Both my parents lived relatively long and healthy lives. Each of them died a difficult death. In my father's case, because his cancer was discovered so late, the outcome was certain long before the discovery was made. Beyond any real chance of survival, my father's clear course of treatment (which, fortunately, he was a full participant in choosing) was hospice care, watching and waiting for the end, trying to stay as comfortable and unharried as possible …. I knew what to do at the hospice. Showing up and standing by were the principal activities required of me.

My mother's challenges were longer-lasting, and more complex. Suffering for many years from a bad heart and slowly progressing congestive heart failure, she eventually ended up in intensive care, battling minute by minute to find enough oxygen to draw her next breath. She was fully conscious, right up until the very end, and fiercely resistant to either decline or death. Her treatment required much of her family, involving a series of moves to various levels of care in the hospital …. I never knew what to do at the hospital. Every day when I visited my mother, it seemed there was some new, painful choice to make ….

In my experience, Christians often come in either the "hospital" or "hospice" visitor variety. Some have a desire mainly to find a belief, to settle into it, and then to hold on to it. The fact that, once inside this shelter, nothing should be at stake beyond—and because of—the "certainty" of salvation is the greatest source of comfort …. Faith is overwhelmingly therapeutic, a continuous healing process whose principal demand is showing up for care and standing firm ….

For others, Christianity comes in a far ...

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Learning from My Father: Lessons on Life and Faith
Learning from My Father: Lessons on Life and Faith
159 pp., 8.32
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