As many of you may know, I have the opportunity this year to be a hospital chaplain at Mass. General. A few months ago someone asked me, as we discussed my work, “Have you ever seen someone die?” I replied, “Yes, everyday!” Or so it seemed to me that week. In reality, my days and weeks can vary greatly in terms of who and what I encounter in my ministry. Hospital chaplains aren’t just available for those who are dying, or have died, and their loved ones. Our hope is to provide spiritual and emotional support to anyone and everyone, no matter what their health and life challenges may be. Still, it is true that chaplaincy services are very often called upon in end-of-life situations, and understandably so. Given this fact, I am learning more about how to accompany people as they come to terms with their (or a loved one’s) mortality. In a sense, everyday is Ash Wednesday for me as a chaplain. I remember, for myself and on behalf of my patients and their families, that we are dust and to dust we will return. This has left me with a sense of urgency to reflect more deeply on my own life and death, and to take the scary step of having conversations about end-of-life care with my family. Having such conversations feels scary, awkward, and even morbid to me. So I need to remember that dying is as natural as being born, though of course death comes at times and in ways we often don’t want and can never really control. Still, as our Prayer Book says, “In the midst of life, we are in death.” If you feel ready to begin exploring end-of-life questions for yourself and/or those you love, you don’t have to do it alone. Check out websites like theconversationproject.org, talk to our clergy, or get coffee with a trusted friend. Above all, pray, and trust in the love and mercy of Christ.
Remember, Jesus tasted death for our sake and conquered it in rising again, so that we may have eternal life. Remember, death has lost its sting so that, even at the grave, we may sing alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. Thanks be to God.
— Dan Bell