What Are People Talking About Before They Die?
Kerry Egan is a hospice chaplain and opens up about what people who are dying talk about.
Most people assume they talk about god, or religion or even the meaning of their lives but Kerry Egan opens up and says that's not usually true.
Mostly, they talk about their families: about their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters. They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave. Often they talk about love they did not receive, or the love they did not know how to offer, the love they withheld, or maybe never felt for the ones they should have loved unconditionally.
They talk about how they learned what love is, and what it is not. And sometimes, when they are actively dying, they reach their hands out and they call out to their parents: Mama, Daddy, Mother.
Kerry says: What I did not understand when I was a student then, and what I would explain to that professor now, is that people talk to the chaplain about their families because that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives. That is how we talk about the big spiritual questions of human existence.
Family is where we first experience love and where we first give it. It's usually the first place we've been hurt, by someone we love, and hopefully the place we learn that love can overcome even the most painful rejection.
Love is where we start to ask those big spiritual questions, and ultimately where they end.
I have seen such expressions of love: A husband gently washing his wife's face with a cool washcloth, cupping the back of her bald head in his hand to get to the nape of her neck, because she is too weak to lift it from the pillow. A daughter spooning pudding into the mouth of her mother, a woman who has not recognized her for years.
We don't learn the meaning of our lives by discussing it. It's not found in books or churches or synagogues or mosques. It's discovered through these actions of love.
Egan says: Sometimes that love is not only imperfect, it seems to be missing entirely. Monstrous things can happen in families. Too often, more often than I want to believe possible, patients tell me what it feels like when the person you love beats you or rapes you. They tell me what it feels like to know that you are utterly unwanted by your parents. They tell me what it feels like to be the target of someone's rage. They tell me what it feels like to know that you abandoned your children, or that your drinking destroyed your family, or that you failed to care for those who needed you.
People who did not know love in their families know that they should have been loved. They somehow know what was missing, and what they deserved as children and adults.
When the love is imperfect, or a family is destructive, something else can be learned: forgiveness. The spiritual work of being human is learning how to love and how to forgive.
Egan believes that we should learn from those who are dying that the best way to teach our children about God is by loving each other wholly and forgiving each other fully -- just as each of us longs to be loved and forgiven by our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.