2017-08-04 / Chaplain's News

Lessons from the dying: Things I learned

Dwight D. Army Medical Center

I spent six months working with cancer patients in Augusta in 2015, as part of my Army Chaplain Clinical Pastoral Education.

During my more than 30 years of ministry and social work, I have been with many people who were dying.

I spent a lot of time talking with them and gaining much wisdom. Most of them were senior adults who had lived long lives, but were being called to their eternal home, as we all will one day.

I wrote a theology of death which soon became a theology of life, for these lessons from the dying were powerful reminders of how to live and make the most of life.

I would like to share just a few of them with you.

Do not fear death

If you fear anything, fear not living life. Too many people reach the end of their lives filled with regret.

They look back over their lives and see it was filled with efforts to stretch out the quantity of their life, while sacrificing the quality.

They were given opportunities but let them go, afraid of failure, afraid of the unknown and with little trust in God or little self-confidence.

At the end of their life, it is too late to go back and take up the missed opportunities.

Too many people are walking around zombie-like, living in fear instead of living in faith. Embrace life as a daily gift.

Loneliness is the biggest concern

You would think the dying person is more concerned about pain or suffering. Often the biggest fear is being left all alone. There is morphine for pain.

The person with little faith in a higher power or God often fears loneliness most of all when they are facing death.

Often the family gathered in the room fear being left alone when their loved one passes.

Even when it is time for them to die, and nothing more can be done, the survivors have an extremely difficult time letting go.

The families with a strong faith in God and a hope in an eternal reunion still grieve and suffer, but the scene is much more peaceful.

Even the vital signs on the monitors often show the difference in distress versus peace. If you do not have faith in God or a Higher Power, you may want to reconsider.

You really can’t take it with you

The bumper sticker that reads “He who dies with the most toys wins,” is incorrect. It should read, “He who dies with the most toys still dies.”

There is a false axiom that states we must have many tangible possessions to find ultimate fulfillment in life.

The more possessions and wealth we have, the more notoriety we have, the more social media friends we have, the happier we are.

Yet we hear of suicides claiming lives from all economic and social groups.

When we die, we may leave our possessions to others, but we take nothing with us. Our legacy is the most important thing we leave behind.

Do we invest ourselves in loving others, serving others, and serving God? Or do we slowly kill ourselves at chasing wealth and fame that will slip through our fingers the moment we draw our last breath?

I have seen wealthy people die alone. I have seen financially poor people die with a room full of loved ones.

What is more valuable to you? Be advised that as you age, your priorities may change.

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