By Curtis Freed, MA, BCC
Maggie Callanan & Patricia Kelly’s book Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying is a very personal account of two hospice nurses’ work with dying patients and their families. The authors have complied a book in which they share many in-depth encounters with patients in their care who are in the process of dying. According to its authors, the book written to “family and friends, for healthcare workers, [and] for dying people”. The personal accounts they share are both heart-warming and at the same time very sad.
Final Gifts has much to say about the dying process. I have never ceased to be amazed at what the dying teach us. Oftentimes attempts of dying people to describe what they are experiencing can be misunderstood, misconstrued, or even ignored all together. Those who are dying have something to say. The dying may have a life experience they need to share. It may be what the dying person needs in order to experience a more peaceful death. This may include the need for reconciliation with a family member or close friend. In any case, the dying may have a message they must convey before their death is imminent.
As a hospice chaplain, I am often asked, “How do you work with dying people on a regular basis? Isn’t it depressing?” It is true there are times when a hospice patient’s death is very sad, especially if I have a special connection with that person. Nevertheless, hospice work is very rewarding. In fact, hospice work brings much gratification, fulfillment, and joy.
This may not even seem possible. The answer lies in that we have to recognize there are parallels between coming into this world and departing from it. Just as doctors and nurses work together to bring life into this world at birth, hospice works at the other end – to ease the transition from life to death.
As I read the book, I appreciated the many personal stories the authors shared that included reconciliation, forgiveness, and dying in peace. These are examples of the “final gifts” the authors refer to that the dying person gives to their loved ones before passing from this life unto the next. Not all the stories in the book ended on a positive note. Some concluded with bitterness and unresolved disputes. Still, it was these personal accounts that made the book even more interesting.
Let’s face it. We do not always know what to say or do when a loved one is dying. The answer lies in learning to know what to look and listen for from the dying person. The book gives insight into these so-called “gifts” the dying are trying to send to those around them.
About the author
Curtis Freed is a Spiritual Care Counselor for Harbor Hospice. He is a Board Certified Chaplain (BCC) with the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC). Prior to joining Harbor Hospice, he worked as a chaplain at Mercy VNS & Hospice for 3 years. In addition, he worked as a chaplain for Spectrum Health at Butterworth and Blodgett Hospitals for 8 years. He is a graduate of Liberty University (1987) and Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (1990).
For over 37 years, Harbor Hospice has provided compassionate end of life care for terminally ill patients and their families, addressing medical, emotional and spiritual needs regardless of ability to pay. Serving residents of lakeshore West Michigan, their team of professionals and volunteers connect patients and families with resources to align their goals of comfort and improved quality of life.
As a leader now in palliative and hospice care, Harbor Hospice and Harbor Palliative Care is committed to alleviating patients’ symptoms and providing choices to help the patient achieve optimum well-being.