As director of care support services for the Hospice of East Texas in Tyler, Assemblies of God Chaplain Wes M. Bynum is familiar with death. Overseeing chaplain services for a 23-county area, Bynum is responsible for the care and follow up of a daily census of 300 patients. Between 40-50 of those clients die in an average week.
Dealing with the death of a close loved one isn’t merely theoretical for Bynum. His first wife, Bee, died in 2011 at the age of 51. Bee, a registered nurse, had been in hospice care for two months after a series of health crises over a two-year period. Bee underwent a double mastectomy in 2009, and an additional 10 surgeries in 2010.
Wes watched his wife of 30 years endure chemotherapy, infections, and ultimately radiation before exhausting all potential life-saving medical options. The cancer metastasized to Bee’s brain, resulting in three tumors.
Yet even earlier, Bynum served as a hospice volunteer after his father, R.C. “Bobby” Bynum contracted lung cancer. Bobby succumbed just a month after the diagnosis. The experience of losing multiple family members led Bynum to make a change. First credentialed as an AG minister by the North Texas District in 1981, Bynum felt the Lord leading him to sharpen his ministry focus and devote himself to touching people who are walking along the path of grief and loss. The Fellowship endorsed him as a U.S. Missions chaplain in 2011 after he served 25 years as a pastor.
In his hospice role, Bynum ensures there is a spiritual underpinning of support for the dying and their relatives. He conducts free grief seminars for patient families and the general public. He also counsels individuals in his office, at their home, or in restaurants.
“Death is a natural part of living and grief is a natural response to death,” says Bynum, 56. “When we lose someone that we love our heart is affected. The hearts of people respond best to the love of God. Our mission is to position ourselves so that God’s love can flow freely through our lives into the lives of those who are in need.”
For the Pentecostal who believes in the ability and willingness of God to heal broken earthly bodies, there also sometimes is the additional need to process why death occurred rather than answered prayer for recovery.
“Deep faith must not be focused on an outcome, but rather on the Lord,” Bynum says. “If my trust is based on what I am asking God to do, then I run the risk of losing trust should the outcome not match my expectations. However, when my faith and trust is in God alone, then regardless what the outcome is, I can stand firm in faith knowing Him.”
Although there is more awareness of the availability of hospice care than ever before, Bynum believes many people really don’t understand its function.
“Hospice isn’t about hastening death,” Bynum says. “It’s not just giving up; it’s changing focus of someone with a life-limiting illness. It transfers the focus from curing to caring.”
That is carried out by hospice workers taking the burden off caregivers regarding medical decisions and treatment, allowing family members to focus their attention on being physically present with the ailing person.
Yet when an ill person’s body begins to wane from the ravages of disease, anguished relatives often respond by seeking an array of different treatments from a variety of medical specialists.
“We still live in a death-denying society,” Bynum says. “People resist death, and want hospice chaplains to swoop in and make everything OK.”
Although as a pastor and hospice volunteer Bynum had counseled others, he fully developed empathy only by enduring the death of his first wife.
“I knew what it was like to sit for hours with people in the hospital room, I knew what it was like to be called in the middle of the night to hold someone’s hand who was grieving,” Bynum says. “But when it was my turn to receive, it had to be a learned behavior.”
Bynum remarried in 2012. His wife, Betty, lost her first husband, Kenny Walker, to early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2009 at the age of 57. As a pastor, Bynum ministered to Betty at Kenny’s death. Betty recently retired from the banking business and now assists Wes in his ministry.