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Through the Valley

The Way of the Cross for the End of Life

ISBN13: 9781847301741

ISBN10: 1847301746

Publisher: Veritas Publications (May 2009)

Extent: 72 pages

Binding: Paperback

Size: 0.8 x 12.5 x 19 cm

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  • In an increasingly health-conscious society, it often seems that people, when faced with the dying process, view it as an oddity, an aberration, rather than a natural part of life. This book takes a fresh look at the way that Jesus walked, and gives practical suggestions on how to take that experience and make it our own in a positive, loving way. It gives hope that we are not alone in our final hours, that we are filled with Divine love as we journey together.

    Growing out of the author’s experience as a hospice chaplain companioning the dying and their families, these meditations and prayers are based on the fears and hopes, and joys and sorrows of these individuals, and of the hospice staff who accompanied them.

  • Susan Catherine Mitchell

    Susan Catherine Mitchell is a Catholic Chaplain board-certified by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains which is endorsed by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and has a Masters in Pastoral Studies from the Washington Theological Union in Washington DC. Married for twenty-eight years with two children, she lives in Maryland, USA.

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    Susan Mitchell has given us a gift, rare and intense, intimate and bold ... This book is a companion on the way, allowing us to go with God throughout our lives, all the way, through our dying and rising alone, and with others bound on the same journey of grace and life.

    - Megan McKenna

    At a time of the year when the world around is bursting with new growth, we should not forget that growth is only one aspect of lifes cycle, that decline and death inevitably follow. In the spirit as in nature, death is not an end, but a renewal, a making new, albeit in a different way, of life eternal. Susan Mitchell is an American writer and this little book is based on her own experiences working in hospices. Her aim is to benefit those living through death and those who care for them.

    - The Irish Catholic


    This book is designed by the author to be used both for personal reflection and as a liturgical service in settings such as church, hospital chapel or individual home


    The authors reflections are on the Scriptural Stations of the Cross set forth by Pope John Paul II in 1991 as a way to be more faithful to the biblical narrative and to make them more appropriate for ecumenical purposes.


    It is best to note that those stations are different from the traditional Stations of the Cross that we are familiar with in Ireland.


    All the Stations provoke their own thoughts. The Fourth Station `Jesus is denied by Peter, caught my attention - the author points out how Peter mirrors our own insecurities and doubts. How often do we react in the same way?


    When we are ill, we deny that much is going on, we cling to denial. Mitchell stresses the need to be gentle with those who cannot accept the reality of death and not try to press on them some sort of `ideal death.


    Likewise, I found the Eighth Station thought provoking. Jesus is helped by Simon the Cyrene; here, the author points out how interdependent we are all on each other and so we do not carry the cross alone.


    It is best to note that the author is American and once worked in a hospice in Maryland. It is this setting she has in mind when she outlines her liturgical service.


    I feel this book offers the chaplain `nuggets of wisdom to be used when and where applicable.


    - Jacinta Forde, The Carer, Sep 2010


    The author lives in Maryland, USA, with her husband and children, and, certified by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, she is the chaplain of a hospice. From her experience of attitudes to dying - often seen as an aberration rather than a natural part of life - she uses the stations of the cross to show how we can accept that process and make it our own. For each of the fifteen stations, Mitchell provides a prayer, a reading and explanation and some words of comfort.

    - Books Ireland, September 2009

    Mitchell is that rather unusual being - a female Catholic chaplain. Her slim but fine book is equally singular in its inspiration and impact. Meditations on the traditional Stations of the Cross - the final stages of Jesus life, from Gethsemane to the Resurrection are commonplace in Catholic spirituality, but Mitchells originality comes in mapping those stations to the emotions and experiences of the dying and their caregivers. In a brilliant illustration of incarnational theology, Mitchell both "immerses" readers in the stations - and reminds them of Gods identification with human suffering. VERDICT: A suitably brief, grounded, and valuable book for all devout Catholics, especially the dying and those who surround them.

    - Graham Christian, Library Journal

    The prayer book I would like to introduce to you is written by wife, mother, and hospice chaplain ` Susan Mitchell and is called Through the Valley , The Way of the Cross for the End of Life. Unlike the others it is presented without illustrations. It can be used for private prayer or for a community service. It begins in the hospice garden and, after following a planned route through the hospice, ends in the garden. The invocation and Bible reading at each station follows the traditional format. It is the reflection on each station that is unique. It is geared primarily to the dying person or to those who are caring for the person or just sitting helplessly, wearily by as their loved ones life ebbs away peacefully or in agony. The emphasis is on Gods presence; stop trying to do things; do not seek to deny what is taking place; accept the anger that may arise in us; accept the guilt feelings that we could have, avoided this outcome if we had done differently; accept forgiveness as the good thief did; think of those we are leaving behind as Jesus did and make provision for them; face my death or the death of the loved one in contemplating the death of Jesus; ", enter the resurrection of Jesus as a present cause of rejoicing and a foretaste of the joy that awaits us. The book is not confined to use in a hospice or at the time of dying. It is of value to anyone who wishes to draw closer to Jesus in his suffering and in this way connect with God as a participant in the kind of pain, fear and anxiety that we ourselves experience.

    - From my bookshelf, Tom Kiggins, Africa, June 2010


    In April 2000, I received an urgent phone call at my home in Maryland; my father was dying. My family and I spent ten days with him in a Connecticut hospital. We journeyed together through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23). At the time, I was finishing my studies at the Washington Theological Union, and one of my friends and mentors, Rev. Dominic Monti, OFM, told me that while before I had known the theology of Holy Week, now I knew its reality. My father, Anthony John Mitchell, died on Easter Sunday.
    That experience led me to seek out training in the ministry of chaplaincy. Since then I have been a chaplain in a nursing facility for the elderly, a hospital, an inpatient hospice and in hospice patients homes. I am board-certified by the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, which is sponsored by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. I have listened to the stories of many journeys, been a witness to life and to death, to joy and to sorrow, to hope and to despair. The reflections in this book spring from these experiences. The end of life is a deeply holy and intense time. It can be a time for inner growth, for connection among people and connection to the Divine. It can also be painful, sad, exhausting and draining, all at the same time.
    It is in this very intensity that we can break through to an awareness of the God who sustains us, a God who is both the very fiber of our being and so transcendent that we are stopped wordless in wonder. We do not come to God apart from our daily lives, but through them. What has given meaning and purpose to us throughout our lives is what will give meaning and purpose to us during our final days.
    I envisioned this book of meditations as a way of immersing ourselves in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. The stops, or stations, along the way of the cross are not meant to be taken as strict analogies to our lives. The specific episodes in the life of Jesus are what he encountered as a perfect embodiment of our humanity, making manifest the Kingdom of God. While our specific episodes will be different, we walk in his way.
    The point of connection is that our God became human and experienced the same pain, the same fear, the same anxiety and the same joy that we feel. This God is with us in all the times of our own lives. This God knows us, loves us and is never apart from us. The incarnation binds us ever more closely to the Divine and to each other. For we do not journey alone; we journey within a Trinity of Divine love and in the company of all creation. We live and move and have our being in an ever-connected universe. Our sufferings and our joys are joined inextricably together. It is in the creative and life-giving Spirit of God that we come together to reflect on the life of Jesus and on our own lives. I offer these meditations as a way of acknowledging our shared path. It is my hope that they will bring closeness and peace. Blessings on the journey!


    The way of the cross, or the stations of the cross, is a traditional liturgical service that allows those who cannot go to Jerusalem to figuratively walk on the path that Jesus walked. Most Roman Catholic churches have some kind of representation of these stations, usually on their walls. These traditional meditations combine Scripture with revered stories, such as those of Veronica and her veil. For this book, I have used the Scriptural Stations of the Cross set forth by Pope John Paul II in 1991 as a way to be more faithful to the biblical narrative and to make them more appropriate for ecumenical purposes. I have used the texts suggested by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on their website: ( To them I have added the Resurrection narrative of Luke. Other translations or appropriate readings could be used based on local needs.
    This book is designed to be used both for personal reflection and as a liturgical service. The purpose of the liturgical service is to gather the dying and those who are caring for them on the way of the cross that Jesus followed, in the belief that we are all connected to a larger reality of pain and of hope.
    The congregation will most likely include a larger number of family members and caregivers than those who are ill. I envision, for example, an inpatient hospice with grounds around it, such as one in which I have worked called Casey House, operated by Montgomery Hospice in Rockville, Maryland. I have written this liturgy with that setting in mind. Their hospice rooms have large windows overlooking a garden, with benches, a small pond and a walkway with memorial stones and trees. The beds can even be moved outdoors by family members.
    The service could also be adapted for other settings, such as a church, hospital chapel, or an individual home. A group could perhaps even drive from place to place with each residence or facility representing a different station. Another approach would be to focus on one or two stations a week in a small prayer group or in individual reflection.
    This is an ecumenical Christian service open to all. It can be seen as a walking meditation, a pilgrimage, a way to make manifest that we all walk together. It tells a universal story. With that in mind, it is important to honour the sensibilities of those who would be upset or offended to have it taking place outside their windows. Families of the dying have enough to contend with; they do not need to be reminded by the way of the cross of past injustices and pain inflicted in the name of Christianity.
    While this service uses all of the stations, including the Resurrection, in practice it is important to consider individual needs and plan accordingly. For those in frail health, selecting a few stations would be more beneficial than having a long service. The hope of the Resurrection should always be included. When we reflect on the way, of the cross, we are always looking back from the perspective of the Resurrection. The scripture writers gathered oral traditions and interpretations of eyewitnesses to compile the Good News. While we can focus on one, part of Jesus life and death, we can never forget the context of the gift of Resurrection open to all of us. Those, who are suffering or in sorrow particularly need to hear its message, no matter how limited the time.
    It is a good idea to provide copies of the scripture ahead of time to encourage personal and family reflection. Distant friends and family members could also participate on their own at the same time. Use technology such as the internet or a mobile phone to connect them. Staff members and volunteers could be invited to participate, both to assist and for their own benefit.
    If at all possible, the dying, their families, loved one and caregivers should be asked ahead of time to give some of the brief reflections, in place of those written here, which are meant only as a starting point. My reflections may also need to be shortened to suit the needs of the congregation. That way, the service will: better reflect the experience of the particular community and their fears and hopes. Me presider or leader could then tie these reflections together and connect them to the larger reality. Participants should be selected to read the Scriptures aloud.
    Traditionally, a cross is carried in procession during the stations. This could be done by one person, or families could each carry a cross. Pictures could be attached to each cross. Be creative! An intravenous pole or stand could also be used as a cross, since it serves as a stark symbol of death and debility to many, yet also carries the hope of relief. If there are children involved, they could draw or paint their rendition of the cross and carry it with them. Anything that draws the pain and suffering out of the person by some medium can be used here. That pain then becomes shared with the larger community of the dying. I have included suggestions of hymns, but again music that reflects the participants should be substituted whenever possible.
    At the end of the service, have a living thing for the participants to take with them - a flower, a plant, a packet of seeds - that can act as a symbol of Resurrection hope. We want to connect our sufferings with those of Jesus and with the wider world, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Along the way, we will acknowledge and connect our suffering, and it will be transformed into Easter joy and new life.

    The arms of the Cross become the arms of God.
    It is good. So, let us go.
    Let us follow Jesus to the cross and death and Resurrection.
    Let us go with God.

    The First Station

    Jesus prays in the garden o f Gethsemane

    The Hospice Garden

    Be not Afraid


    We adore you 0 Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross and Resurrection you have redeemed the world.


    Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, `Sit
    here while I go over there and pray. He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, My soul is sorrowful even to death.
    Remain here and keep watch with me. He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will. When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. He said to Peter, `So you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:36-41)
    Before any of us came to this place, we prayed that we would not have to be here. We prayed that the tests would come back negative, that the scans would show nothing, that we would laugh at our fears of the looming shadow. Well, we are here, in this place, this garden, and we are still praying. Some of us are praying for bodily healing, and that is all right. Some of us are praying for a healing of mind and spirit, for the strength to go on, and that is all right. Some of us do not know for what we are praying, and that is all right too.
    For Jesus too prayed in the garden. He took himself away-, hoping that his disciples would watch with him. He asked his heavenly Father to take the cup from him if that was Gods will, but affirmed that he would be faithful no matter what. Jesus placed himself inside the healing power of God and trusted. He trusted that no matter what happened, God would be with him. This passage shows Jesus humanity to the fullest, and it echoes a prayer that many of us have made: if only ... if only ...
    Perhaps we are in the position of the disciples. We are trying to be faithful, to watch with someone we love who is in agony, but we are weary to the bone. We need to sleep. It does not matter, for we are all in the garden together. We each have our private fears and anxieties that we voice to God deep in our hearts. No prayer is unworthy, no petition too small or too large. We are all in the garden together. Some of us can sleep while others watch. Sometimes we are surprised at who is in the garden with us. People we barely know are supporting us, rising to the occasion, while others cannot even go this far.
    Dear God, we come before you in this splendid garden of your earth. We are your people, and we pray to you to go before us on this journey of ours. We pray in solidarity with all those who suffer, whether from illness x despair, loneliness or poverty or war. We honour you and give thanks for all the many blessings of this bountiful earth, which has nourished us all of our lives. We go forth in hope, travelling together.

    Begin walking around the paths or by a predetermined route. Walk in silence or have instrumental music playing softly.
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