“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.
We don’t magically remove another’s burden; we help carry the weight. #hospicecare #hospitality -Wendy Kessler: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
How fitting that this devotion would show up today when my dear friend just lost her father yesterday and in her words “My father has gone on to glory.” May my extending hospitality at such a time of this no matter what it may be ease a little bit of her pain. Thank you for sharing.
I’m so sorry to hear about your friend’s loss. Thank you for sharing your response to the way hospitality ministers to grief.
Beth Williams says
Our culture values fixing problems. We, especially women, want to fix things & make it right. You are so spot on about hospice. My mom had hospice care for about 1 year. Some workers would come weekly & bath/shampoo her hair. It was”beauty” time to make her feel good. The whole team was a blessing. They helped dad get a respite from his 24/7 care. The best part of their caring came when mom died in the middle of night. They all came & stayed with dad till one of us could get there. One worker had her husband go get a breakfast biscuit for dad so he would eat. They looked at wedding pictures & were there easing the pain of loss. They didn’t fix anything, just comforted an elderly man at a time much needed. I am forever grateful for that. Hospice workers have a hard hard job that is often misunderstood. They also have a heart of gold for their patients. That is exactly what God wants us to do. Help carry each other’s burdens. Just be present in the minute to soothe the pain.
Michele Morin says
Like Paulette, I’m reading this post on the heels (and in the midst) of a season of multiple funerals and lots of friends making end of life decisions. The compassionate care given by hospice workers is a gift in the midst of all the success/fail mindset prevalent in healthcare and in our culture at large. It’s wonderful that God led you to put your gifts at his disposal in this particular was after a career in serving your family.
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
I believe we as people when we know someone is dying and not going to get better. Even is a career and looking after that person that only has days or hours left to live. We too have feelings and we have be there for the family. As especially more so if the family not saved or the person not saved they still in there heart believe they will see their love one who is very ill dying of sometime that even medicines can’t or Doctor’s or all the treatment make better still believe depending on what they believe they will see them in Heaven one day with Jesus. But that sad. If you are saved you the carer in the Hospice centre if you work there and caring for that ill patience and with their family it would be nice. But can be hard as when not saved. They don’t want to talk about Jesus and prayer. What you the saved carer believe. All they are wound up in is spending the last of their time with their family member that is dying. Not listing to you. But if you get a chance to pray with the sick family member and tell the family members about Jesus. You never know that sick person who could be so scared of dying could give their life to Jesus. So could the family. Because they love that family member so much they want to see them again when their time up on earth. If you pray you the carer to God ask to give you an opening God will if the timing right. God can work in a way we would never think. Then that person that is sick and dying will not be scared of dying. They will know they are going to see Jesus. The family know they might not see them again on earth when they pass peacefully. But they because they have also got saved because of you the carer. They will see them again in Heaven one day when their time also up on earth. What a great day that will be for the family. You will know you have done a great job caring for the family’s loved one and if was God will leading their loved one and them to know Jesus as their Saviour as well. If the people are saved that are ill and their family saved they have not lost all. Yes on earth they not have got their sick one when God take them out of their pain and sickness home to be with him and giving them a brand new body in Heaven. Their Family’s will yes miss them on earth. But they will see them again when their time up in Heaven with a brand new body. What a day that will be as they will be together again. Another good reading. Dawn Ferguson-Little xxx
YES and AMEN!!
Hospice is beautiful and hard!
Tonight I am many miles away from a dear friend who is being visited this very minute for her admission into hospice care. I used to be a hospice nurse and feel as though I did my life’s best work helping my patients transition in as meaningful and comfortable manner as possible. I treasure the visions in my head of the patients and families I was so privileged to serve. I left hospice because of the rigors the industry put on the nurses but my heart has never been so full as when I was helping to facilitate a good death. What a sacred privilege. Thank you for sharing your story. God used it to bless me tonight.
Becky Keife says
Wendy, this is just beautiful. What a rich and meaningful life of hospitality you’ve lived and are living. It’s a joy to host your words here at (in)courage.
Jenny K says
This is so beautifully written, this is something I will save and reread again. Thank you for your ministry, and encouraging me in mine!
Isn’t it amazing how God prepares us in advance for what we are going to do. And how beautiful for you to see that cooking a meal for 20 somethings and walking with families towards death are both using your same gift. You are a dear soul, willing to be just where God has placed you in the moment. Thanks for writing.
Marina Gerber says
Thank you for the article which was emailed to me by my daughter an ocean away. The timing is just right, as we have had several funerals of late and want to comfort the bereaved. Also, my services as a palliative care provider were just requested a couple of days ago. I pray I will be faithful, and effective with God’s help and the valuable article you wrote. God bless you.