobiles and public transit, but in the “olden days” one would often walk a companion to his or her home…Walking someone home allowed the opportunity to give protection and guidance to the destined dwelling place…Sometimes this walking was done mostly in silence. Sometimes there was much talking going on. In any event, the walk home was one of companionship, trust, and appreciation of each other.
(Sr. Joyce Rupp, hospice volunteer, in May I Walk You Home? Courage and Comfort for Caregivers of the Very Ill)

As a hospice chaplain when I sat with patients who were dying imminently and their families, I felt God’s presence more profoundly than I had in the number of years preceding when I was a church pastor. That was true because of Joyce Rupp’s reminder. Whenever I kept vigil with their loved ones, I had a profound sense that we were helping to walk them home to God. God was an unseen escort on that final journey on earth. Those of us at the bedside were not able to go the whole way to the end of the road with this person; those final steps were left to God and this beloved. While we accompanied this beloved patient, though, we were helping God to escort the dying one home. What a profound honor! What a sad journey for us, too, as we prepared to say goodbye to this one and to trust God to provide safety and love on the part of the journey that was beyond our ability to complete!

Anyone who has cared for a loved one who is dying may look back and say similar things. Theirs was a shared journey with God as an unseen but no less real companion along the way. It was a journey that was characterized by talking, laughing; weeping; remembering; silently holding a hand or wiping a brow; praying; reading scripture; providing for the beloved’s physical needs; and waiting, sometimes patiently, sometimes not.

If you have been on such a journey or if you are on such a journey now, you can’t remove the emotional and spiritual roller coaster on which you may find yourself. There are no words that any of us can offer to caregivers of the dying to level the emotional and spiritual roller coaster or to remove death’s sting. What we can offer, though, and what caregivers at end of life might do well to remember, is that none of us are on these journeys home to God alone. We have each other. We have God. We have Jesus’ gentle reminder, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4, NRSV)

As you walk your beloved home, don’t try to talk or think away the sting of death and the throb of grief. Acknowledge them; experience them. And look to the day on the other side of death’s valley where the sun is still shining as it has always shined. Allow your friends and family to comfort and love you. Allow God to comfort and love you. Allow them to walk your journey with you. And “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13, NRSV)

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