It was 17 years ago that I accepted a new position titled “End of Life Chaplain”. My pay came from a large corporation whose focus was the care of the elderly in over 400 long term care and assisted living facilities across the country. I was hired to help 4 of those facilities.
Two coronaviruses later (SARs and COVID) and 17 years of experience have resulted in many changes; both to myself and the setting in which I serve. My title now is “Spiritual Care Provider” and I work for a local Health Care Service in a hospice setting.
Despite the clinical changes over the years human nature has remained much the same. As I accompany those and their close friends and family toward death, I have learned the power of story. To listen to the stories of other people’s lives; witnessing their struggles, sacrifices, regrets, achievements, and joy is a profound privilege.
Rarely do I hear stories of things accumulated. Those summarizing their lives tend not to list what furniture they had or how many homes they owned. Not once has anyone told me what kind of car they drove or how much Gucci they had in their closets. Instead, I have stood witness to childhood memories, stories of perseverance over trials, and setbacks recovered. There are always stories of love; the kind of love that leaves its impression on one’s life, the love of parents, siblings, spouses, children, pets, and dear friends. These are the stories that matter at the end of it all.
These are stories of how each has filled their space in the world; how their lives came to have meaning and this meaning is significant.
Concentration camp survivor, Viktor E. Frankl wrote in his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, “Everyone has their own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein they cannot be replaced, nor can life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is unique as is their specific opportunity to implement it.”
It is never too late to rewrite the story of our lives asking, “how am I filling my space in the world?”