What brought a tough, grizzled old man to tears: the need for forgiveness

By Christine Longaker 

Mark, a hospice volunteer, was reading Chapter 3: The Needs of the Dying to the grizzled old man as they sat in the hospice courtyard one spring day, but before he could finish the sentence, the man screamed and grabbed his stomach as if he’d been shot.  He doubled over, his arms around his stomach rocking and moaning. Feeling very touched, the volunteer remained present with him until the patient calmed down.

The passage the tough old man had just heard, written in the voice of someone facing death, was: “Help me to find forgiveness for those things I regret having done.”

Over his moans, the volunteer suggested he try the prayer they had used before: a simple prayer that includes the verse:

“May I be forgiven for all that I have thought and done.”

Mark reminded the hospice patient that we are forgiven whenever we ask for forgiveness. The old man continued to rock and moan, occasionally returning to the simple prayer.  After some time, he bent down and said in a low and almost desperate voice,

“Please forgive me, O Lord.”

Many people face the end of their life feeling empty-handed, miserable, and unforgivable. Yet they don’t have words to express their anguish or their needs. And in this moment, hearing this passage from Chapter 3 of my book, Facing Death and Finding Hope, the words expressed the deepest pain in the dying man’s heart. And they pointed the way to what he needed in order to find peace of mind before he died.

We’re all different, and so our struggles as we navigate illness and dying and grief will be different too. But the goal is the same: before we die, we yearn to find peace in our mind and heart. To make peace with our lives and with ourselves. Perhaps to make peace with God.

How can we find peace? There are a variety of ways, described in the book as “The four tasks of living and dying.” They are a framework for family and medical caregivers to recognize and respond to sources of spiritual and emotional pain. The Four Tasks are insights that reveal what each one of us can do in order to find peace – whether we’re living with illness, approaching death, or journeying through grief. The Four Tasks are:

Understanding and transforming suffering

           Healing relationships, making a connection and letting go

           Preparing spiritually for death

           Finding meaning in life

Here’s the good news. While Facing Death and Finding Hope has been available as an e-book in the UK, Ireland and Australia for the past twenty years, I’m pleased to be able to offer it now as an e-book for readers in the US. If you’d like to order it, click here.

Print and e-book verfügbar auf Deutsch hier.

And, as a gift, I’d like to offer you Chapter 3: The Needs of the Dying as a free download. It’s written in the voice of a person who’s ill or facing death. I hope there’s a useful treasure within it for you or a person you love. Here are the first few passages from the book, Facing Death and Finding Hope.

Chapter 3: The Needs of the Dying

AFTER YEARS OF LISTENING TO MANY PEOPLE WHO are dying, hearing them try to articulate what they need during this most difficult passage of their lives, I will try to speak for them to you, their loved ones and caregivers.  I will speak with one voice representing all their many voices, communicating the emotional, practical and spiritual needs of a human being facing imminent death.

I need to talk about my thoughts and fears.  I am going through so many changes; I feel so uncertain about my future.  Sometimes all I can see in front of me are those future things I am afraid of.  And each day, my fear ignites a different emotion.  Some days I can’t take it in and I need to believe it isn’t happening. So, there might be days or even weeks that I will feel sad, or act irritated.  If you can listen and accept me, without trying to change or fix my mood, I will eventually get over it and be able to relax, and perhaps even laugh with you again.

         Until now, you may have always expected me to be emotionally strong and in control.  Now I’m afraid that if I honestly reveal myself, you will think less of me.  Because of the extreme stresses I am going through, it might happen that the very worst sides of my personality, the real dregs, will get stirred up.  If that happens I need permission to be “lost in the woods” for a while. Don’t worry, I will come back. 

         Do you know that I’m afraid to express my true thoughts and feelings? What if everyone I care about runs away and leaves me all alone? After all, you might not believe how hard this really is. That’s why I need you to reassure me that you understand my suffering, and that you are willing to stay with me through the process of my dying.  I need to know that you will listen to me, respect me, and accept me, no matter what sort of mood I am in on any particular day. 

         Here’s the most important thing: I want you to see me as a whole person, not as a disease, or a tragedy, or a fragile piece of glass.  Do not look at me with pity but rather with all of your love and compassion.  Even though I am facing death, I am still living.  I want people to treat me normally and to include me in their lives.  Don’t think that you cannot be completely open with me.  It is okay to tell me if I am making your life harder, or that you are feeling afraid or sad.

         More than anything, I need you to be honest now.  There is no more time for us to play games, or to hide from each other.  I would love to know I am not the only one feeling vulnerable and afraid. . . .               

Click here to signup and download the complete pdf of Chapter 3: The Needs of the Dying, from Facing Death and Finding Hope – in English or in Deutsch. The link to download Chapter 3 in either language will come in a confirmation email.


©2018 text and photo Christine Longaker

Here’s the most important thing: I want you to see me as a whole person, not as a disease, or a tragedy, or a fragile piece of glass.  Do not look at me with pity but rather with all of your love and compassion.” 

Christine Longaker

Christine Longaker

Hospice and spiritual care pioneer and author of "Facing Death and Finding Hope: A Guide to the Emotional and Spiritual Care of the Dying," Christine Longaker is writing a book on Self-Compassion, and developing trainings and an online course based on the book.

1 Comment

Rosalie Theresa Salamone · January 11, 2019 at 10:57 pm

I so dearly appreciate u .?

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