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Why is the Grim Reaper so grim?

I work with death on a daily basis and over the years have come to know him quite well.

In an average week, I visit about 12 dying folks, more than 300 terminal individuals annually, and over the past 15 years I have provided spiritual care for over 3,000 people who have died.

I'm a hospice chaplain for Providence Hospice. In the years that I've worked with death and felt his presence at the bedside of a dying patient, I've thought about his costume. I mean, what's with the hooded cowl?

I wonder if death uses the cowl to hide his own grief at having to come and collect folks who have never really lived. Never given their hearts freedom to love and be loved. So afraid of what others think, seduced by culturally unachievable standards of wealth, beauty and knowledge, or traumatized by painful life experiences that they spent their limited precious moments in a self-absorbed sleep walk.

Why is the Grim Reaper so grim? Maybe because he aches so deeply for the missed opportunities we all had to really live.

Of late I have been working to strengthen my own spirituality. I want to be alive while I still can. So I look for opportunities to be generous, especially with my time (which is very hard for me). I start each day praying for the grace and courage to be Chaplain Fred for yet another day and ask God for the openness of heart to use the day as a treasure hunt.

In the midst of my tasks — the daily phone calls, traffic, charting, emails, meetings — I pray to really see at least three people this day. I mean really see them, see what is beautiful and special about them, and then find some kind way of communicating that to them. Then as I sit for prayer in the evenings I try to reflect on those folks I saw and pray for them. What I find can be big or little, but I want to find and bless at least three people. I so want my life to be a blessing for others.

I have come to the realization that all I seek at this point in my life is to be a good man. I want to spend my remaining days telling the people I love why I love them. I want to reflect back to them the beauty I see within them. I want to be a conduit of God's grace rather than a participant in the fear of "not enough." I want to be kind and generous — trusting that if I give myself to these tasks I might become the son God dreams me to be.

I want at the end of my days as I lie on my deathbed for the last words to cross my lips to be "Thank you." I want my friend death not to be crying when he comes for me, but to have a gentle smile and knowing glance indicating that I really lived.

Fred Grewe lives in Medford.

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