Conversations around the End of Life: Maggie Finley

We've been privileged at Grace to engage in a four-week series of discussions around the End of Life.  If you've missed them, you can watch them on Grace's Youtube Channel (the last one will be available by 11-21-20).

Here, our facilitator and retired hospice chaplain, Maggie Finley, has allowed us to reprint part of a story about just one of her many experiences with hospice ministry.  Read more about Maggie at the end of this entry. 

cup of tea beside books and letters
Photo by Diane Helentjaris on Unsplash

from Vision, a publication of the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, January/February 2017 - www.nacc.org/vision. Excerpted  here with author's permission.

. . .Hospice ministry is about kinship, since we may begin to see part of a patient’s legacy in its multi-generational dimension. One family with whom I grew into a genuinely pastoral relationship over the course of about 2 1/2 years, spanned four generations. Initially, my bimonthly visits were divided between the nonagenarian patient, Greta, and her caregiver son, Dale (all names have been changed). Protestant and Canadian, they were without formal faith affiliation in Washington. I became something of a pastor figure. Having built a trusting relationship, Dale approached me about the funeral when his eldest son died unexpectedly. It gave me an opportunity to meet other family members of whom I’d previously only heard. My follow-up bereavement visit included Dale as well as his adult children, along with their spouses and children.

Only six months later, Dale disclosed his wife’s newly diagnosed cancer. Since Dana was admitted to a Providence-aligned hospital for surgery, at the couple’s request, I made a post-op visit, on a day otherwise dedicated to hospice admits. Dale, along with extended family from both sides of the border, arranged their visit to coincide with my time on the floor. A good number were assembled, so I chose to introduce myself via ritual, in response to Dana’s request for shared prayer while incorporating the loved ones’ healing touch and storytelling into our time together.

I don’t know how long it was after Dana’s discharge that Greta, my matriarchal patient, died. I kept my promise to her and her family to preside at her funeral. I was honored to be the one to help these people whom I’d come to know begin the process of mourning the loss of beloved Mum.

During Greta’s last few months, Dale expressed his own health concerns. Neither of us anticipated that merely a month after his mother’s death, during what was simultaneously my last and only bereavement visit, he would discover that his own cancer, in remission for years, had returned. This wasn’t an easy context to end our formal relationship.

But there’s a postscript to the story. Dale stayed in touch by mail, so we exchanged occasional notes and holiday cards. Once I retired, he said he’d welcome a visit, so I did. He processed feelings about the outcome of cancer treatment and said, “I’m not sure I’ll make it.”

I didn’t hear anything for a while. Then a chaplain acquaintance in another healthcare system tracked me down: Dale wanted to reconnect if possible. In a phone call, his son and daughter let me know that he was only expected to live another 72 hours. “Dad would want to see you before he dies,” they said. “Your presence would mean a lot to the whole family.” Acting on my intuition, I visited immediately. On arrival, Dale was fairly unresponsive, although he’d been awake and oriented less than an hour before. His breaths were barely perceptible, some far apart. I called his name, held his hand and talked to him. He knew I was there.

He managed to open his eyes momentarily and drew a few more breaths — then tranquilly, his last. I was moved to silence.

Finally, I said, “What more can I do?” Dale’s children asked for bedside prayer, and I began with lines from Greta’s favorite childhood prayer. I moved us into spontaneous prayers and storytelling. I encouraged the family to bless him in their own words or with loving gestures, to “prepare Dale for the next chapter in his journey.”

I’m forever humbled by what seemed his willingness to wait for me (see the book “Final Gifts”) before making his transition: dying peacefully, surrounded by many loved ones. His parting gift to me was not only the privilege of midwifing his death, but a sense of having come full circle in my hospice ministry to four generations of the same family. I won’t forget.

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Grace Episcopal Church Homilies | Homilies at Grace Episcopal Church

Maggie Finley is Chaplain Emeritus and appointed member of the Editorial Advisory Group for the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. She serves as chaplain board member, adjunct faculty and consult to Harborview Medical Center’s Spiritual Care Department, where she did chaplain residency.  After retiring from Providence Hospice of Seattle in 2010, she transitioned into a Spiritual Direction practice in 2011.  She participated in Seattle U's Contemplative Leaders in Action as one of several mentors facilitating retreat experiences.

On moving with her husband, Ted, to Bainbridge Island nearly four years ago, she was invited by a friend from Seattle U to experience Grace.  And as they say the rest is history; she and Ted became Grace members.   

Maggie continues to serve in a number of settings and creative ways bringing a wealth of personal and professional experience to the table:   informed not only by nearly 35 years in music and the performing arts, but also adult education and religious formation.  Maggie is a formal Associate of the West Midwest Region of Mercy Sisters and sometimes collaborates with that congregation’s Prayer and Liturgy Committee.   


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