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Caring for the Dying & Bereaved

May 5, 2020

Care for the Dying & Bereaved

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) was a Dutch Catholic priest who taught theology at several prestigious institutions including Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard.  Following his mother’s death in 1978, he became increasingly dissatisfied in his academic career and in 1985 he resigned.  He joined a community that welcomed and ministered to and with people with severe intellectual and physical disabilities, first L’Arche in France and then Daybreak in Ontario.  There he helped with the hands-on daily care of his fellow residents and found profound meaning and purpose in his life.  Henri wrote several books and reflections on his experiences and thoughts that have helped ground and center people in our often fast-paced, success-driven world.  His words, adapted below, on caring for the dying help Wings of Hope staff as we join with individuals and families facing death.

Caring for the Dying

Caring for others is, first of all, helping them to overcome that enormous temptation of self-rejection.  Whether we are rich or poor, famous or unknown, fully abled or disabled…we all share the fear of being unlovable and ultimately left alone and abandoned.

This fear of being abandoned lies hidden under the surface of our self-composure.  Its deepest root lies in the possibility of not being loved at all, of not belonging to anything that lasts or of being swallowed up by a dark nothingness…of being abandoned by everyone including God.

Caring therefore is being present to people as they fight this ultimate battle, a battle that becomes ever more real and intense as death gets closer.  To care for the dying is to stand with them and to be a living reminder that the person is indeed beloved.

We shouldn’t try to provide this care by ourselves.  We should whenever possible care together in a community of care that reminds the dying person of his or her worth, their dignity, their belovedness.

As we strive to create and join with community, we firmly believe in the worth and dignity of each person.  This community continues into bereavement as we offer the caregivers and family members of the deceased grief support via educational mailings, one-to-one counseling and group support.  Many participants initially start with individual support and eventually move into a group.  This group or community of mourners offers a place to simply be with others who are bereaved, a place where no one need “put on a happy face” in the midst of their pain.  It is a place of laughter and tears as we share good memories, struggle with new experiences and find ways to move forward in life, never forgetting but ultimately celebrating and honoring the lives of our now deceased beloved.  It takes courage to move forward through grief and mourning and we welcome others who are bereaved to join with us.


Author: Phyllis Hepp, Grief Support Coordinator

Photo credit: Craig Gardiner Photography

Posted by in Grief Support, Hospice Support