For many people, spirituality and/or association with a particular faith can be quite comforting at the end of life. In my experience as a hospice chaplain, people want to know that their illness, their disease, has some sort of broader meaning.
Making meaning of a terminal illness can be difficult. It’s easy to cry out, “Why is this happening to me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” I take comfort in knowing that God hears those laments, that God hears our anger and still responds to us in love. People often look at me in a strange way when I encourage them to get angry with God in prayer. “Am I allowed to get angry with God?” they ask me? I always answer with an emphatic YES! God wants to know how we are doing. God wants us to be authentic with our feelings. And when we cry about our terminal illness, I believe that God cries with us.
So how do we make meaning out of something so terrible as our own deaths? It’s not that easy! But somehow, by making meaning of what is happening, the reality is easier to accept. For some, they might make meaning of their illness by choosing to live despite their prognosis. They resolve to make every last moment count. For others, they make meaning by deciding that they lived their lives too quickly, and see their illness as a way to slow down and enjoy the finer points of life. Others make meaning of their illness by seeing it as an opportunity to get to know God better, and getting some of their questions about life answered.
No matter how a person makes meaning of his/her illness, it is often comforting knowing that there is still a purpose for their life. And as we draw close to the end of our lives, many people look toward God, or some other higher power, to provide comfort in those final days. And those who seek God will find God, for God is there in the midst of our suffering.