Overheard on CNN.com: Last words
What do people talk about before they die?
January 30th, 2012
11:52 AM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Last words

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

A touching essay written by Kerry Egan, a hospice chaplain, inspired more than 3,000 comments about life, death and thereafter. Egan described her thoughts on what people say before they die, noting that many folks talk about their families and their feelings. Egan's assertion that she would rather take the time to listen than to press religion on the dying proved to be quite the conversation starter.

My faith: What people talk about before they die

Several readers wrote in to share their own experiences with death and dying.

charliegirl: "In the hours before my grandmother's passing away I helped her to be comfortable in the hospital bed. All the family was there but had gone out to eat. I stayed with her. I will always appreciate that moment when it was just the two of us. She uttered mainly words of pain, as she was in a lot of pain. I then proceeded to wash her dentures, not sure why. Then she she pointed towards me and said my mother's name. My mother had passed away close to two years before grandma. Later that night as all the family gathered around her, I sat by her in a small chair. She told me to lie beside her because she knows I am tired (I had driven 20 hours to get to her), but all I did was scoot closer in the chair and place her hand on my hand, and then she said she was ready to rest. Close to 6 a.m. the following day, she went to be with my mother and the Lord. Sometimes there are hardly any words, for the actions are felt throughout and that is where love is felt as well."

Many readers said they agreed with Egan's observations about the end of life.

marianne: "My dad died this weekend ... his last conversations were about his family and about his parents. There was no regret or hatred in his last days, only love and memories ... he didn't think he understood about God, but his loved showed that was not true ... he did understand because he loved."

But many readers also had some very serious reservations about Egan's story.

Fred: "When I read this, I couldn't help but consider the missed opportunities she had to deal with people about salvation. It's a standard question: are you saved? Do you know that you're on your way to heaven when you die? At least give them the chance to accept Jesus as their savior before it's too late. After all, even Darwin converted on his deathbed."

What is a chaplain's job?

John: "I am in such a awe moment right now. You are a chaplain, representing God, the person whose main role is to guide them to God and you let them leave this world without them accepting Jesus as their personal savior? You may have given them comfort before last breath, but what then afterward."

One said there is blame to go around, referring to Egan's story of a professor who criticized her approach when she was a student.

Chris: "This article is misleading. It paints a picture of two people who are wrong (although that's not her intent). First of all, the professor shouldn't criticize a person for talking about family with one who is dying. Second, Ms. Egan shouldn't criticize a professor for thinking it's obviously important to share more than family anecdotes with a dying person. A chaplain is one who is supposedly there for spiritual guidance. If not, she should call herself something else. If she's not witnessing to the person and talking to them about eternal life through Jesus Christ, she's not ultimately doing them any good. I understand the professor's point, even if his delivery was a bit callous."

On the other hand, this reader wrote from a religious perspective as well.

West: "I work in a convent infirmary with elderly and sick sisters ... they also talk about their moms, dads, brothers, sisters and other people who passed on before them. Sometimes they see and speak to these people before they die. Sometimes, if they have the strength they pray but, usually they can only speak a few words. I'm thinking Mr. Professor didn't actually sit with many people and experience the act of death."

People with a more secular perspective also weighed in.

janemutiny: "Finally, some reality in the Belief section. We would all be better off if people understood these fundamentals before they were dying and created the lives they knew on some level they should be living. The focus is starting to shift from the god myth and towards the realities of humane living, and I am glad."

We also heard from many readers who agreed with Egan.

ricnaustin: "Thanks Kerry for the great words. I think spiritual leaders feel the obligation to ensure people are on the right 'spiritual path' before moving to the next realm (whatever that might be based on personal beliefs or if there really is something beyond death). At least we know Kerry 'forgave' her professor for his indiscretions when he belittled her in the classroom. Hopefully by now (if he's still amongst the living) that he came to realize it's more important to listen than to proselytize, you'd think."

But this reader said that while family is important, one must look at what lies beyond.

J: "This article is full of distortions of biblical truth. It's well and good to speak so highly about family. I too love my family and they are constantly on my mind and heart. However, the author muddies the relationship with have with God with the love we have for other people. The first commandment is to love the Lord thy God with all of your heart, all of your mind, all of your soul and all of your strength. God comes first, family second. To say that God isn't a relevant subject and that we don't need the bible, that it is all summed up in the love that you have for your family is ridiculous. It's at these times that we need God the most. It also confuses the way that we love God. Jesus said if we love Him we will obey His commands, and those who do abide in His love. Love isn't simply having feelings towards it each other, it serving God and doing His will. That is how we demonstrate our love in the actual."

What do you think, and what have you observed about the dying process? Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.


Filed under: Overheard on CNN.com • Religion
soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    By the time a person has reached the end of a normal lifespan, he may have resolved his fear of ceasing to exist, but the damage done to his mind by imposition of religious belief in his youth may cause his death to be in mental anguish. I hope that I do not die begging, "Save me, Save me!"

    January 30, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • dla

      I pray that you will change your mind before your time comes to leave this earth. Sad to find that so many like you are lost and don't even know it.

      January 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • AndyB

      I'm with you Joey. I hope that when my fragile machine stops running that I can accept who I was and what I did and meet nonexistence without undue fear.

      February 2, 2012 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  2. RAGE Against the Machine

    My last words would be:
    "I hid the money under the..."

    January 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOMBO ©

      Try to muster a look of calm and joy, and say "Oh NOW I understand, the meaning of life is.."

      January 30, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  3. banasy ©

    Hopefully, my last words will be, "I love you all"...amd my first words, (should there be another side) will be, "Hello, Eric, I have missed you so much".

    January 30, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • TORI ©

      @banasy, well Said. I am so very sorry about Eric. You bet he will be waiting for his mom on the other side.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy ©

      Thank you, TORI©.
      That reunion is going to have to wait a few years.
      I have no intention of going anywhere yet, and time, for him, is nothing...
      I still have places to go, people to see, (and annoy, lol) and all.
      I'm not done here yet!

      January 30, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • s kel

      Ohhhh Bansay, thats so sweet. Thats why your my friend.

      January 30, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. fernace

    The problem with preaching Jesus & salvation to the dying is that they may not be Christians! If they're Muslims, Buddist, Jewish or atheist, trying to foist another religion on a person taking their last breaths seems like an invasion to me! Also, I think most people make their own peace w/God (Allah, Jehova, Jah, Yaweh, Elohim, etc.) as they leave this earth! I commend this woman for giving comfort to the dying & am cretain she will pray w/or give absolution to those who ask for it! PS, I know you'll see your beloved son again 1 day, banasy!!

    January 30, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. tormented

    With every breath I pray for death.Im done keeping every body else happy,just staying alive while I suffer.Its coming real soon.so long haters

    January 30, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    I'd like to die the way my best friend's stroke-weakened mother died a few years ago. He was holding her, helping her sit up. He handed her a Boost to drink, and suddenly she was dead. There was no pain, and no time to say anything.
    A friend who is an MD told me, "I've been with many people when they died. With all the worrying about it, when the time comes, they do it very well."
    I put my emphasis on what is here and now. I've had, so far, a rich, beautiful life. I'd like for it to go on forever, but all men die. I can accept my life's ending, knowing that it has been especially good.

    January 30, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • TORI ©

      @jif, you love are not going anywhere for a very long time. This is making me nostalgic for the future. I can't even imagine losing my parents or grandmother.

      January 30, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    @ TORI©:
    You're right, of course. When I joked about being 116 years old, I had every intention of living that long.
    My point, though, is that I put the emphasis on this life.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Report abuse |
  8. BOMBO ©

    I want to just keel over one day without warning after living a long, healthy life. But we don't get to choose, do we.

    I don't want to die like Redd Foxx, genuinely having a heart attack at rehearsals one day, grabbing his chest, etc, while everyone else on set is laughing at him, thinking it was his "Elizabeth, I'm coming to join you" routine. Until it was too late.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Report abuse |
  9. BOMBO ©

    I saw a story on local news years ago about an old guy in a rest home, who was just turning 100. The news crew went down there thinking they a feel good fluff news story on their hands. Instead, they found a very unhappy person who kept saying things like "Why am I still alive. I'm tired. I just want to die. Why won't I die?"

    January 30, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©™

    BOMBO always knows when to send in the clowns.
    That's a good thing.

    January 30, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Chris

    J: you state above that you believe that God comes first and Family comes second. However, there are thousands of people who in the moments right before they pass do not mention God but mention family. I believe it is Family first and God second. Yes, I believe there is a God and I believe there is something more once we pass over, however, I believe right now, right here on Earth is my family and they come first. I pray God who we are taught is all forgiving would understand that my sick son comes before he does and forgive me for this. God doesn't need to be first in my life he is just happy to be a part of my life.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
  12. saywhat

    @ fernace
    well said.
    @ banasy

    My thoughts & prayers are for your son Eric and I'm sure he is in a better place. We want you around for a long time now, just get on with what you are doing.

    January 30, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy ©

      Thank you, saywhat.
      I'll jus keep on keeping on!

      January 30, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mary

    My last worlds will be "I love you Robert" (my son)

    January 30, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. leeintulsa

    my last words will probably be said by someone else.. "there he is! get him!"

    January 30, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy ©

      lmfao!
      You are absurd!
      (Probably why we get along. Life, for me anyway, is one big theater if the absurd!)

      January 30, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. JeramieH

    That's all we need, a salesman for God trying to broker one last deal in our final breath, like a used car salesman trying to swindle us.

    I hate to break it to you folks, but not everyone believes in your version of the afterlife – regardless of who you are and whatever you think the afterlife is.

    February 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
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