Here’s an excerpt from our conversation.
Steve: Michael, talk about that sacred experience when you sit down with somebody, and there’s no denial, and you’ve gotta deal with it.
CM: Yeah. Fortunately for me, I don’t often have to introduce the discussion because, as a hospice chaplain, people have already been through the getting the bad news, and they’ve come on to a program to help them during that final season of life. But I often see them very soon after that and have to sit down and listen — which is, you know, 90% of my job, what I do — and then try to be of encouragement and support to them as they face this.
Of course, one of the great advantages of being in hospice is that you’re part of a team, so I don’t even have to do this alone. I mean, there’s a nurse to talk to them about the medical issues, there’s a social worker to help them with psychosocial things and practical matters that need attention, there are home health aides to help them and their caregivers with personal care, and then I’m there basically to be a friend — someone who can listen and offer perspective and hopefully be an encouragement to them.
Steve: Do people express their fears? You know, I get so tired of Christians who say, “I’m not afraid of death, I’m going to heaven, man, I can hardly wait!”
And I’d say, “Yeah, but what if you’re going on Thursday? How would that make you feel?”
There’s a lot of denial, isn’t there?
CM: There is. And it’s often only in an ongoing discussion where people have come to trust you that they’re able to open up and talk about fears.
One of the interesting things I have seen, regardless of who it is, is that the vast majority of people aren’t really that afraid for themselves, they’re really more afraid for the ones they love. They are concerned about what’s going to happen to their family — are they going to be ok? And it’s amazing to me how that perspective sometimes changes — they regret some of the things they’ve done or said to them and they want to make those things right.
Of course, there are their own fears, but you know, if we’re Christians we’ve been taught about what happens after death, but we’ve never been there. So, it’s still a daunting prospect to walk through a door to a place you’ve never been and not quite know what to expect. And so there’s just natural fear of anticipation but sometimes fear that comes out of guilt and all of that as well.
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