Thursday, April 4, 2013

End of Life Conversations Which Don't Happen

I am finding that one of the most challenging aspects of ministry for me is engaging in conversations with people whose lives are ending. 
Not because I'm hesitant or apprehensive.  Not because I don't know how to ask open-ended and evocative questions.  Not because I have nothing to offer in response, whether to wonderment or fear or acceptance.
But because people really don't want to go there. Either bodily or in conversation.
Neither the people who are dying nor their family and friends who accompany them.
I am baffled by this.


  1. Robin, I have a dear friend who passed away a month ago. I visited many times and then when she was weak I sat by her bed and held her hand and not once did she or her husband, who are both close to me, discuss her impending death. I was prepared but was surprised that I didn't need to be. It is certainly an interesting phenomenon.

    1. I know that I cannot project my own inclinations onto others. I assure you that if you come to hang out with me in this sort of situation, we'll be talking about it!

  2. My Dad was a deceased estate and estate planning specialist who also taught a technical course on our CPA programme. He would say at least 10 times in the first lecture "when you die" and the whole class would shift uncomfortably. It seems no one likes to talk about death - whether it is imminent or whether you are planning financially for it. I can't get most of my clients to see someone to draft a will.

    I also often wonder what it is about the way we live and think that makes us so uncomfortable with death to the extent that we won't talk about it. At all.

  3. I think our inability to deal with death is largely cultural. Here in our first-world country with all our comforts and knowledge and technological advances, we "fight" death tooth and nail. We view it as the enemy rather than the natural conclusion to our own lives and the lives of everyone around us. We have taken the emotions of those left behind--the sadness and the loneliness and the longing--and somehow attached them to the act of dying, and to those who die. We have created our own version of purgatory here on earth with our fears and battles against death.

  4. YES!
    I see that all the time at the hospital.
    Also: the most beautiful deaths I see are when the pt and family ARE willing to look straight at what's next. That has been breathtakingly beautiful, loving, present.
    Avoidance isn't keeping us safe, it's stealing the power of profound intimacy and love.