“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 lifework.
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