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A new perspective on life and death

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Oklahoma --
As a civilian minister and AF reserve chaplain for 25+ years, I've been around death and dying. I can't tell you how many times I've visited people in the hospital or the number of funerals I've officiated, much less, attended. But about a year ago I began a new direction in my civilian ministry by becoming a hospice chaplain and it has changed me in some profound ways. My role as a hospice chaplain is to "be there" for patients who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and are expected to die within six months of entering hospice. I work on our in-patient unit so actually, many of the patients who are admitted to our unit are within just a few hours to a couple of weeks of dying. I also minister to the family members both before and after the death of their loved one. From this experience I've learned, or in some cases, been reminded of some basic truths about life and death. Over the next few months allow me to share some of those lessons with you in the hopes that they will be helpful and meaningful to you as you live your life.

Let me begin by reminding you that none of us is promised tomorrow. Death, whether you are 19 or 92 can come quite suddenly and unexpectedly. Whether in hospice or on the battle field or in everyday life, death can come swiftly and silently like a thief in the night. I'm reminded of a verse in the Bible that says, "You're nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing" (James 4:14). So living each day with purpose and meaning has become very important to me. I don't live in fear that I will die today or tomorrow, but I do live each day with a renewed awareness that it might be my last day (week, month, or year) in this world and that I want to make it mean something. I no longer take for granted that when I say "good bye" to my wife each morning that I'll automatically see her later that day. That awareness of the fleeting nature of life helps me to savor the moment and see each day as a gift.

(This is Part 1 of a 5 Part Series)