Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Have No Regrets

Book: On Living, Kerry Egan

“Hospice chaplain explodes in spontaneous combustion of laughter!”

Just kidding, but there is humor in Kerry’s book, which many would not expect in a book about dying. I‘ve been looking forward to reading about Kerry’s work as a hospice chaplain ever since I read one of the stories two years ago. The voice that I loved in her first book, Fumbling, is still here. This is a book on the beauty of the human heart.

Kerry shares the stories of people in hospice getting ready for death, but rather than being depressing, they’re often uplifting. We hear what people were happy about in their lives and what they loved. We hear of the regret, guilt and shame that they still carried with them. And we read about those lost in dementia and despair, and how hard it was for Kerry to find a way to help them.

This book will help people not fear hospice.

As she listened to people, Kerry created a safe space for them to share their lives. Because she responded with her heart, people trusted her. They felt the freedom to be themselves and talk honestly. By facing up to what had long troubled them, some understood an aspect of their lives they had not seen clearly before, and some began to deal with matters that they wished they had taken care of earlier.

Those who are nearing their end have a message for the healthy and living: Don’t wait until you’re dying to talk about your regrets, fix relationships, and do what you always wish you had done. One woman said, “If only I had known, I would have danced more.”

We learn from the dying how to live.

What was unexpected was learning about Kerry’s struggle to come to grips with drug-induced psychosis during a difficult childbirth, a psychosis she felt guilty about and had difficulty getting others to take seriously. It doesn’t matter if her hallucinations were real or not. They still had meaning, just as images from our dreams have meaning. As she listened to the people who were dying, she learned to listen and forgive herself.

Kerry tells us that she is not an angel because of the work she does. Nor are the caregivers in nursing homes angels. What we have are people helping others and sharing their compassion as best they can.

Life is for living. Make peace with your guilt and move on.

Life is a million choices, Kerry says. The ones we make shape our lives. All of us make mistakes, and all of us are broken in some way, and it takes bravery to face our brokenness. If we don’t let go of our guilt, it becomes something that weighs us down.

Our paths are never set in stone. Every day we can change direction. Every day we can face what we feel guilty about, make amends to those we have hurt, and forgive ourselves for what we did wrong. If we can gain insights from our mistakes, if we can find meaning in the hard and traumatic experiences of our lives, then we can move on with a new vision and live the life that we want to live.

It’s a beautiful life, and then we have to leave it.

When we die, we long for a good sendoff. We want to have our affairs in order and not worry about those we are leaving behind.

Live life with urgency. Don’t wait until there’s time only for regrets.

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