“Does everyone at your company feel like a failure because all of your patients die?” My eighteen-year-old son genuinely wanted to know.
I explained to him that end of life care is not about dying. It’s about helping people live as well as they can during their final days. For people in the hospice industry, death isn’t failure; it’s the completion of life.
In a society of doers, fixers, and achievers, the contentment that hospice employees find in their work can be difficult to understand. Our culture measures worth by success. Value is correlated to productivity. Identity is defined by what we can do rather than who we are.
And yet, so often in the work of caring for the dying and grieving, we aren’t able to fix anything. We are called to be present, to enter into a space that is broken, and to hold raw pain with another person to ease their suffering.
Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
In this passage, the Greek word used for comfort is parakaleó, which translates as “to encourage,” as well as “to console.” Encouraging and consoling are not fixing. The comfort Paul describes is coming alongside and offering hope, inspiring courage, and alleviating or lessening grief and sorrow. We don’t magically remove another’s burden; we help carry the weight.
Before working in hospice, I was a stay-at-home mom for twenty years. “Homemaker” is what I put in the box for occupation. But I haven’t just been a homemaker for my husband and our three sons. I’ve been a homemaker for my community as well. For the past decade, I have invited young adults to gather weekly with my family around our dinner table. These meals are not characterized by impressive entertainment or one-way mentorship. We share meals to share life.
In the early years of opening my front door and inviting others to my table, I had no idea that God was guiding me on a journey that would make hospitality my passion and hospice my career. As a young homemaker with limited resources, my dinner table was simply my best offering to a community of twenty-somethings who expressed a need for greater connection, support, and authenticity. And then when our oldest son began his college career, the need for supplemental income directed my path towards hospice.
At my new hire orientation, a training manual stated that hospices originated in medieval times when people opened up their homes as a place for weary and ill travelers to find rest and care on a long journey. The word “hospice” comes from the Latin word hospes meaning host, and hospitium meaning hospitality. Reading those sentences created a moment of wonder, and I was reminded again that life is never a series of random detours. Our personal narratives are crafted by a loving God who is faithful to use all things for our good.
Modern hospice care is still about inviting people to find rest and care at the end of a long journey, and my job is to offer support to families and friends mourning the death of our patients. I can’t fix the pain and longing of their loss, but I can be present with them in their grief. I can listen to the stories of their loved ones. I can guide them towards hope and restoration.
Bereavement counseling is my profession, but hospitality will always be my life’s work.
The care I continue to offer at my dinner table is similar to the support I provide in hospice. I welcome young adults into my home to walk beside them in a season of loss, transition, and growth. I don’t give answers or solutions to their questions and struggles. I offer my home as a place where they can find rest and care on the road they are traveling between university life and adulting. I invite them into the rhythm of a weekly meal where we sit with one another and break bread and remember that no matter what we do or where we go, our identity is that we are beloved children of God.
Presence is an underutilized resource in a culture that values fixing. Our greatest offering is often not what we do or say; it’s inviting others into a sacred space where stories are heard, unique qualities are valued, burdens are shared, and joys are celebrated. This is true at a hospital bed as well as at our dinner tables.
While a career in hospice is not the right fit for everyone, the practice of hospitality is an invitation that anyone can share. Regardless of whether you break bread in an apartment or a spacious home, around a farmhouse table or sitting in a circle on the floor, with a homemade loaf or a store bought baguette, when we gather family, friends, neighbors, and strangers to be fully present one another around our dinner tables, our homes are transformed into a sacred place of parakaleó where rest, healing, and restoration are found in community.
Beth Williams says
Hospice is much misunderstood in our culture. When mom got ill we were introduced to hospice. That was a caring group of people. Each Monday one would come & give mom a bath & wash her hair. It was a time for the two of them alone. I remember her telling mom how pretty she looked & having mom look into a mirror. When mom died-they went above & beyond. They stayed with dad most of night & one of them had her husband get a biscuit for dad to eat & paid for it herself-making sure he ate. They stayed with him looking at wedding pictures & listening to him talk till one of us daughters got there. Such love & compassion. Those men & women helped my dad through a tough time by listening, caring & simply being present. Making him feel loved & cared for. It takes a special person who has the love of God in their hearts & a caring disposition to sit with hospice people & show them love. Everyone deserves to die with dignity. Thank you for working with hospice. Many people need your kindness.
Ada Orie says
Thank you for your service as a mom, wife, neighbor and hospice worker. Thank you for reminding us the importance of walking with each other in tough times. 2020 has been an unprecedented year and many people are grieving for many reasons. I believe you have provided tools to help everyone during this unprecedented time. Thank you for also reminding us to start where we are to serve others. Sometimes, we can minimize where we are right now and delay walking in our gifting. I am thankful God used you in every season of life to bless your family and community. May he continue to encourage and equip you as you walk in obedience to him. God bless you.
You are so right Ada, about how we can minimize we are right now instead of walking out in our gifting, wherever we are.
Thank you both Ada & Wendy, for reminding us that even in this unprecedented year, we can start where we are and love big, often even through the smallest service.
Lesley Boyer says
Wonderful! Thank you, Ms Orie, for sharing your practical, compassionate insight.
Love this. Looking forward to the day when we can have people around our table again and visit our elderlies.
Lesley Boyer says
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
Thank you incourage for today’s reading. When someone is in there last days our last weeks of life. It is hard on their family watching them. Especially more so if you are saved they are not saved. You know that you couldn’t tell them they need to get saved. You the family member all you do was pray and live your life for Jesus in front of them. Especially all those years before they took ill. Your heart is breaking. As you don’t know if you will see that love one again when God fanially closes their eyes. It is hard. But you have to know you did your best. You were there for them. You show them lots of love with alive Love. You showed the Love of Jesus by the way you live you live in front of them. So you nothing to feel guilty about. If your love one is saved. You have the reassurance you will see them again in Glory when your time up on earth. But either way you will miss your love one. But I felt like that with my late Mum. I felt lost. As I could never tell her she needed to get saved. We seen her in on well. Then she was gone. I will not know if she is with Jesus until my time is up on earth. I did pray for her and her salvation. I am the only saved in my family apart from my Husband. Hospitality is showing people we care. No matter if ill or not. Most would say it about showing it when a person is ill. Like we as family did when my Mum was ill. That is one type of Hospitality. No there are other types as well. Look at Jesus in the Bible. He showed Hospitality to people of all walks of life. Look at the woman who had more than one Husband. She went away and told people this. Look come and the man who told me all I ever done. Plus Jesus took time to listen to her and care. When no one else did. Jesus showed Hospitality he fed five thousand people with two loaves and five fish. Plus Jesus show Hospitality by healing Jurius Daughter. I could go about other things Jesus did. So there are many acts of Hospitality. Not just caring for the sick. Love today’s reading. Love all incourage readings. Keep you all in my prayers. Love Dawn Ferguson-Little xxx
Lillian Clow says
Thank you. This is a truly uplifting article and it has helped me to see the other side of long term care homes and hospice. May God continue to be with you as you labour for him, bringing encouragement and hope to those who are finishing their journey here.
Nancy Ruegg says
What a glorious example of self-sacrifice you are, Wendy, and praise God for the lives you are touching through your gift of hospitality! You brought to mind a dear friend of mine who expresses her hospitable nature with questions for the person(s) she’s with–questions about them or about their opinions. Then she demonstrates genuine interest in their answers. People feel valued and encouraged after encounters with her! I can see you doing the same, Wendy, for those with whom you have contact!
Tamia Hope says
How beautifully expressed!
Thank you for sharing how you realized your special gift and calling to participate in Hospice Care.
As we all grow older, facing “the end” becomes more and more frightening, especially when you live alone and your daughters have moved out of state and don’t seem to share the genuine devotion and gratitude I always felt towards my parents, especially as an adult when I came to appreciate the amazing childhood they gave me and all their sacrifices they made to make it possible for me to have the education and the career that I did…..
Ana B. says
Beautiful and heart-warming! Thank you for sharing your story and thank you for all that you do.
Sarla Williams says
Thank you Wendy and you guys for sharing her words. Christ’s words “Bear each others burdens ” come to mind. How true…as a wife, mum, grandma & counsellor often it is just sitting there holding someone’s hand or validating what they are feeling which is important. …not “fix it” as Wendy says. It is a beautiful message we need to hear in our broken world. May we practice hospitality. ♡