“All is well, all is well, angels and men rejoice;
For tonight darkness fell into the dawn of love’s light…”
(“All is Well,” Michael W. Smith and Wayne Kirkpatrick)

“Burden to my daughters.”

These were the words the patient scribbled on my notepad. He wasn’t able to speak due to all of the equipment connected to his body, including a trachea tube attached to a noisy machine that breathed for him. And he cried silently and continuously into the tissues I handed him.

This is part of the journey – a difficult part – the dying part; one that we don’t like to think about, especially during the Christmas season, where the focus is on the joy surrounding Christ’s birth. But for some, this will be their final earthly Christmas celebration, and that makes a difficult process even more difficult.

Sometimes I’m surprised by how comfortable I’ve become around death. As a hospital and nursing home chaplain, I guess it’s a necessary part of the job. But it goes beyond that for me. I think my journey into this arena began with providing my mom hospice care several years ago, as her earthly journey ended.

When I’m informed that one of my patients is “actively dying,” I want to be there, or I want to know if, in the parlance of medical terminology, they are having a “good death.” By that, I mean that the person is in as little pain as possible and is in a peaceful state. In my role as chaplain, it also means making sure – again, as much as is possible – that the patient has no unfinished business. Are there friends or family members that the patient needs to connect with? Is there an unresolved disagreement that can be mended – a healing that needs to occur? Are family members gathered at the bedside? Are they bringing peace and blessing, or turmoil and guilt? Are there religious rituals that would assist the patient in his or her passing?

Once I was at the bedside of a dying patient who had no immediate family, but some great-great-uncle and his wife were there, although they had never visited before. They commented that they needed to leave so the patient could die alone! There are few times that I am left speechless. But no one should die alone.  I sat with the patient after the “family” had left and sang to her and blessed her journey.

That other “b-word” – “blessing,” is so very important.

As we focus upon the birth of our Savior, I meditate on the words and music of the exquisite Christmas carol, “All is Well,” and contemplate the life and death that continually dances before me, within hospital and nursing home walls, in my church, and within my own family. Despite the multiple challenges that end-of-life care brings, we should be focused on not just the beginning – birth, but on the end of our earthly journeys as well. What steps can we take to ensure that our loved ones aren’t left to make difficult decisions for us…to intubate or not; to be fed through a feeding tube; to pursue hospice care? It’s not a pleasant subject, but it is a necessary one. And there are wonderful resources available to assist us in our attempt to provide the best care possible to our loved ones at the close of their earthly journeys.

All should be afforded the opportunity to leave this life as much of a blessing as possible. Our society often labels those in end-of-life care as “burdens.” But we know there is a better way. And it’s time to ensure, as much as is possible, that at the end of our life’s journey, we, along with our family and friends, still realize and work toward the sentiment that “all is well,” making it a reality for our loved ones at the end of their journeys.

Wishing a blessed Christmas to all, especially those dealing with the challenge of providing end-of-life care to those they love, or who are grieving those they have lost. And blessings to the many medical personnel, doctor’s, nurses, social worker’s, chaplain’s, and others – all who bring care and comfort to those we love. Grace and peace to you this holiday season…

Kim W. Chafee
December 15, 2013

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Kim Chafee

I am a lover of the God who sings! I am a Christ-follower and an ordained minister married to the other Rev. Chafee (Scott), with two grown children and a multitude of pets. And, I love chocolate. Read more about me and the reason for this blog on my ABOUT page.

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