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. David Harris

    I just want to say that I think it's very arrogant of people to criticize Ms. Egan for not discussing if the dying are saved, or if they have accepted Jesus Christ. There are many religions in this world besides Christianity.

    February 22, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
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