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Kerry Egan '95: Observations of a Hospice Chaplain

An essay about death and dying by Washington and Lee alumna Kerry Egan, of the Class of 1995, touched a nerve on CNN.com over the weekend.

Kerry, a religion major who received her master’s of divinity from Harvard, is a hospice chaplain in Massachusetts. She spends her time talking with people who are dying. In her piece, which was published on Jan. 28 and titled “What people talk about before they die,” Kerry wrote about her experiences with hospice patients:

Mostly, they talk about their families: about their mothers and fathers, their sons and daughters. They talk about the love they felt, and the love they gave. Often they talk about love they did not receive, or the love they did not know how to offer, the love they withheld, or maybe never felt for the ones they should have loved unconditionally.

People talk about their families, she wrote, because “that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives. That is how we talk about the big spiritual questions of human existence.”

She does not, Kerry wrote, necessarily use “the words of theology to talk about God” and added that “people who are close to death almost never do. We should learn from those who are dying that the best way to teach our children about God is by loving each other wholly and forgiving each other fully – just as each of us longs to be loved and forgiven by our mothers and fathers, sons and daughters.”

Within 24 hours of the essay’s posting on CNN’s site, it drew 3,000 comments in response, many praising her and others taking her to task. It was, as CNN wrote in its “Overheard on CNN” column, “quite the conversation starter.”

In 2004, Kerry published, a journal of her experiences with her then boyfriend (now husband), Alex Ruskell, of the Class of 1994, on the pilgrimage route in southern France and northern Spain known as Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James.

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