Caring for the dying in a death-denying society Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Nov. 01, 2012 -- 12:00 AM

Seeing with Jesus' Eyes, a column by Fr. Donald Lange

Mother Teresa claimed that the greatest disease of the modern world is not leprosy or cancer. Rather it is feeling unloved and unwanted.

So she and her nuns went into India’s streets and picked up the dying and ministered to them. Though many died shortly, she wanted them to experience Christ’s love before they died.

Death-denying society

Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross believed that we live in a death-denying society. We isolate and institutionalize the dying and elderly because they remind us of our mortality.

We could give families more help with home care and visiting nurses. We should give families and patients spiritual, emotional, and financial help.

God answers prayers

Cicely Saunders, hospice’s foundress, showed that God can use the most unlikely persons to accomplish good. As a teenager, she embraced atheism.

Then after years of unhappiness and searching, she had a profound experience of God and became a Christian. Changed by God’s love, she daily prayed this brave prayer, “Lord, what do I have to do today to thank you and to serve you?”

God’s answer came when Cicely became a medical social worker and cared for David Tasma, a refugee from Poland’s Warsaw ghetto. Abandoned by family and friends, he was dying alone in a large London hospital.

At age 40, he felt that his life made no difference. Their professional relationship turned into a deep friendship. Together they spun dreams of creating more homelike places where people could spend their last days with dignity.

When David died, on February 25, 1948, he left Cicely a gift of £500 and this encouraging note: “Let me be a window in your home.”

Caring for the dying

After David’s death, Cicely decided to learn more about caring for the dying. First, she worked as a volunteer at St. Luke’s Home for the Dying. Then she decided to study medicine. She became a doctor at age 38.

Eventually Cicely established St. Christopher’s Hospice. There she developed a systematic approach of pain control for dying patients. She also gave attention to their social, emotional, and spiritual needs.

She offered a positive alternative that sought to ensure pain relief, maintain dignity, and bring tranquility to the dying. Her motto was, “You matter because you are you, and you matter until the last moment of your life. We will do all we can to help you, not only to die peacefully, but to live until you die.”

Hospice exists in the hope and belief that through appropriate care and the promotion of a caring community sensitive to the dying person’s needs, patients and families will be helped during the process of dying.

Fr. Don Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.