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 her 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 carry with them. We read about those lost in dementia and despair, and how hard it was for Kerry to find a way to help them.

Kerry’s 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 that they had not seen clearly before. Some began to deal with matters 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 deal with drug-induced psychosis during a difficult childbirth, a psychosis she felt guilty about and had difficulty getting others to take seriously. She recovered, but as she listened to people who were dying, she learned to listen to her doubts 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, your regrets, and move on.

Life is a million choices, Kerry says. The ones we make shape our lives, as do the ones we decline. All of us make mistakes. 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, if we don’t learn from our mistakes, then they become something that weighs us down.

Our paths in life are not 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.

Life is beautiful, and then we have to leave it. Take enough risks to make people gasp in awe.

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