At the entrance of The Salvation Army’s Grace Hospice in Winnipeg, Canada, a dedication sign includes the verse “He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul” (Psalm 23).

Many have commented that they feel peace as they enter the building. I have wondered if pausing to read the inscription has something to do with their perceptions. Certainly the surroundings of a park by a creek, high ceilings, ample windows, comfortable spaces, china teas, art, music and pet therapies all help to create a homelike and gentle atmosphere. But more poignant than visitors’ first impressions of peace are the narratives of those journeying together over time as life is waning. Grace Hospice enables residents to be respected and live with dignity while they grapple with “mortal time.”

“Mortal time” is the name McQuellon and Cowan (2000) have given to the state humans enter when confronted—directly or vicariously—with the prospect of death. Mortal time is profoundly subjective. It is often laden with angst and the complexities which come from sharing one’s personal story. Authenticity is essential, but sharing this sacred time has the potential to enhance coping and enrich meaning for those who turn toward death together.

It has been said by many that we live in a death-denying society, and to some degree that may be true in spite of recent improvements in advancing public and professional awareness of palliative care. But as Major Cath McFarlane, The Salvation Army chaplain at the hospice, points out, it is a greater challenge in our western culture to appropriately support and adequately acknowledge the grieving and mourning processes that attend death. Indeed there are many losses that come before death even occurs. We may now be more accurately described as a grief-denying or mourning-avoiding society.

Communal mourning often gets short shrift. Alan Wolfelt, a well-known author, counselor and educator in the field of grief work, is quick to remind us that we need to understand the difference between grief—our internal thoughts and feelings in response to our loss—and mourning, the outward expression of grief. He reminds us of the importance mourning has to our healing, noting the spiritual dimension to mourning and the need to express one’s faith in that journey. Community needs to be involved in fostering healthy expressions of finding meaning and building faith in the context of the suffering and teaching of multiple griefs.

Each person who lives at the Grace Hospice until physical death comes has taught us important lessons. As a team we have learned to recognize that even in the midst of total dependence there is communal interdependence that benefits us all. In the mysteries of mortal time, we see care expertly planned, and we see moments of splendid serendipity. We live moments of angst, and we are surprised by joy. One of our greatest blessings in this work is to experience and witness daily the overwhelming and inclusive expressions of unconditional love and grace that Christ came to help us understand. In living and in dying, God’s grace is a gift meant for all people.

God is the source of hope that transforms and transcends all suffering and grief. This is why The Salvation Army is—and must continue to be—involved in enabling the meaning-making and faith discovery that lives in mortal time experience.

—Laurie R. Read, RN, B.Sc.N., MN is Clinical Manager
at Grace Hospice and Grace Cancer Care Clinic.

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