Family Hospice fundraiser in Mt. Lebanon features ‘On Living’ author
As a hospice chaplain, Kerry Egan regularly hears people reflect on the meaning of their lives.
“Any number of patients have said, ‘You know, I wish this wasn’t going to die in the grave with me. I feel like I have this hard-won knowledge, and I wish I had learned it sooner.’
“And that’s what the book is,” she explained about her recently published “On Living.” “It’s stories from a small handful of people who said that they really wished they could share what they learned with the rest of us.”
She will share her experiences locally during a fundraising event hosted by Family Hospice and Palliative Care. Former KDKA-TV news anchor Jennifer Antkowiak will serve as emcee for “On Living: Making Each Day Matter,” scheduled for 7:30 p.m. April 27 at the Family Hospice auditorium, 50 Moffett St., Mt. Lebanon.
Speaking from her home in Columbia, S.C., Egan talked about the positive aspects of her work.
“When you get to listen to people talk about the mistakes they made, the things they did really well, the things that they’re proud of, the great adventures they’ve been on” she said, “that makes you want to live the full range that’s possible in any life.”
Part of the impetus for “On Living” came from a patient who wanted to pass along what she had learned in life for the benefit of others.
“I used to pray and pray and pray that I’d meet a writer, and I would tell him my stories, and he could share them with everybody,” she told Egan. “But I never did.”
To which the chaplain replied: “Did I ever tell you that I once wrote a book?”
“Fumbling,” published in 2004, recounts Egan’s journey as a 25-year-old Harvard Divinity School student on the Camino de Santiago, the traditional pilgrim’s route through northern Spain, a year after the death of her father.
“Egan was well-versed in theories about grieving and the purpose of a pilgrimage,” according to her website, “but it was through walking eight or 10 hours a day that she first began to understand what grief really was and to recognize God’s presence in everyday people and places.”
Meanwhile, she decided to pursue a field study opportunity at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where she served as a student chaplain for a semester.
“It just sort of struck me as the right thing to do at the time, which seems counterintuitive,” she recalled. “I know that.”
The experience proved to be particularly rewarding.
“I came to realize that being a chaplain is what I really wanted to do,” Egan said. “I wanted to understand why people believe what they believe and how that impacts how they live in the world.
“That’s really what a chaplain does,” she continued. “It’s looking at what you believe about the world, and if you think those beliefs were right or wrong, especially in hospice, now that you’re at the end of your life.”
She provided some perspective for those who face visiting a family member of friend in hospice.
“There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re uncomfortable,” Egan said. “You’re not a bad friend if you’re nervous or scared. You’re not a weak person if you feel overwhelmed. It’s OK. It’s a normal reaction.”
Most important, she said, is simply a visitor’s presence.
“Sometimes when people are dying, one of the hardest things, they say, is how impossibly lonely they become, because at the time of life when they need their friends and family the most, their friends and family stop showing up,” she explained. “You just need to be there, so that they’re not so alone.”
Tickets to “On Living: Making Each Day Matter” are $50. The event includes Egan’s presentation, followed by an opportunity to meet her and get a book signed, with coffee and desserts served. Proceeds benefit patient and family programs and services offered by Family Hospice and Palliative Care, which has been providing compassionate care throughout Western Pennsylvania since 1980. For more information, visit www.familyhospicepa.org or contact Lynn Helbling Sirinek at 412-572-8874 or firstname.lastname@example.org.