Lessons from the hospice

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I’ve stayed at accommodation attached to a hospital for a few weeks now while supporting people I love.

I’ve observed a lot.

I see people come in from visiting their sick or dying relatives looking emotionally haggard . . . wrung out . . . you can see the lines etched a little deeper into their faces each day—the anxiety, even desperation, is palpable.

You can feel the heaviness all around.

There is sobbing in the quiet hours, coming from dorm rooms or toilets—in the early hours of the morning. Not just little sobs, but loud, gut-wrenching sobs. Somehow things just feel darker and sadder at night when all is still and quiet. People watching their loved ones going through unimaginable suffering—slipping away from them.

I’ve seen a father and daughter, hand squeezing orange juice for their wife and mum in ICU—there is SO much love squeezed into that juice. I hear their voices crumble as the cleaner asks, “How are you today?”, as they say, “Fine, thank you”, while discreetly wiping at a rogue tear. 

I see a man numbing out in the TV room each night,  temporarily escaping the pain of watching a partner growing weaker each day, as they go through chemo.

I’ve seen a couple of sisters wheeling their mum, who is dying of lung cancer, outside several times each day to smoke.

The worried looks, people sleeping on makeshift beds, fetching this and that to try and make last days more comfortable. People sitting awkwardly, not knowing what to say, but doing their best to show love and support by being present.

As our family sing songs of hope and the love of God, I see a man in a wheelchair lingering by the door, ears straining to capture a few words of life and hope.

People REALLY need hope here; they clutch onto it like pieces of GOLD. I just want to hug them all, and tell them it’s going to be okay . . . but it’s not okay . . . not really.

Our faces are probably a little haggard too, but we are the “lucky” ones; there’s peace in our room, peace that passes understanding, peace that the world can’t give. There are songs of heaven, and talk of re-uniting in a world where there is no more pain, no more suffering, no more goodbyes. Love fills the room—there is no fear here.

Yes, there are tears at the thought of losing one we love; but we sorrow not as those who have no hope. We have a solid anchor, fixed upon a more solid, immoveable rock, even though the storm rages around us, and the wind and waves smash upon us, our anchor holds.

The end of life teaches us what is important and what isn’t. I see joy as remembrance is made of the many lives that have been touched through the life of our loved one, the value placed on relationships, and family. The satisfaction and joy our loved one received in praying a last blessing on each family member, and their children. The warmth of a hug, the holding of a hand, words of love and appreciation said while the people are still able to hear and appreciate them. Joy in the simplest of things: a bird outside the window, a beautiful flower, a sweet fruit, another day of life with our loved one. Friends from far and near offering love, support and prayers.

We learn to live, and find joy, in the “present”, for it is just that—a present. We may not have tomorrow.

My heart aches for the empty rooms, where people die alone with no friendly face, no loving words, no warm hand easing the path to the grave and no hope beyond the grave.

How dark and lonely that must be.

This was never meant for us—pain, sickness, suffering. We were created to enjoy a world that was good—VERY good—we were created for relationship. With one another, and our Creator. We were only supposed to ever know and experience good. But because of love, we were created with free choice, the ability to say yes to love . . . as well as no.

We were sold a lie . . . and we bought it, and are still buying it today—disregard God, do your own thing, you can be your own God, you can experience good and evil.

We already knew good but we wanted to know good AND evil, and so Pandora’s box was opened and evil of every kind filled our world.

Untold misery and woe have been the result; unimaginable suffering. It would be all doom and gloom EXCEPT the Creator had a plan, before we even went astray, to buy us back from the ruin we have caused, to restore all that has been lost, to put an end to evil, to suffering, sickness, pain, goodbyes and death. He has placed eternity in our hearts, He has gone to prepare a place for us and He will come again and take us home to live in eternal peace, love and joy . . . but even if all we had was this life, and there was no eternity, I would STILL choose EVERY time the peace, love, joy, comfort and hope that knowing Him brings.

 Heaven is a person, and that person, and His love, peace and joy, is in our heart . . . here . . . and now, not just “in the sky by and by”. Those things are not dependant on circumstances, so, no-one can take them away.

In the meantime, He walks beside us, through the darkest valleys. He saves our tears in His bottle, and one day He personally will wipe them all away and there will be no more mourning, death, sorrow, pain or CANCER!!

May that day be soon.

Julie Baum is a Bible worker living in Port Macquarie, NSW.

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