Finding spiritual peace on a hospice bed

by Diocese of Des Moines | April 22, 2021

Deacon Monte Montague

By Deacon Monty Montague

After retiring from law enforcement 11 years ago, I became involved in hospital ministry.

I worked part-time as a chaplain for Mercy Hospital in Council Bluffs and Creighton Hospital in Omaha. Through conversations with Deacon Jean Plourde I became interested in his ministry as a hospice chaplain. In December of 1996, I joined Deacon Jean as a chaplain for St. Croix Hospice. Working out of the Council Bluffs office, I had an 80-mile radius, covering the communities of Portsmouth, Harlan, Atlantic, Clarinda, Shenandoah and points in between.

“Hospice” often brings up anxiety and resistance due to misconceptions about what hospice care actually includes. Hospice is so much more than end-of-life care benefiting both patients and their families.

Far from “giving up” in the face of an advanced illness, choosing hospice can help patients and families make the most of their time together when a cure is no longer an option. Those involved in hospice focus on helping patients and loved ones maintain quality of life during the time they have together. Hospice care can be provided for anyone with a life expectancy of six months or less, and it may be continued as long as a patient is qualified.

Nothing compares to the joy of helping someone find spiritual peace – and knowing it is Christ working through me.

My most profound moment of hospice involved Marilyn from Red Oak. Marilyn was a Protestant, and though she attended church occasionally, she doubted her salvation. During the course of my visits I shared the parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s a powerful story of God the Father’s infinite mercy.

After taking time to reflect more on the Father’s mercy with Marilyn, I invited her to rededicate her life to the Lord. To pray, to ask for God’s forgiveness of her sins and to profess Jesus as Lord and Savior of her life. She was guided through the Sinner’s Prayer and she professed Jesus as her Lord and Savior.

After prayer, I asked how she felt. She replied, “I feel very good, like a weight has been lifted off of me.” I quoted a passage from St. Luke to her, “The angels rejoice over each repentant sinner.” I confirmed for her that the angels were celebrating for her in heaven.

About a month after her profession of faith, I found myself at her bedside. It was just the two of us. She was at the end of life. I found her to be non-responsive to my voice or touch. I began to read and reflect on various passages of Scripture from the book, Pastoral Care of the Sick. As I prayed her breathing was becoming more and more shallow. Feeling compelled to pray the Anima Christi prayer, I began to pray, “Soul of Christ, sanctify me. Body of Christ, save me…” As I neared the end of the prayer, Marilyn opened her eyes, raised herself on to her left elbow and looked toward me but, beyond me. After a moment or two, she lowered herself back onto her pillow, took a couple of breaths and was gone.

The feeling that welled up in me was of great joy. I know in my heart that she had gone to be with our Savior Jesus Christ. I couldn’t wait to call and talk with Deacon Jean to share my excitement and to let him know that the angels in heaven were rejoicing over one repentant sinner coming home.

Reprinted with permission from Diakonia, a newsletter for deacon couples of the Diocese of Des Moines.

Diocese of Des Moines

The Diocese of Des Moines, created in 1911, serves people over a 12,446 square mile area in the southwestern quadrant of Iowa, including 23 counties.