home
RSS
My Faith: What people talk about before they die
January 28th, 2012
11:00 PM ET

My Faith: What people talk about before they die

Editor's Note: Kerry Egan is a hospice chaplain in Massachusetts and the author of "Fumbling: A Pilgrimage Tale of Love, Grief, and Spiritual Renewal on the Camino de Santiago."

By Kerry Egan, Special to CNN

As a divinity school student, I had just started working as a student chaplain at a cancer hospital when my professor asked me about my work.  I was 26 years old and still learning what a chaplain did.

"I talk to the patients," I told him.

"You talk to patients?  And tell me, what do people who are sick and dying talk to the student chaplain about?" he asked.

I had never considered the question before.  “Well,” I responded slowly, “Mostly we talk about their families.”

“Do you talk about God?

“Umm, not usually.”

“Or their religion?”

“Not so much.”

“The meaning of their lives?”

“Sometimes.”

“And prayer?  Do you lead them in prayer?  Or ritual?”

“Well,” I hesitated.  “Sometimes.  But not usually, not really.”

I felt derision creeping into the professor's voice.  “So you just visit people and talk about their families?”

“Well, they talk.  I mostly listen.”

“Huh.”  He leaned back in his chair.

A week later, in the middle of a lecture in this professor's packed class, he started to tell a story about a student he once met who was a chaplain intern at a hospital.

CNN's Belief Blog – all the faith angles to the day's top stories

“And I asked her, 'What exactly do you do as a chaplain?'  And she replied, 'Well, I talk to people about their families.'” He paused for effect. “And that was this student's understanding of  faith!  That was as deep as this person's spiritual life went!  Talking about other people's families!”

The students laughed at the shallowness of the silly student.  The professor was on a roll.

“And I thought to myself,” he continued, “that if I was ever sick in the hospital, if I was ever dying, that the last person I would ever want to see is some Harvard Divinity School student chaplain wanting to talk to me about my family.”

My body went numb with shame.  At the time I thought that maybe, if I was a better chaplain, I would know how to talk to people about big spiritual questions.  Maybe if dying people met with a good, experienced chaplain they would talk about God, I thought.

Today, 13 years later, I am a hospice chaplain.  I visit people who are dying - in their homes, in hospitals, in nursing homes.   And if you were to ask me the same question - What do people who are sick and dying talk about with the chaplain?  - I, without hesitation or uncertainty, would give you the same answer. Mostly, they talk about their families: about their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters.

They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave.  Often they talk about love they did not receive, or the love they did not know how to offer, the love they withheld, or maybe never felt for the ones they should have loved unconditionally.

They talk about how they learned what love is, and what it is not.    And sometimes, when they are actively dying, fluid gurgling in their throats, they reach their hands out to things I cannot see and they call out to their parents:  Mama, Daddy, Mother.

What I did not understand when I was a student then, and what I would explain to that professor now, is that people talk to the chaplain about their families because that is how we talk about God.  That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives.  That is how we talk about the big spiritual questions of human existence.

We don't live our lives in our heads, in theology and theories.  We live our lives in our families:  the families we are born into, the families we create, the families we make through the people we choose as friends.

This is where we create our lives, this is where we find meaning, this is where our purpose becomes clear.

Family is where we first experience love and where we first give it.  It's probably the first place we've been hurt by someone we love, and hopefully the place we learn that love can overcome even the most painful rejection.

This crucible of love is where we start to ask those big spiritual questions, and ultimately where they end.

I have seen such expressions of love:  A husband gently washing his wife's face with a cool washcloth, cupping the back of her bald head in his hand to get to the nape of her neck, because she is too weak to lift it from the pillow. A daughter spooning pudding into the mouth of her mother, a woman who has not recognized her for years.

A wife arranging the pillow under the head of her husband's no-longer-breathing body as she helps the undertaker lift him onto the waiting stretcher.

We don't learn the meaning of our lives by discussing it.  It's not to be found in books or lecture halls or even churches or synagogues or mosques.  It's discovered through these actions of love.

If God is love, and we believe that to be true, then we learn about God when we learn about love. The first, and usually the last, classroom of love is the family.

Sometimes that love is not only imperfect, it seems to be missing entirely.  Monstrous things can happen in families.  Too often, more often than I want to believe possible, patients tell me what it feels like when the person you love beats you or rapes you.  They tell me what it feels like to know that you are utterly unwanted by your parents.  They tell me what it feels like to be the target of someone's rage.   They tell me what it feels like to know that you abandoned your children, or that your drinking destroyed your family, or that you failed to care for those who needed you.

Even in these cases, I am amazed at the strength of the human soul.  People who did not know love in their families know that they should have been loved.  They somehow know what was missing, and what they deserved as children and adults.

When the love is imperfect, or a family is destructive, something else can be learned:  forgiveness.  The spiritual work of being human is learning how to love and how to forgive.

We don’t have to use words of theology to talk about God; people who are close to death almost never do. We should learn from those who are dying that the best way to teach our children about God is by loving each other wholly and forgiving each other fully - just as each of us longs to be loved and forgiven by our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kerry Egan.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Death

soundoff (4,494 Responses)
  1. slvia

    i just want to share my experience and testimony here.. i was married for 4 years to my husband and all of a sudden, another woman came into the picture.. he started hailing me and he was abusive..but i still loved him with all my heart and wanted him at all cost…then he filed for divorce..my whole life was turning apart and i didn't know what to do..he moved out of the house and abandoned the kids.. so someone told me about trying spiritual means to get my husband back and introduced me to a spell caster…so i decided to try it reluctantly..although i didn't believe in all those things… then when he did the special prayers and spell, after 2days, my husband came back and was pleading..he had realized his mistakes..i just couldn't believe it.. anyways we are back together now and we are happy..in case anyone needs this man, his email address olotospellhome@yahoo.com his spells is for a better life. again his email is olotospellhome@yahoo.com

    October 9, 2013 at 4:13 pm |
  2. ANN

    I am Mrs ANDERSON ANN from USA, i want to share a testimony of my life to every one. i was married to my husband Barry Morgan, i love him so much we have been married for 5 years now with two kids. when he went for a vacation to France he meant a lady called Clara who en charm him with his beauty, he told me that he is no longer interested in the marriage any more. i was so confuse and seeking for help, i don't know what to do until I met my friend Miss Rose and told her about my problem. she told me not to worry about it that she had a similar problem before and introduce me to a man called Dr Iyayi. who cast a spell on her ex and bring him back to her after 3days. Miss Rose ask me to contact Dr Iyayi. I contacted him to help me bring back my husband and he ask me not to worry about it that the gods of his fore-fathers will fight for me. He told me by three days he will re-unite me and my husband together. After three day my husband called and told me he is coming back to sought out things with me, I was surprise when I saw him and he started crying for forgiveness and that he never knew what came upon him that he will never leave me again or the kids.it was the spell that was casted on him that was working on him. Right now I am the happiest woman on earth for what this great spell caster did for me and my husband, you can contact Dr.Iyayi on any problem in this world, he is very nice, here is his contact driyayilovespellhome@gmail.com.He is the best spell caster.

    October 6, 2013 at 2:11 am |
  3. Caro

    my Names is Daniel Caro ,AM from Canada .i never believed in love spells or magic until i met this spell caster once when i went to Africa in June last year on a business summit i ment a man called Dr Voodoo, is powerful he could help you cast a spells to bring back my love s gone misbehaving lover looking for some one to love you bring back lost money and magic money spell or spell for a good job i m now happy & a living testimony cos the man i had wanted to marry left me 4weeks before our wedding and my life was upside down cos our relationship has been on for 3 year i really loved him, but his mother was against me and he had no good paying job so when i met this spell caster, i told him what happened and explained the situation of things to him at first i was undecided,skeptical and doubtful, but i just gave it a try and in 6 days when i returned to Vancouver my boyfriend (is now my husband ) he called me by himself and came to me apologizing that everything had been settled with his mom and family and he got a new job interview so we should get married i didn't believe it cos the spell caster only asked for my name and my boyfriends name and all i wanted him to do well we are happily married now and we are expecting our little kid and my husband also got a new job and our lives became much better in case anyone needs the spell caster for some help his email address: voodoolovespelltemple@hotmail.com

    October 5, 2013 at 10:06 pm |
  4. santo

    For a very long time before i became aware of my wife infidelity, i was lost in our relationship.I always felt like there was something missing in our relationship.The love she felt for me was almost never here.We grown further apart from each other or rather she grown apart from me giving excuses with work and all other things but deep down i knew something was wrong only that i thought the problem was from my side. I thought that i was killing our marriage somehow but really i didn't know what i did or ever did wrong to place our marriage on the edge of a knife.I remember suggesting we book yourself for marriage counselling.It was suppose to let us understand the reason why our marriage was failing and why her love was drowning.She was so good at lying that she made me feel like i wasn't being a good husband.She made sure all the problem was going from my angle but really she was the cheating one among us.She was so good at covering her tracks that there was little or no room to make me think she was cheating on me.After three years of being a superhuman all her covers were blown an the entire thing was out or would say i was a fool for three years cos from the way it happened i feel she decided to let everything come out that she was cheating on me with an Italian painter .Cos even when i knew and was furious and asked for a divorces she didn't even care all she said was i should speak to her lawyer about it and that was all i ever heard from and about her it was like she left the country with the guy i really didn't know anything about this guy i only knew he was a painter that was all she disclosed i didn't even get a name or any sort of information and when she left our house it was all i saw of her.Even when processing the divorce my heart and soul was craving for the wife i loved with all my heart.Tried all i could to make myself believe it was over on the grounds that she lied cheated and was not even sorry for anything but heaven knew that i wanted her back badly.I believe that was what made me even think of searching on the internet on how to mend a broken marriage.I was so clear that i needed her back that my miserable life was so incomplete without her .I got lucky my search on the internet on how to mend a broken relationship which ended up helping me.I kinda was referred to a spell caster named SYNAGOGUE as they wrote his is quite good with this work using spell to get back exes and from my experience he is really good at it.Ok some people may Think i am just spamming but that is something i can never do cos it will be going against my morals as a human though there are a lot of lying spell caster but synagogue isn't one of them that i know cos he help me get my wife back he restored the love we shared together at the beginning of our marriage.Moreover article about him is all over the internet and they are all positive reviews.I only needed four items for the spell and all other little thing i had to do but trust me all he did worked all those little thing are just the finally process to make the spell effective.Every penny i spent on those item were worth it it was not a waste of cash cos he fufilled his promise to help get my wife back.If you may like to contact him for him use this email address: synagoguespellforallnation@hotmail.com

    October 5, 2013 at 10:04 pm |
  5. Megan Murray

    `I can still feel the powerful effect of Dr. Sanu spell in my relationship. I was truly amazed when I kept seeing loads of people testifying about a particular love spell caster Dr. Sanu online and I knew my own problem has a genuine solution so I contacted him for help. My boyfriend came back to me just 48 hours after Dr. Sanu helped me cast a love spell and I feel like I need another love spell to make sure he never goes away again, lol.

    I really appreciate the marvelous work of such a powerful man, here is the mail I saw online and used in contacting him dr.sanuspiritualtemple@gmail.com

    -Megan Murray

    October 5, 2013 at 2:21 am |
  6. Pemela

    My life is back!!! After 8 years of strong relationship, my boyfriend left me. I felt like my life was about to end, and was falling apart. Thanks to a spell caster called Dr. Dele which I met via email on dr.delespiritualtemple@gmail.com

    I Saw Dr. Dele ad on the internet and mailed him, within a few minutes I just knew that he would help me, he's so helpful, and really understands what you are going through.

    In just 48 hours, my guy came back to me. We solved our issues, and we are even happier than before. I highly recommend Dr. Dele to you for whatever problem you are experiencing. Contact him on dr.delespiritualtemple@gmail.com.

    Pemela Evans from USA

    September 25, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      It's a trap.

      September 25, 2013 at 6:30 pm |
  7. joy philip

    THE GREAT POWERFUL SPELL CASTER THAT
    BRING BACK MY EX BOYFRIEND.
    I just want to say thank you prophet ahmed for all you have done for me.
    He is back now. That very powerful spell caster STOP THE DIVORCE – and get my ex boyfriend back.
    My name is Joy Philip, from Canada. I never believed in love
    spells or magic until i met this spell caster once when i went for a business summit
    early this year. I meant a man who's name is PROPHET AHMED
    he is really powerful and could help cast spells to bring back one's gone,
    lost, misbehaving lover and magic money spell or spell for a good job or
    luck spell .I’m now happy & a living testimony cos the man i had wanted to
    marry left me 3 weeks before our wedding and my life was upside down because our
    relationship has been on for 3years. I really loved him, but his mother was
    against us and he had no good paying job. So when i met this spell caster,i
    told him what happened and explained the situation of things to him. At
    first i was undecided, skeptical and doubtful, but i just gave it a try.And
    in 7 days when i returned to Canada, my boyfriend(now husband) called me by
    himself and came to me apologizing that everything had been settled with his
    mother and family and he got a new job interview so we should get married. I
    didn't believe it cos the spell caster only asked for my name and my
    boyfriends name and all i wanted him to do. Well we are happily married now
    and we are expecting our little kid, and my husband also got the new job and
    our lives became much better.in case you are in any situation you can contact
    prophet ahmed at his email solutiontemple399@gmail.com or his personal cell +2347053375151
    Thank you for all your help prophet i promise to share this Testimony to every body in the world wide.

    September 15, 2013 at 5:16 am |
  8. Amanda

    Hi every one, I am one of the people Dr. Dele has helped. This man is a genuine spell caster; he told me everything about me and my partner and promised to help bring him back within 48hours. To my greatest surprise, my lover called me within the stated day begged for forgives and also promised to marry me.

    The most important thing is that his love spell does not have any negative effect on us because my lover thanked me for saving him from an evil girl who took him away from me and the spell brought good luck to us.

    I am so grateful and I promised that I will share my joy to the whole world if this spell worked. Here is his email if you need help: dr.delespiritualtemple@gmail.com

    Amanda Crawford, USA

    September 2, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
  9. hharri

    francis collins was an unbeliever until he started working with dying christian patients. their peace and joy and love moved him so much, he became a christian.

    unlike the aroma of putrefied death permeating these pages, dying Christians had the sweet smell of redemption as they left this dimension.

    compare the stench of sam stone with the scent of heaven as betsy ten boom drifted away from the nazi prison camp that killed her body

    August 31, 2013 at 10:10 am |
    • hharri

      I admit I am delusional and have not even made it out of grade 3, although I am 30. I admit my Grandpa is my Daddy. I admit I live in a trailer park and my Momma is the local ho.oker...she has 2 teeth. I admit that I am an idi.ot and no-one shud take me seriously. My Momma beats me daily and dropped me on my head as a baby.

      August 31, 2013 at 10:19 am |
  10. Renee

    I had a very hard time believing in love magic spells so i felt strange even clicking on any spell site. The term love spells seemed silly to me normally but after seeing Doctor Sanu’s e-mail on a trusted blog, it made a great deal of sense. I literally thought there was no way I could have my lover back. Well, after contacting Doctor sanu he gave me a lot of confidence and told me he would help me bring back the man I thought I had lost forever in just 48 hours. It was very surprising how my lover started calling me to tell me how much he missed and can’t live without me after Doctor sanu had helped me cast a very powerful spell. I count myself very lucky to have ever found Doctor Sanu’s mail and to have even had the courage of contacting him for help.

    Doctor Sanu didn't tell me exactly what I wanted to hear like 99% of other spell casters will do. He was very sincere with me, this was what really shocked me and made me believe he was real. Thank you so much Doctor Sanu for your marvelous work. His e-mail is; dr.sanuspiritualtemple@gmail.com just so maybe you need a good and sincere spell caster.

    -Renee Walters, NJ, USA.

    August 31, 2013 at 9:38 am |
  11. Caroline Bush

    My boyfriend is back after a very long time. I was alone my life change and everything about me change when he left me. A friend gave me an email address and told me that this was the email address she contacted when she was in the same problem so i contacted the email i got a reply. He was a man called Dr. Dele.
    He cast a love spell for me and told me that within two days that my ex will be back for good, within those two days my ex was back. I and my ex are getting married next month. You can contact him via dr.delespiritualtemple@gmail.com

    Caroline Bush, USA

    August 10, 2013 at 9:31 am |
  12. mr adams vivian

    A POWERFUL SPELL
    CASTER WHO WIPE A WAY MY SORROW

    Amazing?? i do not know how to thanks Dr Egugu who did a spell that
    make my husband to come back to me.he left me for the past five years,and
    for the past five years i have been in pains,sorrow,bitterness and
    wiping.until i read a magazine about this man called Dr Egugu,who
    help people to unite their relationship within two days.i never believe in
    spell or magic,so i decided to give him a try.i contacted him.he told me
    that he shall come back to me according to my believe.he also promise me
    that he shall return to me within two days,i was still doubting,if he can
    really do according to what he says,unfortunately on the third day he call
    me on phone saying that i should forget and forgive him.that he is now
    ready to love and cherish me,on the forth day he but a car for me to say he
    is very,very ,very,sorry,big thanks to Dr Egugu you helped me to bring
    back my lovely husband,any body out there having similar problem like
    this,thinking on what to do,Email him at Egugutempleofsolution@gmail.com or call him on +2348155460973,he will
    surely put a smile on your face.not only that he can help

    1) Have promotion in anything you do
    2 )Earn a good money
    3)Success in business
    4)spiritual problems
    5) win court case

    Mrs Adams Vivian
    REGARDS

    July 31, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
  13. Brianna Chloe

    My life is full of joy once again!!!. My name is Brianna Chloe and i lives in Canada, after nine(9)years of a
    Broken marriage, my husband left me and our 2 kids because he lost his job and at the same time i put to bed,
    I felt like my life was about to end, i almost commit suicide several occasions i was emotionally down for a
    very long time while my kids and i were staying with my mum coping cause i lost my dad during the period.
    Thanks to a spell caster called "Dr. Akaba Iroko" who i met online on one fateful day, as i
    was surfing through the internet searching for a good spell caster because someone told me about it to solve
    my problems. I came across allot of testimonies about this great spell caster. Some people testified that
    he brought their Ex lovers back, some testified that he restores womb,cure cancer, some testified how he made
    them got new jobs with good salaries/wages, some testified that he can cast a spell to stop divorce, some
    testified on how he turned their barrenness to fruitfulness, some testified on how they got increase in
    salaries/wages, some testified on how they gain higher positions in their offices and businesses also came
    across one particular testimony,it was about a woman called DORCAS who said she was from the USA testified about
    how "Dr.Akaba Iroko" brought back her Ex lover in less than 4 days and reversed the illness of their little
    boy Benard and at the end of her testimony she dropped "Dr Akaba Iroko's" e-mail address
    greatakabairoko@hotmail.com After reading all this,I decided to contact "Dr Akaba Iroko" via his e-mail and i
    explained my problem to him. In just three(3) my ex husband came back and started begging for forgiveness After
    i must have followed, obeyed and met the requirement "Dr Akaba Iroko" 's instructions. He solved our issues and we
    are even happier than before because "Dr Akaba Iroko" also helped my husband to secure a well pay job, now my
    man respect me more than ever before Dr Akaba Iroko is really a gifted man like he said and i would not stop
    publishing him because he is a wonderful great spell caster. If you have a problem and you are looking for a real and genuine
    spell caster to solve all your problems for you contact greatakabairoko@hotmail.com he is the answer to your
    problems and please always remember to publish him after solving your problems is a great spell caster i
    respect him so much. I advice you contact him via greatakabairoko@hotmail.com

    July 30, 2013 at 12:30 am |
  14. joy philip

    THE GREAT POWERFUL SPELL CASTER THAT
    BRING BACK MY EX BOYFRIEND.
    I just want to say thank you prophet ahmed for all you have done for me.
    He is back now. That very powerful spell caster STOP THE DIVORCE – and get my ex boyfriend back.
    My name is Joy Philip, from Canada. I never believed in love
    spells or magic until i met this spell caster once when i went for a business summit
    early this year. I meant a man who's name is PROPHET AHMED
    he is really powerful and could help cast spells to bring back one's gone,
    lost, misbehaving lover and magic money spell or spell for a good job or
    luck spell .I’m now happy & a living testimony cos the man i had wanted to
    marry left me 3 weeks before our wedding and my life was upside down because our
    relationship has been on for 3years. I really loved him, but his mother was
    against us and he had no good paying job. So when i met this spell caster,i
    told him what happened and explained the situation of things to him. At
    first i was undecided, skeptical and doubtful, but i just gave it a try.And
    in 7 days when i returned to Canada, my boyfriend(now husband) called me by
    himself and came to me apologizing that everything had been settled with his
    mother and family and he got a new job interview so we should get married. I
    didn't believe it cos the spell caster only asked for my name and my
    boyfriends name and all i wanted him to do. Well we are happily married now
    and we are expecting our little kid, and my husband also got the new job and
    our lives became much better.in case you are in any situation you can contact
    prophet ahmed at his email solutionhome39@yahoo.com or his personal cell +2347053375151
    Thank you for all your help prophet.

    July 27, 2013 at 4:54 pm |
  15. Dave Tjart

    I have found that when I offer to sing to people, they almost never say no. And when I say I do "requests," they usually come up with a song that has meaning for them–quite often, an old, old hymn. You are quite right when you focus in on what touches their memories–family, and sometimes, when "the moment" is right, faith.

    June 6, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
  16. Grady Philpott

    Brilliant!

    February 25, 2013 at 8:20 pm |
  17. ron

    This is the kind of person, chaplain or not, that I would like to have with me when I'm dying. Deliver me from the likes of the professor who made fun of this student chaplain.

    February 7, 2013 at 10:16 pm |
    • PreciousEarth

      The night before my grandma died, we talked about her life. I kind of knew she was passing on as we had lived together with my children and husband for 10+ years. At that time something compeled me to apologize, not because of a particular incident, but to ask for forgiveness for any and all transgressions during the time we shared our lifes. All she said was "Baby, no need to talk about those things." You may find it strange, but I had asked my higher power to be with her when she died. She was my rock and I did not want her to be alone. To this day I still miss her.

      February 13, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  18. Luetta Beninghaus

    This is so true,life is about who you loved & who loved you. I lost my husband 18 yrs ago,he was not into religion at all,but the most loving husband & father & grand father, he was dying of lung cancer,& he had said "I would like to get over this,to see my grand daughters grow up. We miss him every day & his loving heart.

    February 7, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
  19. steve

    This is real truth, whether God is real or not. Family and love is how we define our existence. Not being or Beings and all that crap they try to teach us. The meaning of life isn't hidden to everyone except a strange and brilliant French couple. Its there for everyone, and we find it at the end.

    February 7, 2013 at 9:57 am |
  20. Robbin Goal

    Excellent goods from you, man. I've understand your stuff previous to and you are just too excellent. I really like what you have acquired here, really like what you are stating and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still take care of to keep it wise. I can not wait to read far more from you. This is really a great web site. Robbin Goal http://www.robinhoodchina.info

    January 31, 2013 at 5:09 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94
Advertisement
About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.