In opening the Easter service in my church yesterday, the pastor reminded the congregation that Easter is centrally about turning from death to new life. He pointed out that this is not only about what we, as Christians, believe God did for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus in overcoming death, but a lesson we can use elsewhere in our lives. He reminded us that many in Newtown, our cross-county neighbor, have been able to turn the horror of the death that was visited on them into a focus on new life. They are certainly not in any kind of denial about the pain and suffering they continue to feel, but many have been able to focus on the blessings and gifts that they still have in their lives.

And this example is seen lots of other places in our lives. For those of us who work in health care, we almost daily see patients and their loved ones who are confronted with tremendous suffering. Some become bitter and angry, but others genuinely acquire a greater appreciation for parts of life they had previously taken for granted. What is still unknown is what causes individuals to turn one way or the other. For those of us who are chaplains, we look for what parts of spirituality or religious belief support this kind of resilience and what parts impede it.

In this search, case studies are important. They are each unique of course but they each give us powerful insights into the ways some people live life to the fullest in the face of suffering and death and others give up on life almost completely.

Those of us who attended the recent AAHPM annual assembly were treated to a plenary by David and Deborah Oliver which I, and I know many others, felt was not only highly educational, but awe-inspiring. David has been living with stage 4 cancer. He and Deborah have “gone public” with virtually all aspects of their journey- both the struggles and the triumphs. But what impressed me more than anything else is their determination to live their lives in all the fullness they can muster including family, friends, travel, and each other. They are determined to find joy and fulfillment in their lives and, because they keep looking, they find it in abundance. There have certainly been trials along the way mostly with the medical system which are also instructive and well documented. David is determined to keep control of both his life and his death. His “HOPE” for dying is:

(H) to die in my own home
(O) surrounded by others
(P) pain free
(E) and excited about living

Many of you may already be familiar with David Oliver from his series of YouTube videos. He also has an ebook out called, Exit Strategy: Depriving Death of its Strangeness that is available on Smashwords. Whether you are a veteran in the field who can always learn more, someone just entering health care, or a patient or caregiver yourself, both David’s videos and book are must sees.

George Handzo, BCC, CSSBB
Senior Consultant
HealthCare Chaplaincy