Archive for Talking About Dying

That Word . . . That Talk


At one of the churches I served, I led a class entitled, “Living Fully, Dying Well.” It encouraged participants to learn about and share their views on . . . Death. I asked the group of mostly parents, ranging in age from 30s to 70s: “Did you ever have a talk with your kids about sex?”

A few had toddlers, and that talk was years away. A few never had kids: no need for the talk. But the majority, recently or decades before, raised their hands to acknowledge covering that subject with their kids.

“What about death?”

They stared at me.

“Have you told your children about what your thoughts are about death? About anything having to do with your wishes if you get a terminal illness, or what you want if you can’t make decisions?” Read More →

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Death, Slowly but Suddenly

While solo climbing the Matterhorn, Eric fell…

My father’s dying spanned a decade. Though not on his death certificate, Dad died from dementia. His decline seemed like a daily drop of water filling a bathtub.

My mother’s dying occurred in the hottest stretch of a singular summer. There was a clenched fistful of weeks from diagnosis to death. Though not on her death certificate, Mom died because of an opportunistic, savage cancer. But her rapid decline also unfolded like a film stuck in slow motion. A solitary hour of holding her hand in intensive care could feel like a week.

Then, in the midst of their dying, the phone rang. It rang while I wished my father’s cruel dementia would please, please, please be over. It rang while I longingly, lovingly prayed for an impossible miracle to spare Mom more pain.

In one call, my older sister informed me Dad had died. In the other, a year-and-a-half later, a nurse spoke on a phone down the hallway from Mom’s hospital room to tell me about the death.

For all the differences in their dying, and in their diseases and our decisions about care, one of my first thoughts after twice placing the phone back on the cradle was . . .

Dad’s death was sudden.

Mom’s death was sudden.

How often does death feel like that? Read More →

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I Always Prefer a Funeral

rose on casket

“What do you say when people ask how you can work in hospice?”

Near the end of a long Friday, and at the end of a tough week, a colleague—a weary chaplain who had been with a few “tough” patients—posed that question.

That question. That question.

I won’t share the details of our conversation because—like everything in hospice—confidentiality is a priority. But my co-worker did have several demanding visits in a row with patients and their families. Everyone with a job they enjoy has days like my colleague. But in hospice, the folks you meet—the scared or angry person, the silent or talkative person, the openly sharing or mask-the-feelings person—are all involved with dying. Friends or family members are now visiting or caregiving for a “patient.” Their loved one, whether an infant or an octogenarian, won’t get better.

How can my colleague not wonder if anything that was said truly helped the patient and family? How can you not question any words you shared? If you resist the clichés or platitudes that never bring comfort in a time of dying, then what words can be offered? You prepare to visit homes where a family’s world is falling apart and, before pressing the doorbell, you might contemplate (for a few selfish, exhausted seconds) scurrying back to the car.

Frustrating days.

Hollow words.

Awkward silences. Read More →

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