Mesa Musings:

Comfort on their deathbeds

June 09, 2009|By Jim Carnett

Ken and Ruth Dutro have an understanding of death and dying that few emergency room doctors or coroners can match.

The Costa Mesa couple don’t possess a morbid fascination for the subject, however. They’ve served as pastors for the past three decades, ministering to senior adults and the dying.

“When we first became pastors,” says Ruth, a 1946 Newport Harbor High School graduate, “we weren’t into preaching; we were into people. That’s never changed.”


For the past 15 years, they’ve been hospice chaplains and have prayed with and counseled more than 2,000 dying patients of all ages. The Dutros are on call 24/7, and have been at the bedside of hundreds of patients as they died. They’ve also conducted hundreds of funerals.

Superficiality doesn’t exist in the world that Ken and Ruth inhabit. Everything — every day — is intensely real, and they’ve learned a multitude of lessons.

“Very few of the 2,000 hospice patients we’ve worked with considered themselves ‘ready to go’ as death approached,” says Ruth, who was awakened to her own mortality in 1990 when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor was removed, but returned three years ago. She continues to wage a battle for her health. “Most people — including believing Christians — are terrified as death draws near.

“Churches generally do a poor job of preparing people for death. You see fear in the eyes of patients on their deathbed.”

The Dutros began counseling older adults almost by accident.

“The church where we were serving as visitation pastors had a young staff,” Ken recalls. “Seniors began requesting an ‘older pastor’ for visits, so we took those assignments.”

Ken, 83, and Ruth, 81, served for many years at Newport-Mesa Christian Center and later at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Costa Mesa. They’re now affiliated with Shoreline Baptist Church in Fountain Valley.

“We’re on hand to reassure, encourage and comfort,” says Ken, who started the construction program at El Camino College in Torrance and taught there for 27 years before retiring in 1986 to enter the full-time ministry.

Their hospice patients have included Christians, persons of a variety of other faiths, agnostics and even an occasional atheist. The group has also included retired pastors and church workers.

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