In Voices from the Hospice: Staying with Life Through Suffering and Waiting, hospice chaplain Bob Whorton takes us deep into the human experience of suffering and waiting. We asked Bob to offer some thoughts on how he came to write the book:
As a hospice chaplain I ‘do’ very little. I have no drugs to ease pain, no physiotherapy to offer and no skill in washing a fragile body. The helplessness of patients and relatives can be mirrored in the experience of the hospice chaplain. What I can offer is my open, waiting self. In my book Voices from the Hospice: Staying with Life Through Suffering and Waiting (SCM 2015) I use the metaphor of a train journey to illustrate the things in life which we have no control over but simply have to be lived (we don’t drive the train!) I hear relatives in the hospice talk of being on an express train which is going too fast towards the death of a loved one. Or in complete contrast a patient might talk of a train which meanders much too slowly through the countryside; she wants to have arrived at her destination but feels she will never get there. And I hear people using the image of the roller coaster which takes them up and down, up and down, on this challenging journey. The train might take us through a life-limiting illness, or a relationship breakdown, or burnout, or questioning our faith … The ideas for the book came into focus when I read a poem by Joanna Tulloch entitled ‘Conveyancing’:
…. and it’s no good
trying to short-circuit the process.
The train that takes us there
stops at every station …..
(Tulloch J., (2014) A Reflection of God, Kibworth Beauchamp: Matador, p. 67)
This rang true of my own experience of trying to find a life which is authentic and it spoke of the experience of patients and families in the hospice. We want to change reality, to fix things, to persuade God to give us a different sort of life. And sometimes all we can do is to ‘allow’ life in, however hard that is. When we can allow reality, we find we are on a true Way towards life rather than death, and patients and family members in a hospice can be our teachers in this. As we move through the stations we will struggle with belief, fall off the edge of the normal, wrestle with forgiveness and die our many deaths. In addition there are the inevitable station waiting rooms where we are stranded for a while and nothing seems to change. This all sounds rather bleak! But I think it is the reality we are sometimes called to live. Walter Brueggemann in his writing on the psalms of lament talks about a movement from orientation (normal, stable life) through disorientation (the bottom falls out of life) to new orientation (the grace of new life). We learn to sing a new song when we have travelled through the many stations of disorientation and find ourselves taken to a totally new place – which is pure gift.
You can buy a copy of Voices from the Hospice, and see what others thought of the book here.