From 2004 to 2007, Pat Clausen was on mission as a nurse practitioner in Chiltiúpan, El Salvador. She recounts below a time when the community there came together to support one of her terminal patients. 

In today’s peace prayer petition, we ask to that the Lord use us to bring pardon where there is injury.  As we work for Easter Peace, let the Chiltiúpan community remind us that even if we’re not medical professionals, we can still be a part of the physical or emotional healing process. Simply our presence can be a comfort during times of suffering or grieving.

“Maria and I first met when she came to the clinic shortly after I began working there as part of the parish health ministry. She was in her 60’s and, like many in El Salvador, had endured unusual difficulties and tragedies in her life.

She had been forced to flee her home during the years of civil conflict, had watched her daughter die an early death from untreated kidney disease and was now living with her elderly mother in a one room shack by the side of a busy highway. They had no running water or electricity and survival for them depended on income from an occasional domestic job.

Maria’s symptoms seemed serious and soon afterward she was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer. Over the next year I accompanied her as she traveled to the capital city, San Salvador, for daily radiation treatments and as she coped with their side effects. After two rounds of radiation exams showed that the tumors were growing, and Maria was offered a place at the hospice in San Salvador where they could control her increasing pain.

To the surprise of the doctors she insisted on returning to her home, that corrugated aluminum shack on the side of the highway. For Maria, that was home – the place where her mother was and where she wanted to spend her last days.

Nurse Pat Clausen on mission in El Salvador

The evening we brought Maria home from San Salvador, she took a turn for the worse. She was barely conscious when we carried her into the house and laid her on the small bed. As a nurse I was concerned about how to explain the pain medications to Maria’s mother, and how to keep her daughter hydrated, how to prevent infections, how to keep her relatively comfortable.

Responsibility for Maria’s care in this terminal phase of her illness weighed heavily on me. I was reluctant to leave her – alone, not fully conscious, with her elderly mother the only care provider. Besides, Maria and I had shared a great deal over the past many months and I simply didn’t want to leave her – it didn’t feel right. But her mother finally convinced me that she would be able to handle things for the night and that I could return the next day.

So, reluctantly I left Maria’s bedside and walked out into the dark for the ride home. At that point I saw a group of some 20 people, members of Maria’s faith community, neighbors who were in the same poor circumstances as she, standing just a short distance from the house. Their leader, Don Valentine, came over to ask if I had finished getting Maria settled. They had waited for me to finish so they could welcome Maria home and pray with her. They planned to take turns sitting up with Maria through the night so that her mother could rest.

What a powerful lesson in the strength and faithfulness of that Christian based community! They didn’t just read the Gospel; they put it into practice. It was also a humbling reminder that everything didn’t depend on me. I felt as supported by their presence as Maria and her mother did, each of us for our own reasons.

That faith community was true to its word. They offered prayer, support and presence to Maria and her mother during the younger woman’s last few weeks. And after her death the community continued to support her grieving mother.”