Keeping Hope Alive When Someone You Love is Dying

Martha is losing energy. She falls asleep when her father needs her most.  Dad is in hospice care and Martha hasn’t been able to get enough sleep or get to the gym for a workout as she did regularly before becoming the primary caregiver for Norman. As Norman declines, his daughter’s work increases. He now needs her help with eating, changing positions in bed, and paying the bills. Martha has over extended her family leave time and worries about being able to return to her job.

More than daily care and worries about her job, it is watching her father struggle with breathing, his confusion and pain requiring heavy medication that drains her own life force. When Norman was first diagnosed with cancer, there was hope that treatment was available and would bring healing.  Martha was hopeful at first in seeing Norman’s determination to work with the physical therapist and fight just eat well. Daily prayers also brought hope to Martha with expectation that God would hear and answer her pleas for a cure.

Over time, hope has dwindled due to poor reports from the doctor and the growing realization that death would be coming soon.  The long hours spent with Dad now robs Martha of positive anticipation for the future and leaves her exhausted with a dark cloud over each new challenge and daily choices.

Hope is Resilient 

How long can hope live? I carry, nurture and pass along to my grandchildren a thread of hope that my great grandmother had when she named my grandfather Martin Luther King back in 1887. Unrelated to Martin Luther King Jr., my grandfather was named after the Martin Luther of reformation fame. His mother lived through the civil war and had hope that her son would take a stand for what is right just as Martin Luther had done. So even the hope of Marin Luther of Eisleben, Saxony in 1517 still lives somewhere inside me.

Since I fully expect my grandchildren will pass this hope along to their grandchildren, my best guess is that hope never dies.  It may skip a generation, but it lives between us and ultimately won’t be denied another day to live. When we look for it, we can always find some remnant of hope. It may reside in a photograph, greeting card, familiar story or song. Any connection we still have, or even the memory of a connection contains the seed of new hopes and dreams.

Love is Where Hope Grows

If hope is a seed that blossoms and recreates itself in every generation, love is the soil where it is planted. Now that the winter has passed and we see buds on the trees and shoots of green popping up, we are reminded of constant renewal and resurrection. It was Jesus that once said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

So even death itself keeps hope alive. As Norman lingers and his physical life dwindles, a new and different hope is being born in Martha.  I watched as Martha’s hope shifted from a wish for her father to live longer to a deep realization that death is not the end for Norman, a knowing that she will survive this period of her life and be able to face her own death when the time comes.

Her hope was placed in Someone greater than herself and the medical team. It became vibrant and overcame the normal grief and temporary despair. She now anticipates a new beginning for herself and freedom for her father from his pain and waiting.  Its Martha’s deep love for her father and his love for her that keeps her hope alive along with the promise to her own children and grandchildren that hope never dies.

Ron King, D.Min., LMFT

Ron King, D.Min., LMFT

Hospice Chaplain

Ron has been involved in ministry to people for more than 30 years. As a chaplain with Holy Redeemer Hospice, he hears the life stories of patients daily and faces end-of-life challenges with each one. Along with being a member of the ethics committee, regularly presiding at memorial services and teaching hospice professionals, his primary joy comes in seeing the lessons of life revealed in so many lives rich with memories and questions.

Part of the perspective he brings to the hospice experience is placing this life event in the context of an entire life and generation of family history. As a chaplain, Ron works from a strong belief that the spiritual dynamics create a sacred space for hope and personal growth until the last breath and beyond, for both patients and caregivers.  Honoring each individual path toward the end of life, he believes the work caregivers do and the reward they receive is more than physical. As a hospice chaplain, he considers himself a companion on that path.

On his own life’s path, Ron has been the clinical director of a residential addiction center, a community restorative justice organization, and pastoral staff. In addition to his work with hospice patients, Ron is a licensed marriage and family therapist working with families at all stages of the life cycle. This particular practice is enhanced by his own experience of nearly four decades of marriage, two daughters, and four grandchildren.
Ron King, D.Min., LMFT

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