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Lessons from the Dead

Over the years as a pastor, hospital chaplain and hospice chaplain, I’ve had the privilege of sitting at many deathbeds listening to, and praying with, the dying. It’s the great moment of transition, the final days, hours, minutes, seconds of our life in the “here and now.”

A Single Theme

And what happens? For those who are able to engage, who don’t die suddenly, but who have the time to focus on what matters to them the most, a single theme emerges. First, let’s describe what this theme is not.

I’ve never heard anyone say, “Bring me my art collection.” “Show me a photo of my former corner office.” “Let’s talk about my BMW M5.” You get the idea. I’ve never heard anyone talk about stuff.

What Remains

Instead, if the person who is dying can speak or communicate, they want one thing: God and people. Relationships. They want to be with the ones they love. They want to hold hands, look into loving eyes, share words both tender and ordinary. Many want to mend fences that seemed irreparable before. They want love.

This is the time when all the inconsequential stuff of life, the temporary and soon forgotten, is pushed to the side, and only the vital and exceedingly important remains. That’s what people overwhelmingly gravitate to in the dying process. And, exceedingly important can be a quiet moment of silence, with a gentle touch, a loving presence. A quiet word, “I love you.” “Remember when we laughed so hard . . . ” kind of stories. You know, the really valuable things of life.

Kittens

And then I wonder, why do I let things I won’t care about soon enough (sooner than I think, no doubt) give me so much grief? Why am I as easily distracted as a kitten who darts after every moving object?

I find that I want to focus more on what matters most. If it’s what the dying are talking about, then maybe that’s where the majority of my attention should be now. Why wait? Why let the jibber-jabber of life get more attention that it deserves?

I’m trying to learn the lessons the dying are inadvertently teaching.

What are your thoughts?

Thanks for reading.

Wayne

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