Pastoral Care of the Dying:
Death is the most solemn of human events.
Medicine and ministry tend to see death through different lenses.
Ministry supports the struggle of medicine to protect and extend life.
However, when death comes and medicine stands helpless, ministry acts.
We commit into God's hands the care of the dying.
We hold before the person and that person's family hope.
People response to impending death in a variety of ways.
There is no one correct way to face death.
To some death is a welcome end. It is a door to a new life. To others it is a defeated enemy.
They do not fear. Others hold on to every precious breath. They fight for every conscious moment.
Others experience anxiety. Some have feelings of guilt and fear.
The empathetic minister should listen carefully and respond to the individual needs.
People come to us because the physician stands impotent before death.
We are both interpreter and counselor amid human frailty.
We offer hope and faith when people are at their finite limit.
When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, it is good to have someone there
to put the journey in context. At this time, we mediate God's love to human brokenness.
The death of one person affects all with whom he or she has dealt.
Death is a social event. It breaks in on a community without concern for time.
Ministers who deal courageously, clearly and sensitively with the reality of death
will deepen the tone of all other aspects of their ministry.
It is not a time for platitudes or heavy theology.
It is a time for gentle listening, acceptance, witnessing to God's comfort, honesty, and sincerity.
There may come a time when it becomes the minister's responsibility to advise the individual
of the gravity of the situation. Such a moment will require courage and sensitivity.
In most cases little more is needed to begin the conversation than to say:
"I am sure you are aware that you are very ill."
Allow the conversation to grow from there.
Above all else, we do well to acknowledge our critical lack of experience it comes to dying.
Those who are critically ill have an unparalleled expertise.
They know more about dying than do we.
We should listen.
Have students discuss a time when they have demonstrated care to an ill or dying person.
Talk about some of the mistakes the students have made or seen when dealing
with sick or dying people.