Throughout, the author’s thoughtful Christian perspective informs the narrative. For instance, in a section dealing with the experience of dying, she poses the important question: “Is suffering sent, permitted or used by God?” She then explores how various theologians and bioethicists have tried to answer it.
Ultimately, she rejects Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s suggestion in “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” that “suffering is a sign of God’s absence from the world.” Rather, Evans writes, the story of Job shows us that “suffering is a mystery, but God’s goodness ultimately triumphs.” Here it is essential to recognize that “God is with us in our suffering,” she continues. Like the Rev. Martin Marty in his book “A Cry of Absence,” Evans believes “that we cannot escape the winter of the heart that is at the core of the believer’s struggle.”
“Is God Still at the Bedside?” is a compassionate, wise and practical guide that will help families, nurses, doctors and pastors. Evans covers a lot of ground, drawing from the fields of medicine, law, theology and ethics, but organizing and presenting the information so clearly that it always remains accessible. This is no small achievement, given such a complex and interdisciplinary subject.
One of the most fascinating chapters reports on the author’s research interviews with palliative care staff (hospital chaplains, hospice nurses, pastors, physicians, social workers and others). They reported that they found their work with dying patients to be extremely meaningful. “Another blessing mentioned was helping the family feel less anxious and scared, thus in some ways reflecting God’s love of the patients and families.”
For their part, Evans discovered that “what the dying consider to be of great importance is giving them space to share their stories and experiences, an opportunity to ask questions, and even to confess and ask forgiveness of estranged family members – which can give them a sense of peace.”
Perhaps surprisingly, she found that the dying don’t spend much time pondering when they will actually expire; there is a seeming disconnect between getting a diagnosis of terminal illness and the fact that one is going to die. In part, this may be a self-protective aspect of the human psyche. Still, it can be extremely helpful and comforting for caretakers to draw out dying patients’ fears, anxieties and wishes about their final days. To this end, Evans offers many practical suggestions about how to approach and how to listen.
“Is God Still at the Bedside?” is nothing short of thorough. Detailed appendices give information about resource organizations that address end-of-life issues, advance directives, a patient’s bill of rights, do’s and don’ts for caretakers, and other subjects. Most of all, the book inspires with its demonstration that, “As the words on Carl Jung’s door, and later on his tombstone, declared: ‘Bidden or not bidden God is present.'”
Roberts directs the journalism program at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Her books include “Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker.”