Saturday, April 4, 2015

Hospice Nurses, Heaven and Easter

Over the last two years, the Department of New Evangelization has been offering an adult faith formation program entitled, Hospice Nurses and Heaven. As an Adult Faith Formation Coordinator at the Diocese of Green Bay, I team up with a former hospice nurse to speak about how death is not the end of life but only the beginning. After all, life can be lived in one of two ways: 1. To live as if death were the end of life. 2. Or to live as though death were the beginning of life. The Catholic faith, in fact, bids us to believe the latter.

This belief is expressed in any number of ways, but chief among them is that the Church annually celebrates the memory of the Saints on the day they died; not on the day they were born. Even more important is the observance of our Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday. From these religious practices, something very practical and relevant is put into effect: The trials of life are put into perspective; most notably, grieving the loss of a loved one.

Hospice Nurses and Heaven not only presents the teachings of the Catholic Church on what is called the “Last Things”- that is, death, purgatory, heaven and hell -but it recounts stories told by hospice nurses about their patients who routinely reach out to “the other side” as they are actively dying. Hospice nurses from around the world report the same recurring phenomenon about their dying patients: interaction with deceased loved ones, reaching out to the Light, smelling roses, seeing angels and the like.

Of course, not all encounters with the other side are positive. After all, we die as we live. Unfortunately, people choose to live their lives without acknowledging God or living a moral life. As such, a person’s passage into eternity is not always one of peace, joy and hope. With that said, however, the reason why the adult faith formation program is called, “Hospice Nurses and Heaven” and not, “Hospice Nurses and Hell,” is because every person is called by God to be with him in heaven. Furthermore, the main purpose of the program is to inspire hope for the grieving.

It is important to note that the certainty of hope cannot be proven but only inspired. In fact, the Catholic doctrine on eternity cannot be demonstrated by science but it can offer credible motives for belief based on common human experiences. Among them, are hospice nurses stories and near death experiences. Yet, there is also the experience of sensing the presence of a loved one who had just passed away. Indeed, I cannot count the number of times a grieving person has shared with me that their departed loved one communicated their presence to them in some small but powerful way.

Just recently, we offered the program, Hospice Nurses and Heaven, to a rural parish. The co-speaker of the program decided to invite her friend along for the two hour ride. The friend happened to be a mother who had lost her 17 year old daughter in a car accident some eleven years ago. During our presentation, it was brought to my attention that the grieving mother had a special but most unusual experience. Shortly after her daughter’s death, it just so happen that she was looking out the first floor window into the backyard just when her husband was looking out the second floor window. What they saw amazed them both:

There was a crab tree that their daughter used to climb on when she was a younger girl. Naturally, when the grieving mother looked at the tree, it reminded her of her deceased daughter. But this time, both of them noticed that this tree (and only this tree) bloomed, even though it was September. Crab trees in Wisconsin do not bloom in the fall, but rather in the spring. For them, this was the sign from heaven that they needed. At the same moment, they were both assured that their daughter was not only okay but that her spirit was fully alive. 

The funny thing about these experiences is that although they may not be scientific enough to convert an atheist into a believer, they offer just enough “proof” to those it was meant to touch. To be sure, the good Lord lifts the veil just enough to make belief possible but faith necessary.

You see, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is not just a holy day nor is it just an historical event. It is a reality that has manifested itself through the extraordinary but common experiences of countless people.

Click here for video: Glimpses of Heaven, by Trudy Harris