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A Pastor Reflects on End-of-Life Care

By Tracey Lloyd Smith


Photo: Sue Careless

A FEW MONTHS ago, Mr. B. was told by his family doctor that he was riddled with cancer.  He went into hospital knowing that he was gravely ill and in considerable pain.  Mr. B 
understood that his life expectancy was very short indeed.  Many families today, upon hearing such news, would want to spare their loved ones any anguish.  They would wish to end suffering as soon as possible and avoid the ‘horror’ that was surely to come.  But what if it wasn’t to be all horror? What if there were more goodness to come, significant goodness from our God who wants to be present in that person’s life? I am Mr. B’s pastor. The first time I visited him in hospital we prayed for God to be with him in his suffering.  Mr. B had not been an active worshipper  for many years, but he was open to praying with me.  He had nursed his wife through a lengthy illness and had occasionally taken Communion with her, at home.  He remembered those lovely times together when I visited them both, so when I suggested we pray he participated gladly.   I was amazed and so delighted to hear that Mr. B’s pain disappeared completely after that prayer!  It never returned again.  Mr. B and his family were humbled and filled with joy and what overwhelming proof that our God was indeed with him, at his bedside. The second time I visited Mr. B he had requested Holy Communion.  We shared the sacrament and I’ve never heard a man pray the Lord’s Prayer with more faith, fervor or repentance than I did that day.   Mr. B. recommitted (or perhaps committed) his life to the Lord during that brief service. The next time I visited Mr. B. he had something heavy on his heart: it had dawned upon him that his estate was not in perfect order, legally speaking.  It was his heart’s desire to make something in his last will and testament very clear and he immediately called in supportive people to make it so.  He was greatly relieved that he had this opportunity. The final time I visited Mr. B., I prayed the prayers from the Book of Common Prayer service, “A Supplication for the Dying” (p. 588) and blessed him in the presence of his family.  The nurse assured me that even though his eyes did not open, he could hear every word.  After that time of prayer, Mr. B. quietly went home to be with the Lord. As a pastor, this is not the first time I’ve experienced supernatural, blessed intervention from God at the time of a parishioner’s illness and passing.  
In today’s world, I suppose some families would have questioned letting Mr. B. linger.  Some families would have asked for doctor-assisted suicide for a man in Mr. B.’s condition, in a country where that was possible.  But my question is this. Which of these last days of Mr. B.’s life would they have omitted?  At what point would a family have chosen to end Mr. B.’s life and what would they and he have lost in that decision? Would anyone have denied him the immense joy that he felt on the day he was completely relieved of his pain or the day of his recommitment to Christ?  What if we had denied him that day when he had a personal revelation about his estate or the chance to be prayed into his eternal rest, naturally, in God’s timing?  I’m so grateful that the decision about the end of Mr. B.’s life was squarely left in the loving hands of Almighty God. I get that we want control of our lives.  And I get that we want to avoid pain and suffering.  The success of pharmaceutical companies seems to bear witness to the fact that we don’t ‘do pain well.’ I watched my own mother die a slow and painful death from cancer too, but today medical experts confirm that 95 percent of the pain is controllable.  Even the laboured breathing troubles (which so often accompany one’s last days) were handled differently this past year compared to what I had seen before. But however those last days may be, as a Christian, I’m against taking death out of God’s hands and entrusting it to fallible human beings.  My experience of seeing God act profoundly in the last days of life has shown me that the right approach is to leave this matter in his hands.  God has shown time and again that he is able to do more than we can ask or imagine, even when we think it is ‘all over’ and there is no more to come.   We’ve all heard the phrase “God is love.”  I pray we will really trust that is true and know that he is indeed sovereign over his children and caring for them from our first breath until our very last. Underneath are the everlasting arms. The Rev’d Tracey Lloyd Smith serves in a team ministry with her husband, the Rev’d Dr. David Smith, in the Anglican Parish of All Saints South Grenville in  Prescott, Ontario.

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