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Speaking of death....

It seems strange to start a summer issue of Perspectives with an editorial about death. Signs of life are everywhere: flowers still in profusion, kids running yet once more to the pool with towels flung over their shoulders, flip-flops flying. Somehow, time seemed suspended by heat as we lazed by a lake, passed the day with a summer book, or just listened to the frogs. But it is perhaps at this very time, when life seems most peaceful and secure, that we should look squarely at death, at least for a time.

Over the years, I have noticed that one of the gifts parish nurses have to offer is a quiet and compassionate approach to dealing with death. Few nurses have come to parish nursing without experiencing death at work. Few have come to this stage of life without experiencing one or more deaths among close friends or family.

I mentioned Dorothee Soelle in the last issue of Perspectives, and I am delighted that her last work before her death in 2003 has been translated into English as The Mystery of Death. In this book, she states that while death is a limit imposed upon all, our cultures often deny the existence of limits by ignoring the reality and inevitability of death for us all.

Soelle writes, "Accepting life, admitting our limits, considering life meaningful even in its fragmentariness and brokenness, are skills we are no longer learning. The person who has learned to live only in the action mode, who finds self-justification only by doing, cannot cope with situations in which there is nothing he or she can do anymore, when limits impose themselves on us as doers." *

In interviews for my recent doctoral work, it was interesting to note that one of the major themes I heard repeatedly could be identified as the "Ministry of Presence." Parish nurses are willing to walk with people who are homebound and no longer doers. They are ready to sit with people whose diseases have progressed beyond cure to debilitating condition. They are prepared to remain by the bedside of those who are dying, to support and uphold the family and the dying with prayer and with care.

Death is very real. Sometimes it is a shock, sometimes a relief. Sometimes death is sudden, and other times death seems overdue. It is an important part of this blessing known as life. Who knows exactly what death precedes? Yet we know the One who precedes birth, life, and death, who goes before us, to prepare a place.

Thanks be to God for the courage of a parish nurse, who can openly talk about death, who can stay close to the dying, and who can comfort the mourning, in every season of life.


Rev. Dr. Deborah Patterson

Executive Director

* Dorothee Soelle, The Mystery of Death. (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2007), p. 15.
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Author:Patterson, Deborah
Publication:Parish Nurse Perspectives
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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