“I've been a critical care EMT for the past seven years in Suffolk County, New York. I've been a first responder in a number of incidents ranging from car accidents to Hurricane Sandy.
If you are like most people, death might be one of your greatest fears. Some of us will see it coming. Some of us won't. There is a little-known documented medical term called impending doom. It's almost a symptom. As a medical provider, I'm trained to respond to this symptom like any other, so when a patient having a heart attack looks at me and says, "I'm going to die today," we are trained to reevaluate the patient's condition.
Throughout my career, I have responded to a number of incidents where the patient had minutes left to live and there was nothing I could do for them. With this, I was faced with a dilemma: Do I tell the dying that they are about to face death, or do I lie to them to comfort them? Early in my career, I faced this dilemma by simply lying. I was afraid. I was afraid if I told them the truth, that they would die in terror, in fear, just grasping for those last moments of life.
That all changed with one incident. Five years ago, I responded to a motorcycle accident. The rider had suffered critical, critical injuries. As I assessed him, I realized that there was nothing that could be done for him, and like so many other cases, he looked me in the eye and asked that question: "Am I going to die?" In that moment, I decided to do something different. I decided to tell him the truth. I decided to tell him that he was going to die and that there was nothing I could do for him. His reaction shocked me to this day. He simply laid back and had a look of acceptance on his face. He was not met with that terror or fear that I thought he would be. He simply laid there, and as I looked into his eyes, I saw inner peace and acceptance. From that moment forward, I decided it was not my place to comfort the dying with my lies. Having responded to many cases since then where patients were in their last moments and there was nothing I could do for them, in almost every case, they have all had the same reaction to the truth, of inner peace and acceptance. In fact, there are three patterns I have observed in all these cases.
The first pattern always kind of shocked me. Regardless of religious belief or cultural background, there's a need for forgiveness. Whether they call it sin or they simply say they have a regret, their guilt is universal. I had once cared for an elderly gentleman who was having a massive heart attack. As I prepared myself and my equipment for his imminent cardiac arrest, I began to tell the patient of his imminent demise. He already knew by my tone of voice and body language. As I placed the defibrillator pads on his chest, prepping for what was going to happen, he looked me in the eye and said, "I wish I had spent more time with my children and grandchildren instead of being selfish with my time." Faced with imminent death, all he wanted was forgiveness.
The second pattern I observe is the need for remembrance. Whether it was to be remembered in my thoughts or their loved ones', they needed to feel that they would be living on. There's a need for immortality within the hearts and thoughts of their loved ones, myself, my crew, or anyone around. Countless times, I have had a patient look me in the eyes and say, "Will you remember me?"
The final pattern I observe always touched me the deepest, to the soul. The dying need to know that their life had meaning. They need to know that they did not waste their life on meaningless tasks. This came to me very, very early in my career. I had responded to a call. There was a female in her late 50s severely pinned within a vehicle. She had been t-boned at a high rate of speed, critical, critical condition. As the fire department worked to remove her from the car, I climbed in to begin to render care. As we talked, she had said to me, "There was so much more I wanted to do with my life." She had felt she had not left her mark on this Earth. As we talked further, it would turn out that she was a mother of two adopted children who were both on their way to medical school. Because of her, two children had a chance they never would have had otherwise and would go on to save lives in the medical field as medical doctors. It would end up taking 45 minutes to free her from the vehicle. However, she perished prior to freeing her.
I believed what you saw in the movies: when you're in those last moments that it's strictly terror, fear. I have come to realize, regardless of the circumstance, it's generally met with peace and acceptance, that it's the littlest things, the littlest moments, the littlest things you brought into the world that give you peace in those final moments.”
I think this is a pretty good observation regarding human need at the moment of death. We want to know that our evil deeds will not be held against us. Guilt is not something I want to carry into the next life. We want to know that we left an impression with others in our life. I do not want to be forgotten. And we want to know that our existence actually had purpose. Was everything I did for nothing, or did I make a difference?
One of the more interesting lines is, “From that moment forward, I decided it was not my place to comfort the dying with my lies.” That is so powerful. Too often we try to comfort people with lies. That is ridiculous. Trying to comfort dying people with lies is like trying to soothe a cut with muriatic acid. So I won’t lie to you this morning. All of us are dying. I am dying. You... as alive as you may feel in this moment... you are dying.
But here is the hope... you can find all of the things Matthew O'Reilly mentioned in Christ… and only in Christ.
Christ can and will forgive you of every sin you've ever committed. "All the prophets testify about Jesus that through His name everyone who believe in Him will receive forgiveness of sins." (Acts 10:43)
Christ will remember you in the next life. "Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!' And Jesus said to him, 'I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.'" (Luke 23:42-43)
Christ created you for a purpose in this life. "We are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10)
That is why our identity must be found in Him. One’s name may be written down in history books, but it is more important to have your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
The apostle Paul, who had a dirty past of which he was ashamed, but eventually longed to impact the world for good passed these words of encouragement on to early Christians. It speaks to the things we all seek in life and beyond…
“We haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light. He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. We have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, in Him.” (Colossians 1:9-14)
I won’t lie to you. You are going to die. Today may be your last day. This may be the last devotional you ever read. Are you satisfied with your life? Are you satisfied with where you will spend eternal life? Are you forgiven? Will you be remembered among the saints? Have you fulfilled the purpose God has for you? The answer to those questions can be “Yes”!
[Bible quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, unless otherwise noted.]
Find more of David’s work at Heart Of Ministry.
Matthew O'Reilly gave his speech during a TED Talk.