Meet Randy Chalfant- husband of nearly four decades, father of two, and cancer survivor. Randy is a metastatic colorectal cancer survivor and is passionate about sharing his insight into what it means spiritually, emotionally and practically to be diagnosed with cancer.
There is no “one size fits all” answer to this question. There are so many people that are all different in so many ways. We have all had different lives, educations, jobs, family, friends, and colleagues. Everyone knows we are all different.
But after you get past all of the veneer described above, what’s left. When each person is alone with their thoughts and are facing mortality, then how different are we. As a “terminal” patient, I have watched to see how others are dealing with it. I have to say the vast majority of people I have watched are resolved and happy overall.
Of course there is sadness for everybody. We love lots of people, and knowing that someone we love is soon going to be gone accelerates our passion and care for that individual. You could miss the opportunity to really let that person know how much they mean to you, and you don’t want that to happen.
I can tell you that within the first three months of being told I had terminal cancer I heard “I love you” more than I think I had heard it in my entire life. Who knew? Who knew so many people felt a need to let me know?
You know what you need? But have you really thought about what your dying loved one needs or wants?
I think it is fair to say that I have seen two types of people facing death. In one small camp there are people that are really angry. They don’t want to die, they are angry about what they perceive they are loosing and they can’t accept it, or anything else. They are mad at people and they are mad at God. Wow!
For these people, it is really hard to share your love. They are so focused on their own loss, there isn’t much room to bring them comfort and joy. But of course you have to try. Being there for them may even be an annoyance because it interrupts them from feeling sorry for themselves and focusing on their own anger. You need to tell them you love them of course and hope it resonates. Really what else can you do?
Just like any other issue that causes people to disengage, there is a certain amount of self-responsibility involved in your own balanced well-being. If a person is angry about dying, they are either going to resolve their feeling and communicate what is really important to them, which is the better outcome, or they are going to die angry with a sense of bring robbed.
I think the above scenario is a small percentage. I think most people become acutely aware of how precious the rest of their life is, and how precious all the people that are in their life are to them. They more or less are filled with love and want to express that love. They want people to know what they mean to them and how important they have been to their life. They want to thank others for their kindness and contributions. They want other to feel how much they appreciate all of these things.
So the question is, what does that near death person want? Probably what you are already giving them – love. But look, nothing is more easy, nor probably more valuable, than just being there and letting them know you care. Let them know that they have also made a difference to your life. Tell them why. In the end, I think that most people realize that what matters has nothing to do with any material point of prestige. It has everything to do with two things, love for God and humanity. Those are the two things that count; you take with you and have left behind.
So what messages will matter to a person that is dying? Things that have to do with love. Obviously sending a get-well card is senseless. Sending a card that expresses how that person has made a difference in your life does. A message that reassures a person of God’s love and the kingdom that waits will also matter. Expressing the joy of a heavenly re-united family matters. All of these things are true and to the point.
A dying person may be concerned for the support they can no longer provide to a family or person. Letting them know you are OK, and will manage to stay OK will help to relive them of potential guilt.
Letting them know it is OK to return to God, helps to reduce potential fear they may have of passing.
Loving them as they pass is maybe one of the more generous things any human can offer another. You can be sad to lose a person, but a sense of celebration should be felt for the glory of being in God, heaven, and waiting family members presence. You can even express your waiting anticipation for joining them too.
This may seem morose to you. If so I would suggest that our culture is not very trained in knowing what the right things are to do and say, which leaves us feeling awkward, which leaves many silent or absent. Perhaps more than at any other point in the human experience, dying is the time that a person most needs the love their circle of family, friends, and colleagues can offer.
It’s the grand finale of everything that person has done. It is the time to celebrate shared experiences and the bonds of friendship and love that will never expire. It is the most significant time in a persons life to let them know they have mattered in your life and why.
It is a time for generosity of human compassion to be shared and the value that life has offered to be savored. It is a time to say farewell to those that are returning to God’s kingdom, and to let them know that you are right with it.
More than anything it is about love. Share your love – it’s what matters.