Disease, death, politics, and theology

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ theory of how a terminally ill patient faces death has five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

My goal is to help people have a good death. So, when I walk in to a room and face the patient, I simply say, “Come on! What do you think is going to happen here? Let’s get with it! Accept your fate and let’s get on with it.”

Please tell me you didn’t think I would actually do such a thing…please.

No, I enter into a relationship, build trust, find out what’s bothering them, ask a lot of questions and then offer some help that is appropriate to their situation. If I am fortunate enough, we cover a lot of ground and they are more peaceful at the end of their life than when I entered into their journey. Regardless of the outcome, I am with them. The whole team is with them. How they travel their journey does not dictate whether or not I will travel with them. I’m in for the duration.

Why then, do my political or theological discussions treat people so differently? When someone is facing the end of their life, it is a challenging thing. Their hopes, dreams, goals, and plans come crashing down around them. There are things they will never get to see because they will likely die before any of it happens.

But, get me talking to someone about how we should treat people as Christians, and I am so impatient. “Come on!” I want to shout. “Get with the program!”

All the while forgetting all of the things people might grieve in order to follow Jesus.  All the things they have associated with a good life. All the things they have been told make them who they are and who they hope to become.

And, unlike someone who is dying, my conditions for walking with them might just hinge on whether or not they are willing to change their thinking and actions.

Maybe it would be a benefit to my political and theological discussions if I remembered the lessons I’ve learned from the people I serve as a chaplain.