Let me be very clear…What I am about to share with you is not found in the book, Final Gifts. This is but one of several experiences I witnessed that were absolutely shocking, but very real.
It’s been my opportunity to serve as Chaplain to those who either fired their previous Chaplain or were so vulgar that the previous Chaplain stepped out of the picture and I stepped in. I am not intimidated by vulgar language as I see that more as a defense mechanism to try to ward off the Chaplain. People need unconditional love, particularly at end of life. To one patient, who told me to the get the h--- out of his room when I simply knocked on the door of his room at a long term care facility, I simply said, “You’re having a hard time with someone who really cares for you, aren’t you?” He harrumphed and told me to come in. It was one of the best visits I ever enjoyed with a patient as he opened up. He told me he was trying to “bully” me as I was a minister and he wasn’t fond of ministers. Well, it seemed like it all worked out quite splendidly!
Yes, there have been patients at the end of life who died in a shocking manner. I recall a woman who was portrayed to me as one of the meanest people on earth. Since I try to meet people with a blank slate and let them design a portrait of themselves, I tucked those prejudicial statements away and went in to meet her. She wanted to know who I was and what I was doing. After get past that hurdle, I invited her to tell me her story. It seemed that she was successful enough, but something (or several things) apparently went horribly wrong in her life. She went from wealth to pauper status. She was alone in life. Family? Yes, she had family, but they were estranged, very estranged. She just had a Guardian to handle her affairs, however meager they were. She sort of boasted that people said she was mean. It sounded like she relished that reputation. Regarding any type of faith community she embraced, she told me she had none and that had no use for God. The manner in which she said that indicated the subject was not open for discussion. I saw her a few times before she died. The day of her death is one I will never forget. The Guardian called me and asked that I come to the facility. It seemed like the patient was dying. When I arrived, the Guardian was nervous and suggested I pray. I told her that I could pray for her but the patient absolutely forbad me praying for her. It was shortly after I prayed for comfort for the Guardian, that the patient came out of her interlude between life and death and jerked up and looked at us with the face of terror. She then lay back down and died. “What just happened? What did we just see? Did she see something that was so terrifying…?” Those were the questions of the Guardian to me. I am not person’s judge. That look has lingered in my mind for years. It is in stark contrast to the many deaths I’ve attended when someone of faith died. That was the most shocking death I have ever witnessed. Have you had a similar experience?