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At death’s door, what to say?

At death’s door, what to say?

Hospice chaplain Kerry Egan writes movingly for the CNN Belief Blog about her experiences – namely about what people say when they are in the throes of death.

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….

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.

Egan’s piece on the blog have so far spurred more than 3,000 comments.


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Thanks to all for these remarks.

The venerable Will Spong remarked in my final CPE evaluation that I had learned the capacity to keep quiet and listen while others spoke, and that this was a trait that would serve the church well. I have tried to lean in to this counsel in the years since.

Torey Lightcap


My brother is very near death, and at the end of a long long painful journey from lung cancer to “cancer of every part of the body.” I call him every day at five o’clock, and we talk. We talk about family, family, family. He’s processing his experience of sexual and psychological abuse as a child, and his subsequent feelings of abandonment and worthlessness. We’ve talked about parenting a good bit, and how it was for our dad, who was probably the first victim of abuse. Sometimes we talk about football, and movies. I listen a lot. There is so much spiritual work going on, not just in him, but in me. I am saddened by many of the comments to the article, and the commenters who would short-circuit spiritual processes most likely because they are afraid of them, and hide behind their religious formulas.

If God is Love… and God is, then God is found in this kind of spiritual work, in our conversations about our children, our joys, pain and regrets. Healing is happening, and forgiveness, and I am greatly privileged to have been allowed in and to be a part of if.

God bless hospice chaplains, who walk this walk with so many souls!

Lou Poulain,

Sunnyvale CA


Though my mom made some unintelligible sounds (and later silent lip movements—but w/ an intense focused gaze), her last understandable words (to my brother and me) were “Be careful, be careful.”

Always lookin’ out for us. RIP Mom. [November 29 1925 – September 30 2007. Stupid effing ALS. She should have lived a lot longer.]

JC Fisher

Leslie Scoopmire

The sixth anniversary of my father’s death was yesterday. For that and many other reasons, this essay by Ms. Egan is a wonderful blessing and a balm to the soul. Thanks be to God that your posting it here helped me to find it.

The essay is wonderful. Sadly, some of the commenters on the CNN site have their own agendas which are completely anathema to the message of this beautiful theology. Shame.

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