Bob Whorton, until 2017 chaplain at Sobell House Hospice, Oxford

Some of us will enter death speedily, as fast as a jet-ski, and some of us will drift into death like a canal barge gently entering a lock. In a hospice, patients and their families know that death is coming and this can be stressful and frightening, especially if dying is accompanied by pain and other distressing symptoms. But it can be a time of blessing too. As the canal boat chugs along there is time for important things to be said – such as I love you and I’m sorry and thank you. There may be a sharpened focus on things that really matter - not just making a will, or thinking about the funeral, but preparing spiritually for the biggest event of our lives.

I think we can discover at this time what we really believe (rather than what we think we ought to believe). Lament may be important. We can cry out in the dark and ask God what is going on. Where is the sense in this dissolving of our known life, this anguish, this slow dying? Sometimes people wonder if they are being punished by God – especially when there are difficult symptoms – because this process can feel like punishment. I find the image of the falling grain of wheat particularly helpful (John 12.24). Unless the grain of wheat falls from the ear of corn there can be no new life, no harvest. It splats into the soft mud and then comes a long time of waiting before a new shoot appears.

Perhaps we find a different sort of God in this waiting. One who waits with us in the mud. One who is wounded as we are wounded. One who waits for the warm sun of dawn as we wait for it. A God who is for us – and, seeing our distress, simply puts his arm around us.


Bob Whorton develops these insights further, drawing on the Psalms as a resource for deep reflection, in his book Voices from the Hospice (see bibliography)