Helping Others Say “Goodbye”

At the conclusion of last week, I visited Murray’s Hospice House. The facilities are very nice, and a lot of fundraising and planning has gone into this facility and its mission over the last several years. The director of the Hospice House happens to be a member at Glendale Road, and she was kind enough to give my wife and me a tour.

Years ago, I had an uncle who was dying of inoperable and incurable brain cancer. In his final days, he was housed at the hospice center in Nashville, TN. I recall visiting him and seeing the saddest scene ever. His extremities were as pale as a bleached, white garment. The doctor informed me that this happened when the blood left those parts of the body to protect the vital organs. This was what happens when one was in the process of dying. They gave him medicine orally to keep him from suffering until he died. Reflecting on that, I recalled just how supportive and caring the hospice staff was in my uncle’s final days. It didn’t change the outcome, but they were a great comfort to our family.

The director of the Hospice House here in Murray told me that many would come to this facility because it was closer than Nashville’s and the one in Owensboro, KY. Therefore, the placement of a hospice facility in Murray will more conveniently serve many families as they say their final goodbye’s to their loved ones. Others will be able to convalesce here so that caretakers can obtain much-needed rest. These facilities, she told me, were not only for end-of-life care, but served other purposes too in addition to end-of-life care.

Not only had the experience of hospice with my uncle made me want to visit this facility, but also the subject of my dissertation—Christian hospitality in late-antiquity. In the fourth century in Cappadocia, a famine so severe struck the land that many were dying while others starved and were grossly emaciated. Basil the Great, through time, began his city, Basiliad, where soup kitchens, hospitals, and hospice centers were first opened. Our modern idea of a hospital, soup kitchen, and hospice was born from this Christian bishop’s efforts. He even used his personal inheritance to fund the soup kitchen.

The theological justification for these services comes from the words of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, “For I was hungry, and you gave me food … I was a stranger, and you took me in … inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.” The Christians in those days believed that caring for a hungry, sick, or dying person was as if they were caring for Christ himself. This theological justification was at the heart of ancient Christian hospitality and the ways in which it was shown. You’ll notice that in the institutions of hospital and hospice is the same root as hospitality.

It was Christian hospitality that birthed our first hospitals, hospices, soup kitchens, and other benevolent societies. While mostly secular today, these all exist because of ancient Christian thinking and hospitality. Therefore, I quipped to the director that she was partaking in a venture that served God’s kingdom and gave Him glory. Whenever one cares for another as such, they are doing God’s will regardless if the institution confesses Christ as Lord.

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