By Marian Michaliszyn, Oxford Hospice Chaplain
When George was a child, his mom told him that “religion is good, but take it in small amounts.” So many years later, when he decided on hospice care, he declined chaplain visits for himself. He did request visits for his wife, because he thought it would help her after his death.
What George did not count on was the connection he and I made during the months I visited. Our visits began with general conversation, which then led to issues he’d had on his mind for decades.
George wanted to talk about his life journey starting with his childhood during World War II. He shared about high school and how he and his friends fixed up an old roadster and took turns driving it. He told me about a wonderful girl he met in high school who became his wife.
George spoke of his time in the Korean War and how the GI bill led to his career in communications. He considered himself a “self-made man” whose life choices and decisions brought him from California to Missouri.
Eventually, our conversations turned to religion. He told me about his experience at a tent revival at age 11 and about dismissing God and embracing science. Perhaps remembering his mother’s advice, George often said, “Religion had the last 3,000 years of rule in the lives of humans and now it’s time to let science have the next 100 years to shape society, and then see which is better.”
One day, we had a very powerful visit. When I arrived, George wanted to get away from his house so we could talk privately. We went to his boat dock, and George stated that he had a horrible night. He was confronted by the reality of his death and what happens afterword. There was a feeling of darkness and foreboding, and for the first time in his life he did not feel in control.
As we talked about the reality of death and making peace with God, I actively listened and offered faith resourcing as we discussed the meaning of life and George’s spiritual journey. As we shared with each other, George came to a place of resolving his questions of faith, religion and having peace in his spiritual life.
Not long after that visit, George died. When I went to see his wife and family, they shared how they all noticed George’s peaceful smile on his face. This was a great comfort to his family.
It was a privilege to share this part of George’s journey, and a privilege to continue the journey with bereavement support for his wife and children. With all the experiences, questions and concerns he shared, I was honored that he trusted me to be a non-judgmental listener.
What an amazing life he lived, and what a beautiful journey.