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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Response to suffering

Our faith commands compassion

Not too long ago I joined family at my father-in-law’s bedside as he was dying. What a profound experience to share his last hours—some troubled and troubling, some lucid and loving.

After the funeral some of us became ill with a wicked stomach virus. My adult son’s face lost its color, and his eye sockets became sunken as bouts of diarrhea dehydrated him. I hadn’t nursed him through illness in more than a decade, but I coaxed liquids, offered soothing words and saw the miracle of health return. As his symptoms receded so did his dependence and vulnerability. Shortly thereafter I got sick. At one point I was so weak I simply laid down on the bathroom floor following a vomiting bout, waiting to regain enough strength to return to bed.

Why do I recount these scenes of death and sickness with their difficult images of suffering and vulnerability? Because we must be fully in touch with the core experiences of sickness and death—the discomfort, decline and dependency—to resolve the health-care crisis in our country. We must realize that health-care organizations are dramatically different from other groups. They aren’t like businesses selling goods and services. Rather they exist to deal hour-by-hour with human suffering, illness and death.


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September issue

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