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I still haven’t gotten used to being called an angel.
When introducing myself to someone new, if I mention my work as a hospice chaplain the most common response is “Oh my goodness! You are such an angel.”
What seems like a sweet affirmation of my work is actually a skilled deflection.
My responses to this statement are always clumsy and awkward.
Do I vehemently deny my angelic status?
Do I nod and say “Thanks?”
I typically mumble something like “I’m not special, I’m just blessed to do work I love” and my new friend often takes that opportunity to quickly change the subject.
When I was a child, my mom vehemently rejected depictions of cherub-like angels in books and artwork.
To her, beaming baby-faced angels were just plain wrong.
She explained “Biblical angels would always start their interactions with humans by saying ‘Do not be afraid.’
Do you really think folks would have been terrified of a flying baby?
Come on now.
Angels were fierce, unusual, and imposing beings bringing life changing messages.
I assure you that they were not a naked, chubby-cheeked infants.”
It’s impossible for me not to think of these childhood conversations when I get called an angel.
While I’d love to think that people are calling me benevolent and beatific, I’ve come to find that a stranger designating me an “angel” upon our first meeting is more akin to my mom’s impression of angelic encounters.
In many ways, just the word “hospice” strikes fear in our hearts.
Hospice, to many, represents loss, death, grief, pain, and finality.
It represents saying goodbye to those we love the most.
Hospice is a threshold few of us want to cross, though intellectually we understand that it is in our path.
Death is not typically something we want to face in polite conversation, so most often people greet this fear and discomfort with platitudes and flattery.
It is almost as if people expect me to ask them about their advanced directive or will right on the spot.
But that might not be a bad idea.
My decade of hospice chaplaincy has taught me that approaching our mortality with intentionality, curiosity, and faith is a huge gift.
Talking about death is uncomfortable, but it is necessary and life-giving.
I see families struggling to make end of life decisions amid acute medical crisis and stress, simply because the conversations were put off until it was too late.
When we create space and energy for death conversations and planning, we are creating space for our holy stories and legacies.
End of life planning need not be legalistic and solitary, but an opportunity for reflection, remembrance, and support.
To borrow language from angels in the biblical witness, I say “Fear not.”
Cultivate spaces and opportunities where we push beyond politeness to bravely explore our mortality and beyond. Our communities will be stronger because of it.
Zeena Regis is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and has worked in hospice and palliative care as a chaplain and grief counselor since 2011. She is the founder and director of the Threshold Planning Project. Zeena is also a contributor to Presbyterians Today. She lives in Decatur, Georgia with her spouse, teenager, and two spoiled pups. Keep up with her offerings at ZeenaRegis.com.