"I need to talk to Reverend Heidi alone,” Roy announced to his wife, his family members, our deacon, and me. After everyone else left his hospital room, I sat down, wondering if he would tell me his fears about dying or that he had felt a loved one’s presence in his room. Instead, he methodically listed the details of the funeral he wanted: a veteran’s honor guard on motorcycles, the Episcopal Rite I burial liturgy, and his favorite gospel-style “Amen” at the end of the service.
As family and clergy we may be tempted to assume we know the needs of those who are dying, but more often than not we can’t anticipate what they are feeling or what is most important to them in their final days. We are still learning how to talk about dying well in North America. As Marilyn Chandler McEntyre puts it, “Wanting ‘what is best,’ we are sometimes at a loss about how to discern what ‘best’ might be.” We don’t know what additional treatment to pursue, which guests to allow to come visit, or what to talk about during visits.
Drawing on what she learned during her years as a hospice volunteer and on her experiences of the deaths of her own family members, most poignantly her daughter and her elderly mother, McEntyre has written two books that offer accompaniment, guidance, and prayer for the painful gift of such times.