(or Know second chances)
Talk presented by Rich Hayes
Mar. 8, 2015
at Unitarian Universalist Church
Pittsfield, MA
Unitarian Gathering of South County
Housatonic, MA

Sept. 4, 2016

READING:I believe in second chances and Last Chances; unfortunately, most people don't recognize the difference between the two until it's too late...
-Nishan Panwar

In my years with hospice I have been blessed to meet so many teachers - sometimes back-to-back.

In one week I was assigned 2 new patients who were at the total opposite end of the spectrum personality-wise: The first, peaceful, open, grateful; the other Angry, in pain, and lashing out.
Both where in nursing homes-also at opposite ends of the county.

Within the first 5 minutes of meeting my first patient she told me she’d been preparing for death all of her life.

So I asked her how she’d done this? This is what she told me:
#1-At a young age I realized that one day I would die-that it was natural because everything does.
#2- I decided not to be afraid of it
#3-I tried to remember every day that this day was special
#4-I tried to be kind, to think of others and be good to others as well as to myself
#5- I’d make a point to enjoy as much as possible-to never miss a chance to laugh-but also never deny the times only tears will do

Well, we had a great visit, and although she was quite sick with cancer, she did not seem to be suffering.

She was an artist and a writer. I asked her if she would mind autographing one of her books that I was going to order online when I got home. This was a Monday.

She smiled, said she’d be happy to sign it, but told me to make sure it was before Thursday, because she would be leaving either Thurs. or Fri.
I got what she meant.

Leaving her I drove directly to meet my 2
nd new Patient.

When I arrived staff were seeing to the patient so I waited outside the door. Also outside the door was a man who identified himself as a friend. This patient had been very demanding and giving staff a pretty hard time.
I made some small talk with the friend, trying to get a sense of my new patient, acknowledging that it must be very hard on him to be this ill. That’s when the friend said to me that this person had been difficult all their life- a “not nice” person is how he put it.

This patient had done well in life-highly educated, position of prominence, power, and authority in a respected field.

I quickly learned there were numerous issues regarding relationships within the family.

This person was suffering-certainly physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.
We were able to get the physical discomfort and pain under control. Until you do this it’s virtually impossible to address the emotional/spiritual stuff.

My visit actually went fairly well and I seemed able to make a good connection, because the next day when this patient became upset and agitated they asked for the chaplain, insisting they wouldn’t talk to anyone else. Funny thing is they said they were an atheist. So I was a little surprised when they asked for me.

When I arrived the patient was drifting in and out but recognized I was there.

The one person they wished to make things “right” with was a grown child but she'd had only minimal contact with him and was unwilling to engage in any conversation because of years of verbal abuse.

As much as I would have liked a classic happy ending like in the movies, that was not going to be the case here.
My role here would be to provide what support I could to this angry, scared person, to be with them in that pain.

On my way out of this visit I received a message that patient # 1 was “transitioning”(code: dying). It was Wednesday night. On Thursday morning I checked and the patient was comfortable-family had gathered. I arrived to find her non-responsive but appearing peaceful and comfortable. I sat with the family; tears flowed as did laughs and numerous stories. From what they said it was clear to me that this woman had lived according to that great insight she’d had at such a young age.

She died that evening - Thursday- just as she had predicted. She was surrounded by people who loved her and would miss her and who were happy to have shared a life together.

Within the span of 5 days-less then a week, I had witnessed 2 very different approaches to living and dying.

When I’d first started my chaplaincy at hospice my supervisor, Chuck, who’d been a hospice chaplain for over 15 years had said to me that people often tend to die as they have lived.

I like to say to people it is never too late to start, to change, to improve-never too late to love or forgive. In most cases I do believe this is true. But eventually time does run out.

So here once again is that list from patient #1:
#1-One day I will die
#2- Decide not to be afraid of it
#3-Remember (every day) THIS DAY IS SPECIAL
#4-Be kind, think of others, be good to others –be good to yourself
#5- Enjoy as much as possible-never miss a chance to laugh-
AND don’t deny the times only tears will do

If you are here and hearing this, then it is not too late to start: But time is running out.

“Know” this before there is “no this”!

If you can keep this at the forefront of your mind, especially when the minutiae of life – the petty annoyances and stuff that really doesn’t matter (unless, of course, we let it matter)-tries to take root, then you will be well on your way to good living which will bring you to good dying.

And then the Cherokee saying will apply to you:
'When you were born you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die the world cries and you rejoice.