Conversations on the End of Life: Jeff Bassette

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 Jeff Bassette, an ordained minister and retired hospital chaplain, shares the privilege of ministering to those at the end of their lives, and why having conversations about hard topics are part of loving others well.  Read more about Jeff at the end of this entry. 

black framed glass window with heart draw

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

"Glory, glory, glory!"

I've heard it said that "final words are of first importance" and that feels very true, in my experience. At the end of life, when bodies are slowly closing down, people reach deep within themselves to the things that matter most. That's what they spend their limited energies on. So expressing their love, their faith, their hopes and fears, all this comes out. 

I've been moved in a 1000 different ways watching this:  a daughter gently and repeatedly stroking the forehead of her dying mother, a husband holding his wife's hand, a kiss, a prayer, a thank you, laughter as memories are shared and treasured, a son saying "I can't sing but mom always loved to hear my sing" as he launches into singing his mother's favorite hymn while the tears flow down his cheeks and the cheeks of his brothers and sisters. 

I'll never forget a Catholic professor from a local college who I came to know and love near the end of her life, and how one morning when I walked into her hospital room, she said directly and weakly, "I"m going to hospice. Glory, glory, glory!" Who could ever forget such encounters?! 

All these experiences have also shaped how I read the final week of Jesus' life, as I see how frequently, courageously, and honestly he spoke with his "family" (the disciples) about his own approaching death. In the gospel narratives, we are privileged to see the end of his life and can learn from him as well. There are so many ways that Jesus' example can teach us about how to live this final chapter of our life. As a Christian, I want to follow him throughout my entire life, including up until my life's very end. Even here--or perhaps especially here in how to live my life's final days with courage, faith, and love--Jesus leads me. And I want to follow.

Having these conversations is part of loving others well

The end of life is a part of life and living, not a separate and detached thing. I talk about every other area of life, so why would I not talk about how I want to live this final stage of my life's journey? In the past ten years as a hospital chaplain, I've accompanied thousands of families and patients through the end of their lives. The families that experience the most pain, difficulty and trauma are those families who have not talked directly with each other ahead of time about how they want this final stage of life to go. Important issues to discuss are things like: What is a quality of life I'd find acceptable, meaningful, and worth fighting for? At what point would I want them to stop treatment and not put me through something? How do I feel about living in a nursing home long-term, or how long would I want to be kept on life-support?

Families that have not had these honest conversations often experience: conflict between the family members about what medical treatments to do or how long to keep going, conflict and division which often gets worse if someone dies, guilt about decisions that were made, worsened levels of fear and deep uncertainty about medical decisions at every step of the way, and much higher financial costs to the family for prolonging care in ways that the patient would never have wanted in the first place.

I want to spare my wife and children as much pain as I can upon the end of my life. If it's in my power to minimize their grief, to protect their relationships with each other, to spare them from the guilt of making decisions that will honor my wishes even if it means the end of my life, then I feel a sense of obligation in love to do so. That's why I talk with them about these things. That's why our two adult sons, now in their 20's, both know my wishes and have copies of my advance directive, which names them as decision makers if my wife is unable.
Having these conversations is not only part of living, but it's part of loving others as well. As Christians, our core command is to love God and love others with our whole being and best selves. That's why, even though it's challenging to talk about, by having these conversations I am loving my family, and modeling for them how to do the same with theirs.


Jeff Bassette served as an ordained minister for many years. For the past 10 years, he has served as a hospital chaplain and the Director of Spiritual Care for three hospitals in the Los Angeles area. He and his wife Shannon are actively practicing their craft in different ways, and having just been in Washington state for five months, exploring how to participate and contribute to our community in ways that are fruitful and enriching.


DHD said…
I don’t know how I missed this when it was first posted. You brought so much clarity and sensitivity to the conversations we had—huge gratitude to you for that blessing.
Daphne D.