Being with people who are dying can be uncomfortable, daunting and sad. We might worry about saying the wrong thing or what to do to be a witness of God’s grace and love.
Even people with years of experience caring for or ministering to people who are dying, such as Sue Westhorp, say that each situation is different and that feeling uncomfortable may always be part of the process.
Sue is the spiritual care manager and Clinical Pastoral Education Centre director for Melbourne’s Austin Health. She was formerly a palliative care chaplain at Royal Melbourne Hospital and was a pastoral care worker for St Paul’s Lutheran Church Box Hill.
Being with people who are dying can be uncomfortable, daunting and sad. We might worry about saying or doing the wrong thing. But even those with years of experience ministering to people who are dying say that discomfort or anxiety may always be present as we confront our own mortality in the process.
‘I’ve never become used to being with people who are dying’, she says. ‘It’s different every time and it’s profound every time. It’s important to be very aware of our own discomfort and anxiety. It’s okay to be uncomfortable. Your own mortality is being confronted in the process.’
However, she says just being present and listening are the two constants of our call as Christians, regardless of the context.
‘We’re called to sit with the person in grief, or as someone is dying, to actually just follow … if they want to talk about it, or if they don’t’, Sue says.
‘I’ve had experiences in palliative care of people who are dying who’ve got no interest in faith, who a day out from dying start asking the big questions. Or someone who’s had a strong faith and gets to a week before they die, and suddenly they’re very wobbly about their faith. So, it’s about responding to what you see in front of you and listening, and the ways in which we show up for people to show them God is present with them.’
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