My siblings and I sat down with the hospice care team in my dad’s living room the other day to learn about the next steps after his cancer treatments officially ended. Five months ago, I couldn’t have imagined being in this place as a primary caregiver: managing pain meds, coordinating visitors, and taking turns with my two sisters and brother providing for his daily care. It’s given me perspective and time to reflect.
As I write, dad’s in his favorite recliner in the living room as Fox News chatters in the background. The news seems so trivial, as much television news is. Politics is so boorish in the shadow of death. I say this because politics and public policy are my professional world and calling. Even though this is a worthy field to engage in, it’s evident that politics has no answers when death comes knocking on a family member’s door. It’s clear there isn’t a single public policy that can replace familial bonds and provide the kind of deep care and affection that only another family member can offer.
The government cannot tell us the right way to walk with a loved one and minister to them when they’re dying. In fact, the government cannot tell us what we’re living for or where we go when we die. Only God can do that. This brings me to Christian hope. I told the hospice nurse that without Christ and the hope He’s secured for those who put their trust in Him, this would be an impossible journey for my family and me. She agreed.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). This promise is just as true for those weighed by the burden of caring for a dying parent as it is for those carrying the burden of their own sin and shame. Christ carries both burdens. In fact, He promises to cleanse us from our sins (I John 1:8-9), comfort the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3), and bring into paradise those who put their faith in Him (Luke 23:43). So what’s your hope?
I’m in a very different place now than I was when I arrived a week ago to join my three siblings in being primary caregivers for dad. I’ve figuratively become the parent instead of the child. It’s all been good. It’s just a bit disorientating. But isn’t death and the dying process disorienting?
Scripture tells us that “it’s appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). There is nothing more sobering than staring death in the face. There’s nothing like a drawn-out terminal illness that forces human beings, fearfully and wonderfully made as we are, to confront mortality and questions of eternity. A dear brother of mine shared that his parents died fairly quickly without much notice. He told me that this time of walking with my dad through the dying process is a gift. I’m coming to see the wisdom of that.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, you will understand this. If you are not, may I ask what’s holding you back from the Savior who stood in front of his friend Lazarus’ grave and told him to come out? Jesus eventually tasted death himself. The Christian story is about the God of the universe who came to earth to become a sacrifice for us, to take on our sins (John 1:29), so that we wouldn’t have to taste eternal death. Jesus came so that we might once again walk with God, have true life, and eventually spend eternity with him. This is my hope. When death stares you in the face, what’s yours?