The Midwest Bioethics Center, a secular organization in Kansas City, Mo., is offering resources for all religions to help people through the whole dying process, not just with conversations about life after death and funeral plans.
"My suspicion is that they're saying traditional religion hasn't always met people's psychological needs in this area," says Charles W. Dickson, former chaplain of the University of Florida Medical Center, Gainesville. "Well, maybe we haven't." Dickson is currently an ELCA parish pastor, author and chemistry professor at Catawba Community College, Hickory, N.C.
"I think there can be a reticence on the part of pastors to open up the subject of a person's dying, to say: 'Do you know the prognosis isn't good?' There's a fear that the person may be devastated," Dickson says. "So if the dying person doesn't bring it up, a lot of pastors feel they have to be 'chipper' ... or couch the subject in religious terms. But the reality is that many dying people want to talk about dying."
Knowing what people need can make a big difference to those offering support. Well-meaning church members may overwhelm dying people with potluck dishes when "eating is the last thing they are thinking about," Dickson says.
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