End of Life Lessons for Living

Death is a part of life – we are born, live our life, and then we die. For most of our lives we avoid death, as if ignoring it will make it go away. As a hospice chaplain, I encounter death and dying on a daily basis. Most people think what I do is depressing – because they don’t know. I get it. Working in hospice was not my first choice either – because I didn’t know.

In my view from the edge, I have found in this most intimate space with patients and their families, it is a privilege to journey alongside them as they process through their end of life. The end goal is always helping people live their best life right up to the end and find their peace as they pass from this life to the next.

This is not a perfect science, but for the most part patients get to say goodbye, find resolution, and put their affairs in order. It can be a very humbling and a very blessed experience; I am grateful to do the work I do, especially in light of the alternative.

The alternative hits us all full in the face every time we turn on the news to find another tragedy has claimed innocent lives. Most recently Buffalo and then Uvalde. Lives abruptly ended, with no time to say goodbye, find resolution, or put their affairs in order – worse yet, their final moments were anything but peaceful – instead filled with terror, with no one to comfort them.

These back-to-back horrors have caused me to think a little deeper about the work I do. We don’t all get to live a full life. We don’t get to choose how, when, or where we will die. Death can happen anywhere, anytime. This thought can strike a fear that paralyzes, keeping people from living, or it can be life changing.

Death has a lot to teach us about life. I learn from my patients each and every day. Most of all, I have learned that I do not have to wait for end of life to begin living with meaning and on purpose.

These lessons are simple, but profound:
Life is precious.
There are few things that truly matter in life, count them, invest in them, enjoy them.
Value the relationships in your life. Take time for people. Be kind to others.
Take time for self care. Be kind to yourself.
Forgive yourself and others often, with no regrets.
Be grateful for the blessings in your life.
Take time to appreciate the beauty of life, in people, art, music, nature.
Seek spiritual health and wholeness.
Don’t fear end of life. It is just another phase of life like childhood, teenage years, young adulthood, middle age, and if you live long enough, you will experience end of life.
And hopefully when you get there, you will have your affairs in order and surrounded by people you love and who love you, you will be at peace as you say goodbye.

My prayer today is that we recognize the preciousness of life in this moment. May we learn to enjoy and appreciate each day as a gift, knowing there is no promise of tomorrow. May this fact change the way we see, speak, listen, and love others. Amen.

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