Hope is a Hospice Thing


“Hope is a dangerous thing . . .”

My obvious hope on this website is to inform people about hospice.

I speak personally. A hospice cared for Dad. My mother, though never a hospice patient, received feedback from a hospice nurse that proved crucial to my family’s decisions. (We also “rejected” another hospice because their admitting nurse was—being polite—a poor listener.)

I speak professionally from my past. On numerous occasions, visiting hospice patients as their chaplain or pastor, I witnessed the importance of quiet time with loved ones in the final days. As hard as it was to admit, one more round of chemotherapy or another frantic trip to the emergency room would only put off the inevitable for a brief, painful time. Wasn’t it better to remain home?

I speak professionally from my present position in bereavement support. On numerous occasions, grievers have shared with me how helping a dying spouse—or other beloved family and friends—represented a way to honor that relationship. They learned about their unexpected strength and compassion as they focused on being a caregiver.

I also try to speak realistically about hospice and mortality. Modern medication, fervent prayers, high-tech treatments, and the skilled hands of a surgeon may lead to remission or even complete cures . . .

But do you think your ill friend or family member is somehow immortal?

Do you think you are?

But forget all any fancy or fanciful philosophy about human limitations. Hope, after all, matters!

If you’re a person of faith, won’t choosing hospice twist your prayers for healing into lies? How can you claim to believe in God if you “give up?” Or, if you place more trust in modern science and have confidence in modern health care’s state-of-the-art tools, aren’t you yanking away the proverbial rug on physicians’ expertise by choosing hospice?

Doesn’t God answer prayers? The “Good Book”—whichever sacred text you cherish—says so!

When the physician offers a new drug regime with a 20% success rate, why wouldn’t you be among the 1 in 5 patients with the best results? Someone wins! Why not you?

How can you not hope?

In Shawshank Redemption, a film based on Stephen King’s novella, the character Red bluntly told his fellow prisoner Andy, “Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

In Andy’s case—after playing music through the prison’s sound system, and then paying the price for his misdeeds with a stint in solitary confinement—he still embraced the value of hope. To have hope, even with a life sentence in prison. To have hope, just to make it through another miserable day. The iron bars and the angry guards may have kept Andy’s body contained, but within his heart and mind, in those places no one else controls, he could still have . . . hope!

But wasn’t Red right?

Isn’t hope dangerous?

Of course! But isn’t hope better than complacency or procrastination or self-doubt or a legion of other negatives that only encourage futility?

And so, I hope you or your loved one avoids hospice as long as possible. I hope you seek every cure, get every second—and third and fourth—opinion, pray every prayer, swallow every pill, and achieve that extra day and month and year of life. [Warning: movie spoiler.] Indeed, isn’t Shawshank Redemption such a beloved film because Andy’s hope, persistence, and clever tricks did lead him to freedom? Without his “dangerous hope,” he’d have died behind bars.

So please, keep hoping as you and your loved one wait in another doctor’s office. Keep hoping as you prowl the web for the newest experimental drug trial. Keep hoping while advocating for your beloved . . . for if you give up, they may also surrender.

But hospice isn’t the opposite of hope.

Hospice care isn’t giving up, failing, losing, or other dreary phrases of dire comparison.

The hope found in hospice isn’t based on treatment statistics or—I will be blunt—thinking you’ll never die. We all crave a large quantity of many days, but the quality of this day also matters. It is scary, even dangerous, to choose the comfort care of hospice over a medical or miracle cure because then only the patient controls her or his hope. Hope becomes precious time with loved ones. Hope becomes resting rather than restless planning. Hope becomes creating intimate memories rather than scheming for a splashy “bucket list” parachute jump or exotic vacation. Hope becomes—and this is so difficult for stubborn humans—letting others care for you.

But who am I kidding?

Won’t dying and hospice always be equated with hopelessness?

In the last church I served, a daughter called with a desperate—and hopeful—plea. Not a member of the congregation, she immediately (and bluntly) announced she was Buddhist. However, her mother was a Christian and dying from cancer. Could I visit her? Soon after, I arrived at a “stranger’s” home. The mother had stopped treatments. Hospice would soon be contacted. Was there any hope left? I visited several times. We chatted, held hands, prayed, and joked with her daughter about how easily they irritated each other and how they adored each other more than words could express.

Not much happened; everything happened. Their expressions of love were gifts in the grimmest of times. Hope, dangerous and yet present with every breath, was part of their conversation until a mother and child shared a final laugh and tear and kiss.

(Are there “bad” experiences with hospice? Yes. Does hospice care fail to meet certain family’s expectations? Without a doubt. Do some hospices focus more on bottom lines than their patient’s needs? Sigh, probably.)

But still, I believe hope is a hospice thing.

(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)

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  1. Hi Larry. I sometimes have my 2 cents to add, but this time you said it all so well that I have nothing to say except, “Well thought, well understood and well written, my friend.” – Michael

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