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What the Dying Taught Me about Living

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What is a “good death”?A hospital chaplain reflects on the lessons from her patients.Suffering and death are what initially attracted me to a career in the spiritual care of the sick and dying. I do not say this flippantly. Having accompanied hundreds of people and their families suffering from cancer, heart disease, and traumatic injury, pain and death remain a mystery as well as a challenge. Yet I was drawn to this environment because of what I believed suffering and death could teach me about life in general — and myself in particular. I wanted to learn to become more compassionate and useful. I wanted to learn how to face suffering and use it constructively. I wanted to know why some people appeared to have a “better death” than others, passing from this life with less fear, pain, and resistance than other people. And I also wanted to look at my own worst nightmares about sickness, pain, and the end of life and see what they might show me. What I wound up learning from my patients and their families changed my life.The Most Generous TeachersOne of my favorite patients was also one of my first patien …

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