Helping People Face Death with Confidence in God’s Love
One patient described the impact of news that he was going to die from his cancer as “the waters streaming out as all the cataracts just let loose all at once.” That is a vivid description of what was, to him, an indescribable feeling. We carry it together with faith in God’s love and mercy, forgiveness and compassion. The only way we can live with the end of life is to live fully (as is possible) knowing that sharing the burden will carry us over.
My work in hospice was to be with people on their journey, loving and supporting their move toward wholeness. Every encounter or visit was an encounter with God. Every time I entered into the patient’s or family’s space, I encountered the Holy. After needed introductions and explanations as I began a visit, my opening question was always focused: What is important to you today? That kind of opening generates a focal point: you are important to me, and I am concerned about you.
For example, a grandfather was dying, but it was not apparently imminent. His wife and he asked if their first and only grandchild could be baptized before ‘Grandpa’ died. He was an inpatient on the hospice unit. His daughter, an only child herself, and her husband requested the baptism. After working through some logistical-church issues, we had that very celebration. I baptized the child in the chapel of the hospice center; Grandpa died several days later. The Holy Spirit was “palpable” that day, and I was blessed to be a part of it!
A younger man dying of cancer had several near-adult children. During my assessment of his spiritual needs, it became clear that he not only struggled with forgiveness, but he wanted more than ‘anything else’ to capture a moment of being ‘father-present,’ for he had been so much a ‘father-absent’ in the family life. In short, he wanted to give his children the best of himself: “all I have to give.”
Here was a man who could see beyond his own needs and wanted to share openly his love. His time was very limited and his struggle to find peace was so focused. Over the next few weeks, the man worked through his approaches to each of the four children. He died surrounded by them. When I called to offer additional support and condolences, his oldest said: “It was good.”
My prayer at the start of each day is always something I learned from St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta: “Lord, don’t let me get in Your way today.” This was truly an encounter with the Holy, for I felt I was in Sacred Space and in Sacred Time. And I didn’t get in God’s way.
– Friar Chuck Henkle OFM Conv.
Friar Chuck Henkle served in hospice ministry from 2014 to 2022. He will celebrate his 81st birthday this year and is semi-retired, assisting the local Church as needed and finding time for his hobbies – astronomy and geology.