"Fear Not, For I Am With You:" Attending the Dying in Hospice

How do we take the promise that we are never alone and that this material world is not the lasting one?  How do we  assist others as they cross the bridge from physical density to spiritual  lightness?  How do we sit in the center of someone’s most critical life moment and ease the experience from one of fear to one of love? In my experience as a Hospice chaplain and spiritual care provider to both patients and families, what may at first be  a terrifying moment for the attendant becomes a spiritual communion by following our highest impulses and recognizing that this Biblical assurance from the Book of Isaiah speaks a truth that eliminates all denominational and traditional boundaries.

We can stare at death and say “you are not a door closing but a world opening.” This is what the hospice chaplain does by being present,  standing in what is for Light Workers the ultimate reality.  Pastoral  presence –even when we don’t have the right words to say (and often we  feel we  don't) —means receiving  Divine  Light and channeling that energy so we become that energy.  We don't  need  to be theologians, ministers, rabbis, or trained chaplains to do this.We simply need – in the most urgent of all senses – to be. 

 If we are truly transmitters of Divine light then our intentions and presence become healing tools on their own, and guided by this, we can gently accompany others as  they are called home at the end of physical life. We help them return to the Source.  With  patients’ families we accomplish this by talking even if the conversation begins on a pedestrian level. It builds enough trust for them to welcome us further. As we sit with them in their most private agony, we invite allow deeper communion…through conversation or mere gesture: a hand squeeze, a nod, a sigh or through nothing but sitting. 

No matter what the lifetime religious affiliation of  dying patients, in their last hours, we become one.  Devout evangelicals will lovingly accept the gift of presence from anyone meeting them at heart level. Somehow our higher selves guide us to what Joseph Campbell calls the point at which all lines intersect.  Then religious divisions no longer matter; “it all comes from the same place,” is a commonly expressed sentiment at a Hospice bed..  Whether we cling to the Old Testament promise of God  to lift us up "on eagles' wings"  or anticipate our entrance to the heavenly realm of Jesus is irrelevant.  The particulars melt away, leaving us moving with the purity of  a Spirit which needs no naming.

Witnessing my first Hospice death defied all the wasted energy of my anxiety in the preceding months.  As the patient took his last breath and the nurse monitored a fading pulse, I closed my eyes and saw a veil, a tent of light that completely enveloped all of us around  the bed: the patient, his daughter, the nurse, and me.  It was a sacred moment that elevated us up and beyond ordinary reality, just for a second, but the sensation of love, peace, and protection remained long afterward.  This is the essence of love.  This is the essence of God.  It defies language and mind and is at once fleeting and permanent.

Lisa Shaw is a spiritual counselor, animal communicator, and Reiki Master.  She has an M.A. in pastoral ministries with a specialization in loss and healing and trained as a Hospice chaplain last year with Vitas Hospice.  She has been a full time English professor at Miami Dade College for 21 years.  Her Kindle book, Illumination: Life Lessons from our Animal Companions, is available on Amazon.com. Visit her web site www.Reikidogs.com

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Comment by Lisa Shaw on January 18, 2014 at 11:12am
Thanks, Trevor. Updated bio is there now. Thanks for all of your support.
Comment by Trevor Taylor on January 18, 2014 at 10:56am

Hi Lisa - recommended to the publishers for inclusion in one of the March 2014 multi-media editions. Thank you for posting this

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