Reflections 6th April 2014

A Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

JN 11: 1 – 45 ( )
'Ann' (not her real name) had been admitted to Palliative Care at the hospice three weeks earlier. She was very guarded when I introduced myself and said she had not attended church in many years. This is not unusual to hear. Her sisters were with her and we had a brief conversation; I explained that my role was to offer spiritual - not necessarily religious - support to all. When I left the room, one of Ann's sisters followed and explained that Ann, who was brought up Catholic, was still struggling to accept her prognosis. The family asked if I would continue to visit and support them.

When I met the family again today they expressed their anger with God for the prolonged suffering that their sister was enduring. They wondered why God was not answering their prayers. One sister spoke of disbelief. 'Where is God when we really need Him?' she asked. The family has been keeping vigil at Ann's bedside day and night for the past week. If I had any influence with God I was asked if I would please intercede for them. I sat, listened and offered to accompany them to the hospice chapel to pray. They accepted my invitation immediately and, as it was Friday, I suggested that together we would reflect on the Way of the Cross. We stopped at each image of Jesus and reflected on Ann's journey. It was an emotional time for them and for me.

Working as a chaplain in a hospice has affected how I think about life and death, and life after death. Easy answers do not satisfy me. I have learned a lot about bereavement, loneliness and loss. I have met patients who are inarticulate about their faith and have distanced themselves from Church, yet show a complete trust in God. I have met some who were very talkative about their faith and were terrified to die. I work with some members of staff who have no belief in organized religion but are exceptional in their care for patients. In the face of all the uncertainties and challenges that life has to throw at them, many people – still looking for comfort, security, meaning and significance – have stopped looking to the Church for these things. As chaplain, I have to find a way to be there for patients and staff of all faiths and none. People don't always want answers; compassionate solidarity is often enough.

Recently while attending the funeral of a friend, I struggled as I listened to the emphasis on Resurrection especially in the homily. It was all too positive and, for me, lacked empathy with the family and friends, and the pain of loss that they experienced on the death of their loved one. It is very consoling to hear that Jesus wept when Lazarus died.

Liz Coyle

Liz Coyle - A parishioner of Holy Spirit Parish, Kimmage Manor, Liz is a Spiritan Associate and is currently Chaplain at Our Lady's Hospice, Harold's Cross, Dublin.