Monday, March 3, 2008

Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Last month I began the process to volunteer for Hospice and in our training it was highly recommended that we read books dealing with death to help us to become more comfortable with the process and to understand better some of what terminal patients and their families deal with during their last months. The first book I selected was by Henri Nouwen.

In the introduction I came across this thought provoking quote:

"Are we preparing ourselves for our death, or are we ignoring death by keeping busy? Are we helping each other to die, or do we simply assume we are going to always be here for each other? Will our death give new life, new hope, and new faith to our friends, or will it be no more than another cause for sadness? The main question is not, How much will we still be able to do during the few years we have left to live? But rather, How can we prepare ourselves for our death in such a way that our dying will be a new way for us to send our and God’s spirit to those whom we have loved and who have loved us?"

Most of the time, it seems, we think of death as the end of life, loss, and suffering, but Mr. Nouwen gives a fresh persective by helping us realize that only after death does our life's true fruitfulness show itself. We must come to terms with our own mortality before we help others come to terms with their mortality. "To care for the dying is to help the dying make that hard move from action to passion, from success to fruitfulness, from wondering how much they can still accomplish to making their very lives a gift for others. Caring for the dying means helping the dying discover that, in their ever increasing weakness, God’s strength becomes visible."

If you know someone who is dealing with a terminal illness or if you want to prepare yourself as you consider your own mortality, this book would be a good place to start. Some of what Mr. Nouwen said was outside of my belief system, but for the most part the book is quite beneficial.

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