|Published Oct. 25, 2016.|
Some might expect her to offer sermons about the place of religion in people's lives. She doesn't do that. Instead, she demonstrates the healing power of narrative.
Egan observes that chaplains do the following work:
"We listen to the stories that people believe have shaped their lives. We listen to the stories people choose to tell, and the meaning they make of those stories."
Those who are sick and dying often find great insight in telling the story of their life. Egan focuses on maintaining an attitude of love and compassionate listening as people work to make meaning of their lives by sharing stories.
People talk about their childhoods, their life's work, their families, and most often their desire to love and be loved.
One of the most vivid passages shared how a dying woman wondered if God received enough love, so she was focusing her waning energy on loving God.
"People are always demanding so much from [God], but who is there to shower him with love? So I thought that was something I could do. That's what I do all day: I try to love God. I lie here and try to make my heart burst with so much love."
Egan shares a few stories from her life as well. The events that gave her the most meaning surrounded the birth of her first child. She was given a powerful drug that caused her to have a psychotic episode that lasted months.
Questioning her own ability to discern reality helps Egan to show compassion for people who have suffered trauma. She understands that reality is not a mere collection of objective facts. People build their own realities based on perceptions of limited facts, filtered through their own emotions, values and purposes.
This may seem unsettling, but because we are co-creators of our own reality (to a degree), this also allows people to shift their perceptions away from pain and suffering to increase love and joy.
Kudos to Egan for working as a witness for people as they work out their own peaceful paths in their final days. Readers might take the stories in Egan's book as an invitation to do some soul work of their own long before they qualify for hospice.
Books on the Dying Process
Films about Older Adults Active in the Dying Process