Hospice, Worry, and Faith: a Brief Look at Anxiety and Prayer

There’s a toll to feeling on edge every moment of every day. From first waking in the pre-dawn hours to that final moment before falling back to sleep in the evening darkness, every single moment feels like it is lived on that edge.

This is life with a parent on hospice.

Dad has good days and bad days, or perhaps I should say good hours in the day and some that are not good. He still enjoys participating in the activities in his assisted living apartment house (a place I have often characterized as a cruise ship on land). He also sleeps much of each day. I spend a lot of time thinking about how he is doing when I’m not there visiting.

Phone calls come in from the staff. Every time I see that number on caller id I am gripped with apprehension. Most of the staff has learned to start routine calls with “This is not an emergency call. I just wanted to let you know … .” If it is an emergency, they say that too.

More often than not the calls are still not an emergency. But there are a lot of calls regarding Dad’s care. Calls from the staff and management of his facility, and calls from the hospice nurse or chaplain or social worker. Dad’s been on hospice for a week now, and he could be on it for months. Or more. Or a lot less.

Signing Dad up for hospice took over two hours of talking with the intake nurse and social worker. We sat in a small well-appointed conference room just off the assisted living facility’s main lobby. They took me and Liz, my wife, through all the details, lots of paperwork to review and sign, and answered the questions we’d brought. Actually these were the questions Liz and I had discussed but she’d written down to bring up. She is much better than I am at thinking through these types of things and then following up with questions, getting answers, and clarifying expectations. I thank God for her presence in my life to come alongside me and hold me up when I am faltering.

It takes a toll on her as well. As she said the other day when we were talking about the burden we are both carrying:

“We’re constantly waiting for the next phone call, not knowing what we’ll be needing to handle this time.”

That constant waiting has me on edge every single moment of every day.

Getting a Grip

Handle the things you can, I tell myself. Don’t worry about the things you can’t.

Sometimes that works. A lot of times it doesn’t. And then I read this on Twitter:

There isn’t enough room in your mind for both worry and faith. You must decide which one will live there.

So the times when my little self talk doesn’t work are times I’m not exercising faith? Not true. The times when I worry are the times I am driven to God in prayer.

They aren’t long thought-out prayers. They’re short and desperate prayers. They’re prayers born of worry and distraction that can easily lead to rising anxiety. They’re prayers that seek God’s help – any type of help – when I feel helpless and start drifting into hopelessness as well.

Sometimes the Holy Spirit calms my heart. Sometimes God brings a person alongside me in that moment. Sometimes I remember how much Jesus loves me and desires for me to be resting in him. Sometimes I recall scripture such as these passages:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.(Matthew 11:28.)

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7.)

And sometimes I still worry.

Handle the things you can. Don’t worry about the things you can’t. This reminder works occasionally. When it doesn’t, I haven’t failed to make room in my mind for faith. I am driven to exercise my faith through prayer because one thing I know is that even when I am on edge every moment, even when I feel anxiety rising within me and I am ready to crawl out of my skin, even when I am overcome with worry, Jesus is with me always.

That’s one less thing to worry about. But I still spend most of my waking hours feeling like I’m right on the edge and worrying.


For more on worry and faith, see Casting My Cares on Jesus? Why Worry Still Overtakes Me.

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37 Responses to Hospice, Worry, and Faith: a Brief Look at Anxiety and Prayer

  1. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    Tim, I’m sorry to hear that you, your dad, your wife, and your entire family are going through this stressful time. I have had similar experiences and I know what you mean about that worry that never leaves.

    That person’s tweet makes me angry – but it also makes me pity her. To have a concept of faith that is so small: as if faith is something that fits inside our mind and fights for space there. Faith is so much more than that. I’m glad God is infinitely more compassionate than these “published authors” who make pronouncements like that.

    • Tim says:

      Thank you, Jeannie. I know both of your parents have passed away, and I appreciate your understanding.

      • Jeannie Prinsen says:

        Just my mom, but yes, I do understand insofar as anyone can understand another’s situation. Praying for you today.

        • Tim says:

          Sorry! I don’t know why I thought that. I love the pictures you’ve posted of your father with your kids!

  2. Dear Tim, I’ll be thinking of you and keeping you and your family in my prayers. Just read this, and I sympathize completely. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it to you, but I use an app every day called Pray as You Go that I find really centering. https://pray-as-you-go.org/ Maybe it will be of help for you. All best, Jen

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Tim says:

      Your prayers are much appreciated, Jen. I’l be checking out the prayer aid.

    • Carla Mueller says:

      Pray-as-you-go has been wonderful for me, too. It’s just 12 minutes, but often they are transformative 12 minutes that lead me from anxiety to peace, and from chaos to rest.

  3. Lloyd Hamilton says:

    Thanks for this, Tim. I’m right there with you. My dad is not in hospice, but is facing some very challenging health issues. “Handle the things you can, I tell myself. Don’t worry about the things you can’t.” Good advice. I’m gonna try to put it into practice…

  4. I completely understand what you are going through and ask god to give you peace and mercy–sorry this will be long with a shameless plug for raising funds through my Etsy shops at the end.

    …for me it has been 44 years of this with my husband. because of his continous illnesses/maladies/injuires and general ill health— it has been a life time of finding answers to the mysteries like why when we were first married his blood was so thick he would not bleed when cut. if he was not sick with something he would have an accident of some sort.

    it does not help that he did not believe me when telling him what was healthy to eat, that he needed to not be sedentary, etc. (my dad had cancer and beat it through diet and exercise after the mass in his stomach was removed) —

    finally -Last year in march my body and mind finally broke down from the constant stress of dealing with all his issues and hospital stays. I got a diagnosis of cancer, high blood pressure, continual panic attacks, anxiety, ptsd, etc etc. We were both in the hospital at the same time for surgeries. I did not do chemo/radiation since one of us had to be functional and finding that others had beaten cancer through diet/exercise/ reduction of stress – only diet was open to me since the other 2 were impossible to achieve due to circumstances .

    through it all my faith took a beating, through not mad at god i did not have the capability to exercise faith as all the brain chemicals had gone awry and i could not think right.

    I feel i am in a trap as the problems kept building — we are so deep in debt from medical bills (he had to get new eyes, new ears, a very expensive walk in tub that does not work right, and a lot of my bills are not covered under my teacher retirement when before all this we only owed a little on one vehicle) he continues to get worse and to survive I have had to distance myself from his problems.

    i no longer take him to all his doctor appts, (local ride program picks him up) – if he has to go to emergency which is hours upon hours of waiting, i drop him off and go home. for a while I had some counseling (while it was free), used diet and exercise to work myself off high blood pressure meds and took lots of vitamins, etc, cut ALL sugar out, etc etc.

    now we find a back injury from a logging accident when he was 19 has damaged his spine so much that he needs surgery but on all his heart meds, he cannot have that surgery. so he is on dozens of medications that do little for him and in constant pain.

    I am trying to raise money for the bills as bill collectors keep calling and calling (I just hang up now) by selling my horse art and cat related art/notecards on Etsy. Susan’s Saddle Stands and A Cat Named Fred is where you and your readers can find my items for sale. p.s. also taking care of several homeless cats.

  5. Dear Tim, when I read your tweet this morning, I felt my heart constrict. I have been right where you and your wife have been. With my mom, and her older sister, yes. And a number of times as a serving hospital chaplain, journeying with patients and their loved ones in the hospital. (My dad died rapidly of cancer while I was in college, but I went to the hospital each week while he was there. Devastating.) From my experience, hospice workers are such compassionate people. (Blessings on all hospice workers!)
    Know that many of your friends – near and far – are journeying with you. I will be praying for you and your wife, and of course for your dear father. Of course you are worried. And, grieving ahead of time, even though you thankfully still have your father with you. I will pray that you will be especially aware of Jesus’ presence at your side through these rare and painful days. May God lift you all and enfold you in blessed everlasting arms of care, love, and comfort. ❤

  6. Linn says:

    Handle the things you can. Don’t worry about the things you can’t.
    This will be my personal mantra during the next few weeks as my sister and I try to help my step-mom with my dad’s rapidly deteriorating mental functions, bordering on paranoia. I just came from a few days with them, and I’m exhausted. My dad wakes up, doesn’t remember what day it is, but he stills driving and going on errands (!). He also has a tendency towards crude profanity and violence due to a bad temper (which he always has had). I’m afraid something very bad might happen, and I did tell my stepmom to call 911 if anything dangerous occurs. So, I will pray for you and your dad as we adjust to our “new normal.”

  7. Julie Frady says:

    My mother has been in hospice for many months at her memory care facility. She passed away last week and I just returned from her funeral. This is a long journey that will build and strengthen your faith as it has mine, but yes, there are times when we worry too, and that does drive us to Jesus and is not an indication that our faith is lacking. My sister and I were able to be there for her final moments, and it was both hard and holy at the same time. Find the joy in each moment you can, even if it seems insignificant at the time.

  8. My mother-in-law began the hospice journey in January. Yes. it is the most emotionally and physically exhausting thing there is. She went home to Jesus two days ago. I’ve lost both my parents long ago, but this is the first time I’ve walked through the long process with someone. So incredibly hard, and so beautiful. (I had to write about it on my blog, too.) Don’t be faith bullied. The emotions are all over. The exhaustion makes it worse. I completely understand that phone call thing. All three of our kids knew instantly when I called them Saturday. No one ever calls. Blessings on this road.

  9. Carol Noren Johnson says:

    Hospice was wonderful for my late husband and I.

  10. Carol Noren Johnson says:

    Hospice was wonderful for my late husband and I.

  11. Anu Riley says:

    Praying for you always, and praying for your loved ones. These sorts of posts are terribly difficult to read, because you want so badly to “help” (aka take the pain away), but you know the best thing to be done is pray to the One who you need the most. The One who can truly help, and does!

    Why am I not surprised that you’ve had so many comments and responses already?? You hit upon a topic that many persons know all too well—-the horrible and helpless feeling of being in pain themselves, or watching their loved ones be in pain.

    I would often wonder which was worse, because I’ve been on both sides. There is no answer.

    I’m so glad you’ve reached out in this way. Depending on the person, we might want to keep certain things private—-but in sharing this deeply personal and painful story—-you’ve brought a great amount of blessing to so many. And no doubt so many people needed it.

    This is a world where we seem to expect the impossible: invincibility (or at least the appearance of it) in the face of pain and suffering. To admit weakness or weariness is seen as a mark of shame, not a mark of humanity.

    So this is where I think you’ve touched upon a sore spot, but one that needed to be prodded in order to bring freedom and encouragement:

    It’s perfectly all right to admit that even though He is 100% with you during our storms, the wind and the waves are really knocking you around. Leaving you feeling bruised, wet, cold and afraid. The rain is pelting down on you hard. The boat is precariously rocking back and forth. The wind feels like a whip. Any minute now you feel you might go overboard, lost for good. And are we EVER going to reach the other side? Will the sun ever come out again?

    The only thing that keeps us going is knowing He is with us, so we know we won’t perish. I won’t disintegrate, because He is holding me still, holding me near, holding me together.

    Bruised, battered, or beaten down—-we are safe in His arms.

    • Tim says:

      Thank you, Anu. I love your conclusion.

      • Ruth says:

        Reading through this post again, when I read what Anu said. We are safe in His arms. How vey comforting and and apt as we face life in its many shapes and shades of anxiety, joy, fear and feeling confused.
        Will we be able to keep our house?
        What will happen to my dad?
        What will take away the helpless feeling?
        His arms. Love this.

  12. thytruthuntotheclouds says:

    I understand you completely. I lost my dad 18 years ago, my mom 13. Mom was in home hospice, dad was not. The feelings you describe were ones I felt and still feel. My faith did sustain me but I was often a wreck. God was always faithful to me, and I always knew he was there even when things felt very dark. Thanks for posting.

  13. Ruth says:

    Very true

  14. Tom Parker says:

    Tim: IMO the person who put on twitter:”There isn’t enough room in your mind for both worry and faith. You must decide which one will live there.” does not know what they are talking about. I have grown to greatly dislike trite statements such as this one. Blessings upon you and your family as you go through this difficult time.

    • Tim says:

      The tweet was a misrepresentation of what faith really is. I’m glad the faith given me by God is bigger than my worries and anxiety.

  15. Tim, I’m sorry to hear about your family and I want you to know I will be praying for you.

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