A Secular and a Spiritual Face Death Together

Ashland 2004 029

I had another of those experiences the other day that remind me I’m still a Chaplain. . .even without the official title.

An elderly gentleman I work with came to speak with me the other day.  He and I have some lively discussions from time to time about “spiritual matters.”  He loves to explore wild concepts, open to what I would consider new-agey, non-sensical ideas usually sold by yet another “spiritual teacher.”  He’s a good guy and I like him, so our conversations are both thoughtful and often humorous.  On this particular day he sadly told me he had been diagnosed with a terminal disease.  He’s handling it very well and I tried to offer some encouragement primarily by listening and asking how I might help.  A bit later he came back to ask about hospice.  I helped get him some material on a local hospice and contacted a social worker for more information.

He will soon be gone.  And, he will be GONE.  I doubt I’ll see him again.  I’m not worried about him or too sad.  He isn’t either.  He feels he is crossing over to another reality where he can be with his wife.  I think he will become a part of the earth, his good memory will live on and his legacy will continue in his family.

I relate this experience to remind myself that a secular person can stand with a person of faith in their most difficult times.  We can be encouraging and “real” perhaps in ways that a religious person would find very hard.  I would say it’s harder for a person of faith to stand with a secular person, since it’s so hard not to say prayers, read from ancient books and offer assurance of the “next world” in language that may not have any meaning–that offer only confusion–to a person who does not believe.

I was reminded this week that good people suffer and die.  All we can try to be is good people to stand or sit with them, listening more than talking.  The presence is everything.



2 thoughts on “A Secular and a Spiritual Face Death Together

  1. It’s a tricky matter, relating to someone who’s religious. Especially in such circumstances.

    My mother has dementia and kidney failure, so she doesn’t have long. Back when she could talk coherently, she’d say things that came from her Christian faith, and I, being agnostic, just nodded to confirm her beliefs. She looks up to me in an intellectual way, so I knew my confirmation of her beliefs was valuable. It’s a sort of lie, but a noble one, I like to think. Besides, what do I really know? Why shouldn’t she feel protected and grounded in her last years, especially after all the hell I used to give her about her faith? And if I start uttering mystical nonsense while I’m dying, I’d like to have someone there, not necessarily confirming, but not denying either.

    1. Very sorry to hear of the family suffering. Yes, tricky indeed. This is why no one can tell another person how to face these things. Each situation and personal experience is unique. Simply being with someone, and showing you love and care. That’s enough, I think. Take care and good be with you.

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