Sunday, August 3, 2008


The very first lesson I learned as a hospice chaplain was that I was the student
and my patients and caregivers were the instructors. They have taught me the
importance of facing my own dark shadows of death. I have learned from those shadows the importance of culture values. I learned the importance of my life's work.

When I listened to their stories of personal relationships, I learned the importance of my own relationships within this dying world. My relationships with the dying also taught me the importance of spiritual and religious values. I was taught the importance of accepting the responsibility of being a caregiver to both the dying and the living. It is because of these lessons in my life that I am indebted to those patients, caregivers, as well as other family members and friends that have allowed me to walk with them in their Valley of the Shadow of Death.

When my family, friends, associates and other acquaintance would ask me what I was doing since leaving the Army Chaplaincy, I smiled, as I told them, "I work with persons who are dying." Their reaction is predictable. There is often an expression of shock on their faces. Then they say something along the lines of, "Oh, I don't know how you can do that." Or they say, "That must be so depressing. I couldn't do that." There are some, if my announcement happened to be at a party, who simply say, "That's nice," then they excuse themselves to go over to the hors d'oeuvres table.

In writing this book I have only used first names and changed those names in all my patients, except for Bubba and Peter. Bubba's name had to be Bubba. It was his first name, he was every bit a Bubba. I used Peter's name because the story would not be the same without using "Peter". With many of the patients I attempted to change some details to protect their privacy.

Some of the lessons I have learned will be obvious to most readers, and some of the lessons I have attempted to point out. I divided the book into six learning divisions or chapters. The reader will readily see that many of the lessons overlap from chapter to chapter. For instance, Chapter VI, on caregivers, emphasizes the difficulty some caregivers have with their patients and the problem I, as their counselor/chaplain, was having in trying to help the caregiver, while at the same time, trying to meet the patient's needs. There were times when such needs were at odds with each other.

One of the greatest lessons I learned from working with both patient and caregiver is primarly throughout the other five chapters. That is, anyone who desires to walk with the dying into the shadows of death, into the dark valley of the dying, will need to be a person who has unconditional love and respect for those who allow them into their lives.

I learned that acceptance of one's death may arrive by the way of anger and confusion from the family members. I learned the importance of communication among the patients family. I learned that culture and faith are important in ones journey
through life. I learned that there are more lessons that I need to learn as I walk with those who are facing death.

Many of the lessons I learned are personal to me and I hope become personal to the readers as well. It is my aim for this book to assist the reader to identify those lessons taught to them from those dying acquaintances and using those teachings to further assist others they meet in their journey through the shadows of death to their new beginnings.

There are many lessons I am still learning from those dying patients who have become my instructors in living. I am indebted to these wonderful dying persons-patients, who are no longer in this world, for allowing me to share their journey to their new beginning, at the end of their Valley of the Shadow of Death.

No comments: