This is part three of a four part series on Joe, who was referred to Hospice for lung cancer at age fifty-nine. When first admitted to Hospice Joe was weak, homebound and even had difficulty concentrating and talking. His wife, Nancy, was determined to push, or pull, him back to health. She adamantly believed in homeopathic medicine. She studied extensively and developed her own approach to treating Joe’s cancer. She brewed teas and placed Joe on a regimen of herbs, vitamins and supplements. To be honest, I didn’t share Nancy’s faith. During my many years in Hospice I’ve witnessed numerous patients and families pursue various, and sometimes very expensive, alternative treatments with little to no avail. But to my surprise Joe gradually improved. He and Nancy started taking walks together and Joe even entertained the idea of joining the Life Center.
I was talking with Joe’s physician at the hospital one day when he asked, “Do you guys (hospice) still have that fellow, Joe? I can’t believe he’s still around. He should have died a long time ago. Maybe I should have his wife give me some information on what she’s giving him. Maybe there’s something to it after all.”
Joe and his family enjoyed his improved health for a season, but the season changed, as seasons do. Joe’s condition declined as gradually as it had improved. Eventually he became bedfast and totally dependent again. One-day, while Nancy and I were talking at the kitchen table, I complimented her on her devotion to Joe, on her willingness to fight for him, sometimes with him, to keep him from giving up. I speculated that the herbs and vitamins may have enhanced or fortified Joe’s body’s natural processes, and thereby improved his quality of life and longevity. I think you will understand why Nancy’s reply caught me by complete surprise. She concluded, “I don’t know if it was the herbs and vitamins or his faith in them that made the difference.” What a sincere and profound statement!
The author of the Book of Hebrews wrote, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe…” (Hebrews 11:1-6). Life, in all arenas, seems impossible without faith, doesn’t it? Without something to believe in, something to hope for, we can quickly lose heart. The Apostle Paul wrote, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1Corinthians 13:13) These three are what life is really all about, what it all boils down too in the end. To be without one of these is grievous; but to be without all three is existential despair.
I see hospice patients and families continually challenged with the universal task of progressively shifting their hope. First, they hope the diagnosis is incorrect, then they hope that chemotherapy, radiation or other medical treatments will affect a cure; then they shift their hope to comfort and quality of life, or sometimes don’t.
This may seem like a strange analogy but here goes. I thought about the old Pony Express. The riders proceeded from one station to the next, riding each horse to exhaustion and changing horses along the way. We have to do the same with our hope. When the horse that our hope is riding on exhausts itself, we have to change horses. The final change or shift, in my opinion, is shifting our focus and hope from the physical to the spiritual, from the temporal to the eternal. And when we get to the final leg of our journey, there is only One who can carry us the rest the way home.
“He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms, and carry them in his bosom…” (Isaiah 40: 11)
“Let not your heart be troubled, you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:1-3)
Loren Hardin is a hospice social worker at Southern Ohio Medical Center and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 740-356-2525